Editor’s Note: Nicole Grady, together with her partner, Justin Reichert, put on the Outside Circle Show, a raucous, celebratory, two-day show of musically gifted, working cowboys at the Star Hotel in Elko. She wrote this opinion piece after getting some guff for the show’s shirt designs (in which naked women were sketched riding broncs). Some said it was too risqué. Others said it was “too lame,” she said.
In this guest column, Grady, who with Reichert tends to over a thousand head of cattle on a US Forest permit near Creed, Colorado, assesses the working cowboy community and urged readers to appreciate its diversity and freedom of expression.
Diversity amongst cowboys is worthy of note. What draws us in and brings us down this path or keeps us on it isn’t often a simple equation. Some of us are on a course set by birthright. Some of us happened across several roads and byways and detours, ending squarely in this life almost by accident, and upon falling in love with it, decided to stay.
Some of us go to church every Sunday, living by the Bible and the Word of our God, and going home at night to the only person we’ve ever loved. Others of us, work like a dog on the ranch for a month straight and head into town to tie one on, get drunk, gamble, and take up the company of one of Nevada’s finest ladies of the evening before heading right back out to work.
Some of us buckaroo and some punch cows. A lot of us are pretty conservative and a very fair sum are liberal.
On all of these counts, there is everything in between; shades of grey if you will. And I will. We are white, brown, black, and every color in between. We are in the company of skilled top hands and less experienced folks still trying to put it all together. We are clean and starched in crew cuts and flawless blonde coifs. We are filthy dirty, in off the desert. We are girls with purple mohawks and tattoos riding broncs alongside men. We are ranch wives who have exchanged daily horseback duties for taking care of little ones and building at home businesses to help support our families. We are makers who bust our asses to build fine gear and daywork on the side to make ends meet. We are those sacrificing all to live this way and we are those picking up a set-aside dream as we retire.
We are the happily married, the unhappily married, the searchers of an understanding love that can comprehend our rough and rowdy ways, and the happily single for the duration. Some of us didn’t know any other way, and some of us know it’s the only way. Some of us have never drunk a drop, and some of us struggle with addictions every day. Some of us grew up this way, chose a different path to make our way due to external obligations and fortitudes, and still get homesick for the ways of our childhoods and the loved ones that came before us. Some of us left everything we’d ever known in our entire lives to chase a dream.
The cowboy isn’t defined by much more than what we love and what we love to do, and that is a gift. It’s a gift we should be thankful for everyday.
We aren’t ashamed of any part of who we are – the good, the bad, and the ugly. We aren’t out to shock anyone either. We are embracing everything this life consists of. We are encouraging uninhibited expression in the style of each artist. We are appreciative of the spectrum of differences. If you tell us to “be more professional” we will challenge you to ascribe a meaning to that term, in terms of us. We are professionals at being what we are, cowboys. For each of us, that means something a little different. The music, the art, the poetry are byproducts of what we are and where we come from. It’s all pretty simple. Not every part of this life is picture perfect, but for whatever reason, it’s perfect for us. Not every part of this life is wild and sinful, but we won’t judge you when it is. We won’t judge you when it’s not, either.
As far as our new shirts go, you may think some are a little racy, you may think some are too tame. Some of you will even want to tell us so, in an impassioned fashion, even. We’d advise that you remind yourself that if you are so inclined to believe it true, you are in fact capable of keeping negative opinions to yourself. We aren’t going to change. We aren’t going to hide. There is space for both the raw and the refined. It all has a place and it all belongs. We believe in talent, in honesty, and uninhibited expression. We believe in the cowboy as a real, tangible, living, breathing thing and not as a myth passing out of existence.
Long live cowboys.