What Lies Ahead for the Waggoner Ranch Cowboys?

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Six months after one of the largest ranches in Texas was sold to sport mogul Stan Kroenke, those who live and work on the ranch have seen some changes. The most recently, the end of leases for residents at Lake Diversion.

But how are the cowboys, that work from before sunup to sun down, handling the changes?

Photographer Jeremy Enlow was allowed to follow the cowboys at Waggoner Ranch around for 3 months before the ranch was sold. Since then, he’s published “Cowboys of the Waggoner Ranch”, which documents the cowboy way of life, what people call the cowboy way, and a way of life that may be vanishing.

“I just really wanted to preserve this way of life for future generations, in case the new owner came in and started changing some things,” said Enlow.

And that’s what Enlow said motivated him to do the book.

“I found these 26 cowboys that practice cowboy-ing like it was 1945. Nothing has changed and there hasn’t really been a documented project on them because the ranch has been very private. So I asked the owners, ‘Hey I would like to come out and document these amazing cowboys before the ranch changed ownership.”

Enlow said some of his favorite photos are the portraits of the cowboys, especially those representing  generations of families, and some that have been working on the vast range for more than 50 years.

“I really enjoy the portraits because you can kind of see the texture of what their life is really like by looking at their faces.”

Enlow said after the ranch’s more than half million acres were added to billionaire Stan Kroenke’s vast holdings, he never heard the cowboys say an unkind word about the Waggoner family that had owned it since its founding.

“Any new owners coming in, there’s going to be changes. But some of these changes going on are going to be hard for the cowboys and it’s hard for the communities around here. The Waggoner family was so instrumental in helping the communities. They were civic leaders and those are big shoes to fill.”

And while change can be hard on anyone, Enlow said for the cowboy who has never known any other way of life, it can be devastating.

“A couple of months after Mr. Kroenke purchased the ranch, he made some changes. He let about a third of the cowboys either retire, let go, or quit. And then he also closed the cook shack, which has been operational for decades. So, there’s been a lot of changes out there that the cowboys are having to deal with.”

But whatever happens, Enlow said he’s now preserved, at least on paper, how things used to be on this iconic Texas ranch.

“I was hoping to preserve this way of life not only for future generations, but also for the new owner. To actually see the faces of the employees out there. To actually see the families and what they go through. And especially now I think that this is more important than ever, because decisions about the Waggoner Ranch are being made in Montana and Los Angeles.”

Enlow will be having a book signing at the Texas Ranch Roundup at the MPEC Friday from 3pm-7pm and on Saturday from 10am-7pm at the Waggoner’s Boot Center booth in the Exhibit Hall. 

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