The Last Horse Drive
May 12, 2012 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Reuters photographer Jim Urquhart recently captured these scenes from a fading culture, as he followed Montana ranchers on their final horse drive, moving more than 300 horses down from their winter range. Every spring the Mantle family, along with with a group of wranglers, drives the herd north over 35 miles and three days, through the small town of Three Forks to their ranch. After decades of supplying and tending to horses, the Mantles, citing financial challenges, now plan to sell off their herd and shift to raising beef cattle. Take a moment to travel with the Mantle family through big sky country, on a journey once so familiar and iconic, now fading into memory with the rest of cowboy culture.
posted by Blasdelb (31 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Wow that was kind of a flashback to my childhood.
posted by the_artificer at 7:57 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fantastic photos. Thanks Blasdelb.
posted by arcticseal at 8:07 PM on May 12, 2012

It's a shame that cowboy culture is fading. I find there is so much to love and admire about it. The individualism, the practical problem-solving, the non-gun-slinging wild west background, the awesome clothes and look and approach to work...

But I'm not surprised that it's fading. Modernity is taking over everything, and even if the strand of modernity that is winning out started 100 years ago, it's going to win out ultimately. It's like Kodachrome ceasing production. Eventually, what is the Now is going to win out over what is the Then. Unless there's some profitable way to keep anachronisms in existence, they will disappear.

So sad, and yet so inevitable.
posted by hippybear at 8:09 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't really find the work all that interesting, but Jim posted this the other day and it caught my eye -
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:10 PM on May 12, 2012

Damn now I'm going to start having dreams about Montana again. I grew up in Helena, but haven't been back in over 20 years.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:17 PM on May 12, 2012

And I don't really know how fast it's fading at this point. I don't think they have serious growth and sprawl in Montana, but I could be wrong.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:19 PM on May 12, 2012

Hey, Brocktoon. Another Helena boy, here. I was back last September...I don't think you're missing too much. I really want to get up to Glacier sometime, though.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:31 PM on May 12, 2012

Ivan Doig brings Montana to life and so much more. Give him a read.
posted by pdxpogo at 9:00 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

After the occasional nightmare project/client I humor the idea of moving back to the family land to start raising cattle like my grandfather. But I soon realize that is just not the lifestyle for me. Had my third grade classroom not gotten a row of Commodore 64s I could be a cattle rancher these days. My brother, four years older than me has a lot more of the cowboy in him and I can really see him following that path.

So for now I'll work on a computer, raise my horses, help my brother with our small herd of cows when it's time to brand/castrate/butcher and occasionally daydream about having a cattle ranch.
posted by the_artificer at 9:30 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

A great documentary in the similar vein is Sweet Grass.
posted by Pantalaimon at 9:35 PM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

I never expected to actually share these, but for a recent family reunion my aunt scanned over four hundred historical photographs of our family's Montana ranching enterprise, spanning back to the early 20th century.

Highlights include a birthday cake, my grandma's fashions, and my smokin' hot granddad (center).

(My other aunt wrote an amazing memoir about the trials of growing up female in the world of cattle ranching.)
posted by hermitosis at 9:48 PM on May 12, 2012 [34 favorites]

If only McDonalds would introduce a McHorseburger, they wouldn't have to switch to cattle and this culture could be saved.
posted by XMLicious at 9:50 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hey, hermitosis, those were great. I have had your aunt's book in my to-read pile for over a year now; I should drag it out and read it finally. Those eastern Montana plains are quite a bit different than the Yellowstone-Glacier big mountain Montana. My folks are from there too -- my grandfather was one of a graduating class of three at Garfield County High School in the teens; that county, and its only real town, Jordan, are as remote as it gets in the lower 48.

You might like this set of his photographs as well.
posted by Fnarf at 10:06 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

hermitosis, that's a treasure. Thanks for sharing them.
posted by methinks at 10:09 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

that county, and its only real town, Jordan, are as remote as it gets in the lower 48.

