I wasn’t raised as an American Cowgirl, although in my youth, I liked to think of myself that way. Looking back, I realize that a couple of trips to Colorado and a job on a dude ranch in no way qualifies me to claim that title. It was during my brief stint as the head wrangler at a ranch in Montana, I met a girl who is, in actuality, an American Cowgirl. Her name is Pam.
Being somewhat shy, I didn’t make many friends while I was working on the ranch. I only became acquainted with Pam through someone that was working there and introduced us, knowing that I needed to get out and make some friends besides the ranch horses. Pam lived close by, close enough to ride horseback between our homes. We went on a rides together through the beautiful wilderness that bordered the west side of the ranch’s property. Pam knew all of the trails through public and private land. Between riding and our mutual interest in cowboys, we became fast friends.
Pam became my mentor. Together we went to parties and cowboy hangouts. Through Pam I managed to meet a few of the area cowboys. They would load up their horses in trailers and in the back of pickup trucks with side rails and take them to an indoor arena to practice penning and roping during the snowy winter months. I loved the atmosphere and overhearing the cowboys talk about the horses and riders. “If he gets that rope under ole’ Pete’s tail, he’ll find out why he was able to buy him so cheap!” It was small town living in what was then an area full of ranches, colorful locals, and wide-open spaces. Everyone knew not only everyone else, but their livestock, too.
Pam is fourth generation cowboy, or in her case, cowgirl. Her father had started out doing ranch work, but later chose the more stable occupation of an electrician and opened his own business. He still kept horses on his place. His first daughter showed no interest in them, but Pam was enthralled from the time she could walk, much to her father’s delight. She began riding at an early age and won her first trophy saddle at the tender age of thirteen. The small town she grew up in even included rodeo as one of the school’s extracurricular activities.
Pam loved anything that was associated with horses. She took me to a western store and helped me pick out my first quality cowboy hat. It was more money than I really should have spent, but I desperately wanted to replace the cheap straw hat I had been using all summer. Once back at her house, she showed me how to trim the brim. We held it over steaming water and reshaped it. I kept that hat for a long time, in spite of the fact it had become unsightly and useless after many years of being stored in the back of a closet. It never failed to bring back a lot of fond memories. It was only recently I finally parted with it. It was moldy, dirty and horribly out of shape.
After my short-lived career as a wrangler, I moved back to Michigan. I kept in touch with Pam for quite some time. Following graduation, she moved to Arizona and worked in one of those roadside gift shops that specialized in silver and turquoise jewelry and western souvenirs. Our frequent letters dwindled and became once a year Christmas Cards until finally all communication between us was lost.
When I bought my first computer and had an Internet service, I started looking up friends from my past. I couldn’t find Pam, but her father lived in the same town, in the same house that Pam grew up in. I wrote down the address and sent off a letter to her. It was a few weeks later I received a reply. At that time, Pam was living the life of an American Cowgirl. She had worked on an Arabian horse ranch in Arizona. At some point she fell for a cowboy and together they worked on a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Later the couple moved to Arizona where Pam worked on a feedlot. Her cowgirl career included rodeo work, ranch work, and even ponying racehorses. It seems like just about any occupation that was performed on horseback became a part of Pam’s resume.
It wasn’t until her father became ill that she returned to Montana. She ended up settling down in the same small town she grew up in, the town where she realized her roots ran deep. She made a career change to one that did not include horses. She worked as a flag person for a construction company and later operated the heavy equipment used in road building. It was there she met her husband. It’s funny, but she managed to fall for someone that wasn’t and had never been a cowboy.
As fate would have it, I had married and moved to Arizona. Pam’s sister lived nearby and she and her father came for a winter visit. It had been about 30 years since we had seen each other. Being reunited with old friends is like stepping into a time machine. We laughed over the old times and our frivolous youth. We played a round of the recollection game “what ever happened to?” We were both a little older and wiser, no longer the young, naïve girls with so many dreams built around cowboys and horses. My husband and I had just purchased a nursery and were in the process of organizing and upgrading the inventory. Pam filled the back of her truck with many rustic and whimsical items that didn’t fit into my husband’s modish tastes. Pam’s passion had turned from horses to gardening and she was eager to add to her eclectic landscape, a constantly changing work in progress with no end in sight.
Pam no longer owns a horse. She told me that there is now so much private property between her dad’s house and our old riding trails that you would have to trailer a horse to reach the national forest land. Even the bridge that spanned the river where she spent hot summer afternoons swimming, her horse tied to its rails, is now private property, with access strictly forbidden. She raises a couple of beef steers each year. Her new horse is an ATV that she rides to her father’s property where she feeds the cattle, maintains fencing, and changes the flood irrigation in the pasture at least twice a day.
Pam has more horse knowledge and experience than many of us could ever hope to gain in a lifetime. Her home is a tribute to anyone who’s ever worked as a cowboy and filled with memorabilia that chronicles her life, the life of an American Cowgirl.
© 2013 Kristie Allison
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