The Cattle Drive

Photo by Charles J. Belden 1908-ca. 1940

A few years ago while on a weekend trip with my friends I found my favorite photograph to date. At The Twisted Fork Grill & Saloon in Omaha’s Old Market District I fell in love with this simple photograph.

After scrolling through thousands of pictures on multiple museum websites I found my new love. Ironically the original was housed in a building that I lived within walk distance of not 6 months earlier (good timing on my part). At the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center there are around 3,000 photos taken by Belden during the 1920’s and 30’s. This guy took pictures of EVERYTHING on his family’s ranch. Being a rich man from California it could have been his fun hobby in the never-ending grind of ranch work.

What I love most about this photo is the mix of drama and simplicity, misery and serenity. The long and tired line of cattle pushing through the snow storm is highlighted so dramatically by the negative space the blizzard creates. It is simple because of the few subjects, a guy on a horse and a line of cows with no background to distract. However, when you imagine the thoughts of that rider and the nervousness he felt…misery. This is a career where you can literally watch your livelihood stumble through a blizzard and there is little control you have over the situation. While on the other hand watching your cattle walk slowly through land covered with snow…kinda seren.