What do you think of when ranchers and cowboys are brought up in a conversation? Is it the picturesque image of a mounted horseman silhouetted against the setting sun, surrounded by the blazing oranges, pinks, and purples so characteristic of the Arizona skyline at dusk? Well, hopefully, you’ve read some of our previous blog posts (like this one, or this one, or that one), and have gained a better understanding of what modern ranching really looks like, but this romantic image of the old west is often what comes to mind when ranching in Arizona is brought up.
In my line of work (and life), beef and raising cattle is always at the forefront of my thoughts so it comes up often! A large goal of ours here are at the Arizona Beef Council is to share with people the continuous improvement our ranchers are working towards while showing the rich heritage we’ve built on. Many ranches have changed immensely over the past hundred years, while some ranches, due to physical location and terrain, have remained a mirror image of their past.
One such ranch is the O RO Ranch just north of Prescott, Arizona. The challenges faced on this ranch and the remote location have made it hard for the average person to visit or even see photos, but Kathy McCraine, Arizona rancher, journalist, and photographer, was granted permission to photograph this living piece of history from 1993-2013. She has since taken her collection of photos and curated them into a beautiful coffee table-style book titled Orejana Outfit, Arizona’s Historic O RO Ranch 1993-2013 for all to enjoy while gaining access to this hidden world. Kathy’s book gives us a glimpse into what the past most likely looked like, and may still, on many Arizona ranches. Her title includes the Spanish word Orejana which refers to an ownerless, unbranded bovine who is old enough to be without its mother. This type of cattle could also be referred to as a “maverick.” The name certainly fits the challenging landscape and remote setting of the O RO which has remained far separate from modern life. This land isn’t suitable for much. Crops won’t grow here, but grasses will, making it an ideal location, now and then, to raise cattle.
Her collection features countless black and white photos from various places on this 257,000-acre ranch, most taken during fall and spring works. Fall and spring are busy on most ranches, but at the O RO Ranch, this is especially the case. Cowboys with the right set of skills (meaning they must have more with them than just the right outfit and tack) show up to assist the full-time camp men (those that stayed on year-round to ensure the safety and health of the cattle and land) with the task of gathering, branding, weaning, and shipping that season’s calf crop. As you flip through this book and learn about all that goes into these busy times, it’s a tricky task to separate the older photos from the new. The black and white images take away the clues you might use to tell what year each photo was taken and acts almost as if it is a time machine to the past.
Along with the numerous photos, a brief description before each chapter gives the viewer more information on what is happening in the photos and why. Detailed histories and understandings are given on the O RO Ranch history and its Spanish land grant roots, the wagon and the crew, the various roles each person plays on the ranch and why, the horses and their importance during these working times, branding, shipping, and much more.
Kathy’s book is available for purchase at www.kathymccraine.com. She will also be at the Arizona State Cowbelles’ booth during the Tucson Festival of Books signing copies of this Arizona treasure. Currently, her book is also available at the Phippen Museum of Western Art, Sharlot Hall Museum, Oggs Hogan, and the Old Stage Stop, all in Prescott. Also, at Animal Health Express in Tucson, The Scottsdale Spirit of the West Museum in Scottsdale, and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Review was written by Tiffany Selchow of the Arizona Beef Council.