Having tooled around in eastern Montana fairly recently, I can say with confidence that it still is.
posted by hermitosis at 10:19 PM on May 12, 2012

Thanks for those hermitosis!
There is always a babysitter horse.
posted by the_artificer at 10:20 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ha, I remember my babysitter horse. Her name was Sandy and she only had one eye because of an unfortunate incident involving a barbed wire fence. She was so old and gentle that three kids could climb onto her at once, sitting all in a line, and she'd trot them around without incident.

My dad has her skull on his dining room wall.
posted by hermitosis at 10:25 PM on May 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, three in a row just like in your "a" link. Funny, i guess that's just what kid horses are for.
posted by hermitosis at 10:26 PM on May 12, 2012

Oh, hermitosis, your folks are in Malta. That's the big time! Why, you folks had the railroad! Jordan never got the railroad; the railroad never came within 60 miles, in fact.

When I was researching my family history, I read every issue of the Jordan newspapers, and I'd estimate that half of them, up until the 30s at least, had a lead article about whether the railroad was going to come or not.
posted by Fnarf at 10:38 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Malta was the nearest town, but the actual ranch they lived on was about fifty miles out. I'd bet that neither your people nor mine had electricity installed in their homes until the late 1950s.
posted by hermitosis at 10:43 PM on May 12, 2012

I'm on my phone otherwise I'd find the link, but there's a great interactive "tour Montana" photo site out there. I find myself getting sucked into it for an hour or more on occasion.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:47 PM on May 12, 2012

I'll bet you're right -- well, except that my people left in 1932. My grandfather was living in Lewiston, Idaho by then, with electricity, but my great-grandmother left after my great-grandfather died while digging his car out of a snowstorm. She went to Billings and opened a store. I've seen the tax records in the courthouse -- she, like a lot of people then, just walked away from the land. She owed $10 on taxes and didn't have it.

If you read Jonathan Raban's "Bad Land", he talks about visiting abandoned homesteads in the 1990s with the bank foreclosure papers from the 30s still spread out on the kitchen table. They just walked away from them. The thing is, you can't ranch on 640 acres out there; you need ten times that, or a hundred.
posted by Fnarf at 10:50 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

My ancestral town was about as populated and isolated as Jordan (my mom's graduating class was 4), but at least we had hills and trees.
posted by the_artificer at 11:06 PM on May 12, 2012

I grew up on a huge cattle ranch up on the Hi-Line, and those photos look like home. Thanks, hermitosis.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:36 AM on May 13, 2012

Seems like it should be horseboy culture.
posted by Segundus at 1:05 AM on May 13, 2012

loving all the montana connections here. ideefixe, whereabouts on the hi-line?
posted by davidmsc at 1:40 AM on May 13, 2012

Google streetview only goes along main street in Jordan; they just passed through and kept going. The wikipedia page has an interesting fragment:

On March 25, 1996 an 81-day-long standoff between the antigovernment Montana Freemen and federal officers began near here.
posted by bukvich at 9:31 AM on May 13, 2012

Hey what kind of whips are they using with the really long stocks? I saw one guy with a bullwhip but it looks like everyone has long skinny whips without much of a taper with what looks like a 3 foot stock. That's really interesting. It makes sense how useful such a design would be, especially the long stock. Anyone knowledgeable about that stuff?
posted by fuq at 9:39 AM on May 13, 2012

Ok, I googled stuff myself, those whips are called "Driving Whips." They don't taper because they are not supposed to be cracked. Cool stuff.
posted by fuq at 9:53 AM on May 13, 2012

Don't sweat the cowboy culture dying out. There are plenty of real cowboys all over the western U.S., and elsewhere.

Beautiful pics. But it's a sad state of affairs when you are getting out of one thing to get into cattle ranching. Usually it's the other way around.
posted by Xoebe at 10:18 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: My dad has her skull on his dining room wall.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:35 PM on May 13, 2012

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