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A cowgirl rides flank along the side of the herd while rounding up cattle on a ranch near Lloyd, Montana. → License Photo

Once in a while I’m asked why I don’t have more photos of cowgirls. And some of the cowgirls I have already photographed in northern Montana are often the ones asking the question. Others, who don’t like to be photographed never ask the question and wish I took less photos of them (right, Bobbie?). But I think the ones who do ask the question have heard my same response.

For starters, there aren’t a lot of women in north central Montana, let alone cowgirls. That much is a fact. Many young women leave these parts for college, jobs, and boyfriends in the city. The other reason is that cowgirls do not typically wear cowboy hats and dress like the cowboys do. They don’t fit the archetype I have for cowgirls in my head. You see, cowgirls tend to have long hair. And cowboy hats just were not made for long hair and pony tails. Wear one while you are roping or rounding-up cattle and they will almost certainly fall off. Repeatedly. Or so I’m told. Just ask any cowgirl. Instead most cowgirls wear ball caps. The few you see wearing cowboy hats in my photos did so only because I asked them to do so. Or because they knew I liked them wearing cowboy hats, which was awfully nice of them.

After talking to one cowgirl from Cleveland, Montana this spring I think I realized that latter reason is a stupid one. I mean, most of the photographs I make on ranches are documentary and real life as it happens. Some, yes, are posed, but for the most part the action you see is exactly as it happened while everyone was hard at work on the ranch. So it would stand to reason I should probably photograph women the exact same way I photograph the men.

So now I do.

My apologies to cowgirls everywhere.

That said, the stereotypical image I had of cowgirls still wasn’t the same as it is for many other Americans, though. No. Many of them envision cowgirls wearing Daisy Duke shorts and walking around saying “aw shucks” with a thin strip of wheat straw sticking in their mouths. I’m here to tell you that real working cowgirls are nothing of the sort. They are beautiful, yes, but they are also rugged, hard working, supportive, nurturing, dedicated, and in many ways they not only do the same job as men, in some instances they do it better. And frankly, I don’t think there is an honest cowboy I know who would disagree with me.

So with the spirit of “women power” in mind today with the U.S. women winning the Women’s World Cup of Soccer I am here featuring photos of real, hard working cowgirls in this my next installment of 20+ photos. They come in all ages, types, and sizes. And they do many different jobs. But they all deserve just as much respect and attention as the men who work on ranches. I hope you enjoy these photos.

Celebrating 4th of July in Montana
Photo in Montana's Big Sky Journal

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