Photograph by Carla Spencer
Barney Nelson was born into a cattle-raising family in Iowa. “My grandmother owned the land I grew up on,” says the author of “Cowgirl Up”. “After my grandfather died, she paid off the last of the mortgage by chopping corn into disks to feed cattle—all winter, by herself, with a machete.” After the family sold the farm, Nelson never got over losing her rural lifestyle, so for college she attended Alpine’s Sul Ross State University, where now, some forty years later, she is a professor in the English department. She has lived on Texas ranches for twenty years, written all manner of livestock journalism, and run a cattle operation. “I never got far away from my roots,” says Nelson.
In a week of photographing cowgirls of all stripes—from ranchers to ropers, from ages 2 to 79, from Alpine natives to Perrin transplants—LeAnn Mueller, who shot this month’s cover story, was struck by the traits her sixteen subjects shared: friendliness and humility. “And they all work so hard,” adds the Taylor native, who just moved back to Austin from California. Mueller does not know of any cowgirls in her genealogy (her family’s fame lies in barbecue), but she did get to see a buffalo for the first time on a ranch outside Marathon. “It charged the car,” she recalls. “I had to cross my fingers it wouldn’t make contact.”
Kate Galbraith and Asher Price
“I just love the Panhandle,” says Texas Tribune reporter Kate Galbraith of one place she visited to learn about wind power (“A Mighty Wind,” page 104). “It’s got a rich history, from the last redoubt of the Comanches to Woody Guthrie.” Her co-author, Austin American-Statesman staffer Asher Price, had a similar reaction to the remotest corners of Texas: “There is nowhere less like New York City, where I grew up. But in places like Sweetwater, wind turbines are skyscrapers. On long drives I found relief in the vertical lines breaking up the landscape.”