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Living the buckaroo way

Photojournalist documents Western culture

The woman with the curler is Frankie. She is now 94, and just quit riding horses at 91. She says” I used to be a buckaroo; now I’m a cookaroo”....she still feeds branding crews of 16 people using a wood stove and cast iron pans.” Photo by Andrea Scott

    A family that ranches in the Buckaroo tradition surveyed the charred remains of its expanse after fire had ravaged it from two different directions in the course of 30 days. There was not even moss left on rocks. But instead of ruminating on the loss and the dead, they turned their faces forward, to the living remaining, their duty not to linger in mourning lest the wounded might become the lost as well.
    “They aren’t looking backwards,” said photojournalist Andrea Scott, “They aren’t materialistic. When you’re dealing with the elements, you never know what you’re going to get, but they know they have to focus on the living.”
    Scott, who counts herself among those who have griped about the smoke from distant fires, said that experience gave her perspective, and that perspective and the folklore guiding it are what she feels compelled to bring to the fore, and thus she created the Idaho Buckaroo Project. The photos, artifacts and handmade functional yet fanciful pieces help her tell their living history, which she will do in two free events this week, first at the Hailey Public Library, from 3-6:30 p.m. today, and Thursday at the Center for the Arts in Hailey from 5:30-7 p.m.
    Scott explains that a buckaroo is a style of culture and horsemanship derived from Spanish vaqueros. They wear distinctive clothing that includes flat-topped hats, brightly colored neck scarves and long-sleeve button-up shirts. Manners are a must, and usually the traditions are many generations deep. Their primary role is to tend, protect and move livestock around while they graze.
    The buckaroos reside in the Great Basin, where Idaho, Oregon and Nevada intersect. The land is devoted largely to ranching, though Scott said grazing on the public portion is threatened by challenges to BLM grazing permits. The people living there rely on barter and labor and whatever income they can earn making gear like reins and saddles, bits, belt buckles and blankets. In sharp contrast to their hardscrabble lives, their handiwork is intricate, colorful, bling-covered and gorgeous.
    Scott initiated her project after a photo that she took of buckaroos working cattle piqued viewers’ curiosity. Now she serves as ambassador for the buckaroos’ stories, spending hours on horseback and in the trenches with them as they work, gleaning their philosophies and ethics and principles and documenting their lives.
    So passionate is she about their stories that she spends a lot of her own money to keep it going, and searches for sponsors and grants such as the one provided last year by the Idaho Humanities Council.
    And the work is wearing, though she refuses to complain, even though she’s enduring a distracting head cold that resulted from too little rest.
    “Buckaroos never have down time,” she says.
    And it is her fear that their fate is being decided for them, without them, that keeps her going.
    Bias and prejudice keep the buckaroo culture from being seen as valuable, she says, explaining that her zeal also comes from being raised in a family where social change was important.
    The people themselves are afraid, so they stick to what they know and take whatever comes.
    “People think they are just a bunch of diehards that want to square off against federal agencies,” she says. “They are just hardworking people who we actually have a lot more in common with than outsiders realize.”
    Scott hopes people will check their opinions at the door and come to the project with both ears open. She hopes to reach the policymakers and convince them that these people’s voices count and to bring them to the table.
    “I’m just trying to put a face on things for the people outside of their world,” she said. “I hope to sell some of their work and open some hearts and minds.”

Get roped in

Photojournalist Andrea Scott presents “The Idaho Buckaroo Project.”
About what: In parts of rural Idaho, a traditional way of life continues as it has for centuries. This is the world of the “buckaroos” of the Great Basin, who ride, dress and adorn their horses much as the first Mexican vaqueros did more than 300 years ago. Scott, an Idaho native who grew up on a large cattle ranch, says her mission is to “promote understanding and preserve the buckaroo way of life.”
Listen: Scott and some of her artist friends will present at the Hailey Public Library, today, Oct. 10, from 3:30-6 p.m. Demonstrations include horsehair ropes and other buckaroo gear such as bits, spurs, horsehair hitching, gathering fleece, wool spinning and making wool saddle blankets.
Learn more and give support: On Thursday, Oct. 11, from 5:30-7 p.m., the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Hailey will display Scott’s exhibition, which includes photographs and essays and Scott herself. Bits and spurs, hand-woven saddle blankets and other handmade horse gear crafted by buckaroos will be on display and for sale to benefit the project and the culture. Portland-based singer-songwriter Jill Miller will provide scene-setting live music, and refreshments will be served. The Center is at Second Avenue and Pine Street in Hailey. Admission is free.
For more great stories: On Friday, Oct. 12, from 7:30-9 p.m., is “An Evening with Women Writing and Living in the West Sheep Tales Gathering,” at nexStage Theatre, 120 S. Main St. in Ketchum. Children are free and adults are $15 whether online at or at the door.


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