PIONERO FEATURE: EMILY MCCARTNEY
WORDS & MEDIA by JOHN DALE + ILLUSTRATIONS by HUNTER ASH
Ifound myself struggling to keep my eyes open as I stared at the sunrise gleaming off the courthouse in Throckmorton, Texas. This was just after my 5 AM alarm (which came way too early), on the heels of the previous day’s 10 hour drive from Colorado (which was way too long). My phone rattles in my pocket: “On our way, we have black coffee for ya.” Being a Texas native- I thought I’d fit right in with a story on rancher in North Texas. Todd McCartney pulled into the parking lot, horsebox in tow, and gave me a loud “YEEHAW!” That’s when I remembered... "oh yeah, I’m from Houston.” Today was going to be a good one...
My worries peaked- I’m going to get my ass handed to me. Then I heard a cheerful “Mornin’, John Dale!” as Emily McCartney, our ambassador and full time ranching lifestyle photographer, waved from the truck. She had a Yeti full of hot black coffee, as promised. Nectar of life in hand, we headed out. Within minutes, we were cutting track on a dirt road heading to one of their 640-acre grazing pastures. As far as ranch work goes, this was supposed to be an easy day, but as we kicked up dust there was plenty of discussion on how I would fit in. Anxiety level was back on the rise.
We stopped a couple gates later when the road opened up to a good clearing, and in an instant everything fell together like clockwork. The horses were out and prepped, and, within seconds, it was apparent how ingrained ranch life was within Emily. She told me that her involvement in the day-to-day responsibilities of the ranch began as an infant. Her mother, Marianne, would bring her along in the feed wagon to help Todd feed cows or open gates. Since she could walk, Emily was doing chores, working with horses, and caring for her beloved chickens-- selling the eggs for a dollar a dozen on trips to town. She received her first horse, Amigo, when she was 4, and by the time she was a teen she became a regular member of the cowboy crew.
“On our ranch it is all hands on deck. Man, woman, boy or girl. I grew up right alongside my dad, uncles and cousins, doing the same job they did. Being a girl was not an excuse I was ever allowed to use, nor did I want to. While I feel like I have always belonged when cowboying, I also have great examples of ranch women in my family. My aunts, mother, and grandmother are all fantastic matriarchs, cooks and homemakers- but can pull a calf or gather horses if need be. I am thankful I grew up in a family that didn’t view my womanhood as an inconvenience, but as an opportunity to empower me.”
Growing up in a culture such as the Brown Ranch you learn a few things: the work ethic to get through never ending and hard days, the grit needed to walk through a blizzard to bring a newborn calf to the safety of a warm barn, and the patience and gentleness to navigate the life and death seen on the ranch alongside the cowboy next to you. You have to be tough enough to take loss, drought, failures, and market crashes on the chin and come out the otherside with the presence of mind to care of a sick calf. However, now more than ever, ranchers are dealing with a very specific threat. As ranches are reliant on their customer bases, their perception, as well as the industry’s, is incredibly important. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that not everyone looks at the ranching industry favorably. “Ranchers are the original conservationists. We survive off this land, and these animals, and this fresh water, and air. We do all we can to sustain it, I promise you. I feel we are so terribly misunderstood. I hope for the future of ranching that the good story can be told to the masses.”
“Ranchers are the original conservationists. We survive off this land, and these animals, and this fresh water, and air. We do all we can to sustain it, I promise you. I feel we are so terribly misunderstood. I hope for the future of ranching that the good story can be told to the masses.”
There are things about ranching that Emily wishes everyone could see and experience. The beauty of a canyon sunrise, the relationship between a cowboy and his horse, and a newborn foal taking in it’s new world. “Those moments hit you, whether you are a an 84 year old hardened cowpuncher or a five year old kid. Experiencing those moments of peace and wonder take your breath away every time.” Experiencing the remote beauty of her ranch life and wanting to share it with others, Emily picked up a camera at 12 and by 16 the dream of becoming a renowned ranching lifestyle photographer was alive and well. “My goal as a photographer is to capture the rawness of the people, land & animals in authentic form.
There are so many stories to be told about this way of life & I want my images to be the artistic storyteller. There is distress and there is glory, but mostly there is strength.” She desires to be renowned not in the sense that people know her name, but the emotions her imagery stirs within those who view it. This desire is akin to her fiery determination, something that drives her to be the best she can, not so she or the ranch can be held up on a public pedestal, but so that the ranch can be a leader in the innovation and quality of the cattle and quarter horses they produce. This is shared with the rest of her family, they work hard so they can be proud of their accomplishments, not so they can boast about being better than others.
“Those moments hit you, whether you are a an 84 year old hardened cowpuncher or a five year old kid. Experiencing those moments of peace and wonder take your breath away every time.”
Later that night I asked Todd how much of this land was theirs. “You know where you’re staying? A few miles over yonder?” He points, and I nod while taking a sip of beer. “All the land between there and here and pretty much everything else you can see” *Chokes on beer* You see, in 1895 R.H. Brown sent his son R.A. Brown to an untamed West Texas to run the ranch (now totaling 77,000 acres) he had just founded, he showed up to a blank slate. Over the years the RAB Ranch has become known for their technology and breeding practices winning them the Cattle Business of the Century Award and the AQHA Best Remuda Award. Meaning the best cow horse, for us Houston folk. In that time the ranch has been passed down through the family and is now run by the 5th generation fulfilling the dream of “keep the ranch in the family, and the family in the ranch.” Something just as special and rare as the awards. Emily sees all of her siblings and cousins (totaling 17) staying connected in some capacity to the ranch, if not employed full time. Emily’s hope for the future ranch is simple. “For the ranch to remain inviting enough that it draws the generations back and successful enough to support them. My cousins are my best friends. I grew up with them on the ranch and their influence in my life has continued to help steer me and impact me.”
“I am the 6th generation to ride the very same rangeland, cross the same rocky creeks, and move cattle through the very same draws that my great great grandfather claimed in 1895 in Throckmorton County. That is unheard of in any other industry other than agriculture.”
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