Dispatch from the Field: An Anthropological Study Of Modern Day Cowboys

cowboys at the bar

Tehama County is cattle country, and Red Bluff is its center of gravity. The Green Barn is the steakhouse of choice here, and when the cowboys come to town, this is where they congregate. You can tell a lot about modern cowboys by watching them at the bar.

Older cowboys lead with their stomachs, wear long sleeve check shirts and cowboy hats, and drink Crown Royal Whiskey. Younger cowboys work too hard to put on much of a gut, wear t-shirts or even hawaiian shirts, don baseball caps, and drink beer. I asked  Jake Bunting why the difference.

jake bunting

He said “we’re just different generations.” I got the feeling that his own kids’ generation might go back to cowboy hats just to be different from their dads. Jake was nice enough to offer to buy me a beer.

The occasion for this gathering was a video livestock auction taking place the next day. Kind of like the Barret-Jackson auto auction except if you win, you can’t just stick what you bought in a garage, you have to feed it. A bankruptcy judge once told me that when a big rancher or farmer files bankruptcy, he makes them sell anything that has to be fed or uses aviation fuel. A Ferrari may be more expensive, but you wouldn’t believe what a 2000 lb cow eats every day.

Jen and Ellington

Bulls are another thing altogether, and Jen (on the left, above) is Queen of the Bulls. Our server said she is the bravest person around here. The only woman among the 20 or so cowboys at the bar, she was the demarcation between the old cowboys and the young ones, as if holding court, or keeping the peace between the two factions. In addition to selling Bulls, she does the book-keeping for the auction, so she was everyone’s best friend. It’s been a long time since she has had to buy her own drink.

Ellington (on the right, above) runs the show, and invited us to attend the next day. We declined since I sometimes get an itch and rub my nose, and our 19th floor condo would not hold many head.

cowboy John

John (above) runs cattle and operates a Christmas tree farm. He tried to sell me a truckload of trees that I could then sell, thinking that would be a good way to cover the cost of diesel fuel to get our RV back home. Once again, I politely declined.

Server Anne

Anne was our server. She said the cowboys come every month, and she’d love to take care of them every time but in fairness she and the other server alternate who gets to serve them. She said they are really nice people.

It was somehow comforting to talk to these cowboys and watch them as they talked about the gamble that is their livelihood. I had the feeling that if I had been here 50 or 100 years ago, it would all seem about the same.

They talked about the relative benefits of red Angus, the cost of feed, and what June calves were going for. Politics? This is Trump country, but I never heard them say anything about politics. It’s just assumed. “Oh we love him,” one cowboy said. “But our wives don’t.” Are you worried about a trade war? “No, it will all work out.” Everything will work out. To be a rancher, you have to believe that.

There are signs along the freeway as you come into Tehama County: “Coming Soon – the State of Jefferson.” You begin to wonder who the yahoos are who want to break off into their own state. It was reassuring to know that these cowboys weren’t trying to secede or start a new state or other movement. They just want to run cattle, get enough money from selling them to cover their costs and put a little away, raise their families, and buy a beer for a gray-haired writer who happens to show up at the Green Barn when the auction comes to town.

6 thoughts on “Dispatch from the Field: An Anthropological Study Of Modern Day Cowboys

  1. Great photos of old fashion cowboys holding on to tradition.I had to look on up to see where Tehama County  was. 

    Angelica’Angel’ Pilato, Lt. Col. USAF (Ret.), Ph.D.

    Angel’s Truck Stop: AWoman’s Love, Laughter, and Loss during the Vietnam War (A Memoir)

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  2. Love the post Ken, almost as much as I love the Green Barn. Here’s where I hope to dine with John Growney in July, altho it’s doubtful he’ll be in town. He will most likely be at some distant rodeo where is livestock is needed.

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    1. For my readers: John Growney owns the company that provides the bucking broncos, bulls and other livestock for rodeos. His company is based, logically enough, in Tehama County. Paul, I hope you get to meet him. He’ll probably lead with his stomach, wear a check shirt and a cowboy hat, and order Crown Royal.

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