Horsemen, Pass By
Chronicling a mythic ranch—and its cowboys—with twenty-first century technology.
In 2014 the famed Waggoner Ranch—at half a million acres, considered the largest spread in the United States within the confines of one fence—went on the market for an unheard of $725 million. Jeremy Enlow, a photojournalist in Fort Worth, feared a buyer might break it up. He had visited the family-owned ranch once before on assignment and his gut told him it was time to document this lifestyle before it was too late.
“I was really intrigued by these cowboys,” Enlow said. “They didn’t like people. They were kind of to themselves. I had never been on a ranch before where there were this many cowboys practicing cowboying like it was a hundred years ago. There are no four-wheelers or any kind of GPS system. It’s just their ropes and their horses.”
Enlow wrote to the family with a request to do a book and was surprised when the reply was, “Yeah, gate’s open. C’mon out.” The ranch, established in 1849 and located about a three-hour drive northwest of Dallas, has been relatively quiet since the death, in 1934, of William Thomas “W.T.” Waggoner, the cattle baron who’d inherited the business from his father, Daniel. After W.T. struck oil at the turn of the twentieth century while drilling for water, the profile of the ranch rose and it became a playground for VIPs, including Will Rogers and President Teddy Roosevelt, who hunted wolves with W.T. and another rancher.
From April to July of last year, Enlow made five trips to the ranch and in November he published Cowboys of the Waggoner Ranch, an award-winning coffee-table book featuring luminous action photos and portraits of roughly two dozen cowboys, all digitally shot. “Some of those guys, especially Mr. Daniel—who’s been there since 1965—that might be the first portrait that he’s had shot of himself like that, except for maybe his driver’s license photo,” Enlow said.
Enlow will present the book on Thursday, July 14, aboard the Green Dragon, a restored 1913 trolley car that travels from Dallas’s Uptown district to Klyde Warren Park, where Enlow will sign books. It is a test run for what the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority hopes to develop into an ongoing lecture series. Anita Simmons, of Uptown Dallas Inc., said they are looking for both rising and well-known artists, in addition to publishers and other talent with a historical bent to speak with passion about their crafts.
When Enlow first arrived at Waggoner Ranch, it wasn’t hard for the cowboys to see that he was a city slicker. To try and earn their trust, Enlow showed up for breakfast a full thirty minutes before it was to be served, at 5. He kept his mouth shut and stayed out of the cowboys’ way.
Enlow was finally able to crack his subjects on his third trip. Just after breakfast, around 5:15, the cowboys were in the tack barn, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. When they got up to saddle their horses, they started talking and cutting up. Prior to that, they had always been dead silent in his presence. “That’s the first time I really saw them talk among themselves,” Enlow said. “Because I noticed they talk to their horses more than they do each other. So, I thought, after that moment, we’re golden.”
Enlow shadowed the cowboys as they worked throughout the day, branding calves in the mornings and then heading off in different directions in the afternoons. Working cattle was a dirty job, with its own perils. Getting chased by a bull and quickly scrambling over a fence to avoid being gored was part of the daily routine. “It’s just not fun and games, and ride around on your horse, and yell at the cattle,” Enlow said. “Those guys work, and they work hard.”
After years of infighting among kin over the right to divide it up or sell it off, a judge finally ordered the sale. In February Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams and the Denver Nuggets, among other teams, completed his purchase of the Waggoner Ranch. Kroenke is in the ranching business as well, with other properties in the U.S. and Canada. He is married to Ann Walton, an heiress to the Walmart fortune.
Enlow is still in touch with the cowboys. There have been reports that some have been let go under the new ownership. Times they are a-changing and the sight of cowboys herding three hundred head of cattle across a farm-to-market road in mere minutes, arms raised to halt oncoming traffic, will soon be a thing of the past.
“I’ve seen those cattle-crossing signs all over Texas, but I’ve never actually seen that happen,” Enlow said. “I thought that was just there for tourists or something.”
Trolley Turntable at Uptown Station, July 14, 5:30 p.m., uptowndallas.net
Other Events Across Texas This Week
The First Guzzle
Six Pack Stories is a six-part monthly series exploring the dizzying rise of the craft-beer market in recent years, starting with a panel discussion on Thursday entitled “The OG’s of Craft Beer,” with panelists including Amy Cartwright of Austin’s Independence Brewing, which recently entered a partnership with craft big shot Lagunitas.
Google Fiber Space, July 14, 6 p.m., drafthouse.com/event/six-pack-stories
The Pride of Country Music
It was in Texas where Grammy-winning country singer Charley Pride moved from minor radioplay to stage stardom, helped along by Willie Nelson, and it’s to Texas he shall return on Saturday, as part of his tour celebrating fifty years in the recording business.
Arlington Music Hall, July 9, 7:30 p.m., charleypride.com
Not Just Child’s Play
For the first U.S. performance in almost three years of her autobiographical show Lost Child, Miranda July—a polymath creative from Portland who has excelled in writing, filmmaking, and mixed-media art—has chosen a Dallas stage for riffing on “the making of books, shoes, friends, movies, performances, and personal protection devices.”
Winspear Opera House, July 8, 7:30 p.m., mirandajuly.com
The Paintbrush Is Mightier Than the Lasso
Matt Kleberg, a descendant of the King Ranch Klebergs, forsake cowboying for art, earning plaudits from the New York Times for his colorful, geometric-patterned, architecturally-informed paintings, which he will bring back to Texas for a show at Hiram Butler Gallery entitled, simply, Paintings.
Hiram Butler Gallery, July 9 to August 27, hirambutler.com
Frida for Life
Everyone in San Antonio who wants to paint their faces in the likeness of Frida Kahlo for Dia de Los Muertos in the fall—that unibrow is everything—can get some good practice in at the inaugural Frida Festival, a one-day explosion of music, dance, and arts and crafts honoring the Mexican painter.
Brick at Blue Star, July 9, 6 p.m., safridafestival.weebly.com