Speech to Guests and Volunteers of
the Reno Rodeo Cattle Drive, June 2005 by Joe
I was asked by the cattle drive boss to
spend a few minutes with you this evening to talk about
Specifically, Iíd like to tell you a little bit about
the tradition of Great Basin ranchers, this land in the
high, cold desert and the people who chose this harsh
and seemingly inhospitable environment to be ranchers.
Of course, modern ranching is a business but like so
many things in human history which have lasted, there is
also a culture.
Seafaring people have a culture, coal miners have a
culture and livestock herders have a culture. Remember,
what you did today Ėherd cattle on horseback for half
dozen miles -- has been done for thousands of years. The
techniques we used today have origins in ancient
Mesopotamia and the way we use our horses in the Great
Basin and the equipment we use can be traced to ancient
methods and gear used in Arabia, North Africa and the
Caucuses region where Iím told the first horses were
tamed by man.
Many of you have been on this cattle drive more than
several times so this is primarily for the first-time
guests but also worth remembering no matter how many
cattle drives you have been on.
You are now part of a culture into its 6th century in
this hemisphere. As a rancher, I welcome you all because
there arenít many of us and we need you to be our
ambassadors and emissaries to the rest of the world.
This is so because our traditions our way of life, our
livestock and horse-handling methods are important,
useful, and meaningful and should not be lost to the
rest of humankind.
The second thing to discuss about ranching is the land.
You rode through an area today little changed from when
the first Europeans saw it. Also, you are privileged to
be seeing plants which elderly life-long Nevadans have
never seen because of the extraordinary winter and
spring we have had this year.
Ranchers have to be skilled in many things:
veterinary medicine, mechanics, genetics, human
management, horsemanship and plant and range science to
name a few. But as with any profession, perhaps the
greatest skill is to be a keen and precise observer of
all that goes on around you. You are now used to your
horse and even you first-time guests now realize if you
put pressure on these cattle, they will move away from
you. So I would like to challenge you tomorrow as we
ride along to become an observer as if you were the
rancher whose land we are traversing. Look at the land
and its plants Ė the crop the range cattle will harvest.
There are displays of range plants and animals all
around the camp tonight. Pick out a couple of animals
and plants and see if you can find them tomorrow. I
guarantee you they are out there in that big, broad
valley we will be riding through. See if you can find
the water sources for the livestock and wild animals.
Ask yourself how many cattle could utilize this range
and for how long. The rancher who runs this place has to
look at these things and ask these questions regularly.
Without keen powers of observation and good judgment, it
is really tough to be a successful rancher.
Finally, you canít talk about ranching without talking
about its people. The volunteers who put on this cattle
drive for you guests are a pretty good cross section of
the sort of people who are ranchers. From the cooks to
the cowboys, they may not actually be ranchers but they
have a western rancher attitude. They are open like this
broad, big country we are in. They have a sense of humor
and are willing to laugh at themselves. There is an
honesty and a straight forwardness about them you can
almost feel. They want to be on this land tending their
stock and improving the land and their animals. Given
the freedom to operate within the bounds of what the
land will provide, they will improve it and leave it
better than they found it. Ranchers are devoted to their
land and their stock and the truly successful are also
passionate about their families.
And so we have tradition, we have land and we have
people. The tradition reminds us of what came before
us. An old rancher friend of mine used to say, ďIf you
do not know where you came from, how can you know where
you are going?Ē
The land always surprises me and reminds me why I am
here. Today, while riding along with all of you, I
counted eight different grasses in a little over
three-quarters of a mile. Iíve never seen more than
three of theses grasses at the same time. Seed from this
grass has lain dormant for years and years during this
terrible drought we have been going through. But the
land will fool you. People would ride through this area
two or three years ago and say the livestock, wild
horses and other animals have decimated it. But, all the
land was waiting for was a little it more moisture and
now it is a blossoming paradise. So you see, we have to
take the long look when we are observing the land and
analyzing it. In fact, truth be told, humans have not
been around that long by comparison.
This country has a diverse and varied plant life, and
if the people who really know this land were allowed to
work it and improve it with some reasonable but flexible
regulations, it would thrive and become even more
productive. The people remind me of why we do what we
do. Be it our family, or the need to help feed a nation
of people or helping all of you understand the
importance of ranching and those who are valiantly
trying to make a living off this land. America became a
food importing nation for the first time in our history
last year. Do you really want to become dependent on
foreign nations for your food as you are for your oil?
At the end, it is the people who are the most
important because without you helping us to tell our
story and without us carrying on this 10,000 year-old
tradition, nothing would really matter very much.
C. Joseph Guild III is a Nevada
rancher and past president of the Nevada Cattleman's
Association. He is active in spreading the word to
folks not familiar with ranching life about the
importance of the western way of life.