Monday, February 14, 2011

Teresa Jordan, Riding the White Horse Home

There's a growing literature of memoirs written by women who grew up on ranches. Wyoming Week here at BITS begins with this fine addition to it. Jordan tells of her family, who for four generations raised cattle in southeast Wyoming, north of Laramie and Cheyenne.

With some irony, it was more circumstance than a love of ranching that kept the Jordans on the land, until the author's father sold the home place in the 1970s. But the love of that spot on earth lives on strongly in the author, and her book is a tribute to it and to her family who toiled there through good years and bad.

She clearly admires the men who labored on horseback raising cattle. She devotes chapters to her grandfather, her father, and the many foremen and ranch hands who worked for them. Fully engaging, too, are her memories of the women and the imprint they have made on herself.

Swan Land and Cattle Company, Chugwater, Wyoming, 1974
Three portraits in particular stand out. First is her mother, Jo, with a warm, generous, and independent spirit, who died suddenly at an early age. Then there's her great aunt Marie, who loved her horses and dogs like the children she never had, and lived happily together with her husband and her husband's best friend. Finally, there's her grandmother Effie, a puzzlingly bitter woman whose wishes for a full life seem to have been frustrated from girlhood because of her gender and social limitations.

There's much in this book to commend it, including a chapter devoted to the calving season and another describing the physically punishing nature of ranch work. Her chapter on her great aunt Marie includes excerpts from her journals, and each chapter is introduced with a photograph from the family album. The book closes with a description of the author's wedding at the community center near where she grew up, an idyllic day poignant for its wholehearted celebration of a way of community life that is rapidly vanishing.

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Geoffrey O'Gara, What You See in Clear Water


  1. In 2011 ranching life is still physically punishing. Many wranglers, for example, are seasonally itinerant, and have no health benefits, dental care, coverage for eye glasses and the like. I would bet their average lifespan is on the low side.

  2. This makes me think I should collect my sister's columns in a book. She grew up on a farm of course, and for years she wrote a column in the local town newspaper. I'm gonna have to give that some thought.

  3. Did she say anything about the men who herd sheep on horseback in the Bighorn Mts? Didn't think so! :)

    Wyoming week, I'll be interested in the books you pick. Have you read Gretel Ehrlich?

  4. Veronica, neglected health care has a way of shortening the life span, and cowboys have traditionally considered themselves immune to illness and injury.

    Cheyenne, you bet.

    Charles, an excellent idea. Farm kids had an experience that is rapidly becoming history and deserves preserving.

    Sage, Gretel Ehrlich is coming up on Thursday. Hers was one of the first books I read about the West.