History and Legend : The Tale Behind the Photo

Sundance, WY

This was my first year of doing shows and trying to sell art rather than news, which means I actually had a "stick" home, significant other and "day" at the time...seems so long ago.

I still enjoy this all as much as I did then, in fact more so, because back then the fly in the ointment was that my time was not solely my own, so on this weekend, I needed to travel from Paulden, AZ to Beulah, WY (2,200 miles) and back to my other life in four days... that plus cover a one day, ten mile, single track cattle drive up into the Black Hills above Sundance.

I arrived at the Ayer Ranch in Beulah, where the main ranch was located on schedule...there I met John and Maggie Ayer, a couple who will live long in my memory just as his words to me that next morning have since then.

I had been up most of the night checklisting shots in my head I hoped to grab, all the while knowing those sort of mindless expectaions lead to nothing but unfulfilled expectations... but that's the kid in me, so why quit now.

At 4:30am I began to hear the sounds of wranglers and horses who didn't want to be up at this hour, but hell, I hadn't wanted to be up at any of the hours I had been awake throughout the night, but then there's that kid again....so enough already, time's a wasting... get me my horse and let's get this show...er, drive on the road, er trail, and in retrospect my sense of urgency would prove prophetic.

As we arrived in a lower pasture, the twenty-five or so head of strays, cows and calves that had been rounded-up the afternoon before were where we left them and anxious...they were an easy gather and soon we were on our way down a single track trail that would eventually lead 10 miles up into those stunning Black Hills above Sundance, WY where the ranch had their summer grazing pastures.

Somewhere not far up ahead was the main pasture and where over five hundred head of beef were to be rounded-up in what would assuredly be a less orderly process than the tranquil predawn gathering that had just transpired. while providing endless rare moments up the trail once the light broke enough to shoot.

We had been moving along at a leisurely pace for forty-five minutes and I was enjoying every moment, but as we were starting to get a bit of sun over one of the hills, I was chomping at the bit to get close to the herd, or at least to stay with the lead cowboys who were out in front searching for it...but as this was not my place, I kept my place.

The Ayers had invited several other folks to join in on this day, as it was certainly not an "everyday" event, only once a year as a matter of fact and it was less often that they invited outsiders to join them. I was honored and you could tell the others were excited as well...and not just the "greenhorns", for as we approached a not too distant hill, one by one everyone stopped and was quiet for a moment, as through the glare of the breaking sun, this band of wild horses you see here, crested the ridge to see just what was going on in their valley below.

As I clicked off the last of several frames, it was then that John Ayer rode up to me and uttered those words. "Jim", he said, "I haven't seen this happen in fifty years...they're up there already." 'What?', I said not quite sure what I was hearing. 'What's that mean?' 'One of them must have got an inkling of what was going on last night and lead the whole herd up there...they're up there now.'

Needless to say I was disappointed, but this was not the first time a story had fallen apart at the seams in my years of journalism, but I just didn't have the same inkling as the dang cow...I also didn't see how I was going to salvage this trip but was bound and determined to do so and when all was said and done, I had a great time, met wonderful people and found a couple of images I didn't anticipate that became best sellers.