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.
In this guest column, Grady, who with Reichert tends over a thousand head of cattle on a US Forest permit near Creede, Colorado, assesses the working cowboy community and urged readers to appreciate its diversity and freedom of expression.
Grady used historic images to illustrate the diversity of cowboys through the generations.
Diversity amongst cowboys is worthy of note. What draws us in and brings us down this path or keeps us on it from birth isn’t often a simple equation. Cowboys are, and forever will be, a singularity. Some of us are on a course set in place by birthright, and 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, deciding 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 some fine lady 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, and we are filthy dirty in off the desert and tattooed girls with purple mohawks 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, and we are makers who bust our asses to build fine gear and daywork on the side to make ends meet in the middle. 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 to 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 drank 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.
The world is a wild place right now and everyone’s opinions have razors’ edges. We would encourage our friends and loved ones to seek the path of understanding and not condemnation. We would encourage them to understand that city folk and rural folk may not understand each other well, that white folk and folks of color may not always see eye to eye, that the socio-economic classes do not always reconcile well with one another, but that each and everyone of us has a CHOICE as a human being to be lazy and choose the path of anger and blame-shifting, or we can be diligent and industrious in choosing to do the work to see things from the point of view of those who are not the same as us. Empathy takes work, and it is work worth doing.
The Outside Circle always been a little weird; a little wild, a little loud, a little outspoken. We’ve always accepted all comers so long as they aren’t driven by greed and ego, and they aren’t full of shit. We aren’t going to change. We aren’t going to pretend there isn’t a space here for all to call home, regardless of what they are: black, white, Native American, Latino, male, female, rich, poor, pastor, prostitute, bender-of-rules, or police officer. We are going to continue to honor it all, because it all belongs. It all has a place. And so long as we see each other as fellow humans and not titles, we’ll probably learn to get along ok.
We believe in free speech, we believe in honesty and uninhibited expression, we believe that peace and love – whether implied in speech or committed as acts – are much better than violence and aggression. We believe that change starts within and not without, and we believe not only that the modern cowboy is a real, tangible, living, breathing thing and not a myth passing out of existence—but also that it continues to stand as one of the greatest symbols of diversity and adaptability in our fair country to this day. We recognize the responsibility and necessity to stand up for the weak, unheard, mistreated, and marginalized amongst us, and we recognize the responsibility and necessity to do so in a way that does not attempt to solve the infliction of pain by inflicting more pain within our communities. We believe that cowboys, and people, are not defined by their political beliefs, religious beliefs, color, creed, current profession, past profession, or socio-economic status. They are defined by how they treat others, by how they speak to others, by their honesty, their integrity, and their ability to stand amongst those who carry the light through the darkness rather than standing amongst those extinguishing flames.
May we always choose love, may we always choose empathy, may we always choose reason and logic, and may we always choose the path to peace—through our actions, through our words, through our thoughts, and through the way we treat our fellow man. Long live cowboys.