It was the buckaroo’s daughter who ended up on the cover of a new “coffee table” book, although the National Geographic photographer who visited Maggie Creek Ranch in the fall of 2003 had come to take pictures of cowboys for the magazine’s monthly “zip code” feature – 89801 – Elko, Nevada. His work that day appeared in the October issue, but his photo of 15-year-old Ashley Riggs is on the dust cover of a seven-pound book, In Focus – National Geographic Greatest Photographs.

Ashley Riggs

Camera-toting people are not uncommon visitors to the large cattle ranches of northeastern Nevada, so Ashley’s cowboss father, Terry, was casual when he went down to headquarters at the request of Jon Griggs, ranch manager. Ashley came along to watch. The part-time fashion photographer, took one look at the girl’s amazing blue eyes beneath her flat, palm leaf hat and asked her to stand against the old barn’s tack room door for a picture.

Later, he said he was drawn to her “classic, old-world beauty with her thick, braided hair. She looked formal, elegant and sophisticated. I knew she would make a good tintype.”

He’d taken pictures of cowboys of the Great Basin before, specifically at the Big Loop at Jordan Valley and the T Lazy S, Spanish and IL Ranches in Nevada. Mary Riggs was amazed to learn that Ashley’s portrait had been picked for a book cover. It’s among more than 280 carefully selected photographs of people from divergent lands and times. These images were in a file of 10.5 million photos taken in every “corner” of the globe in the last 100 years by 150 of the world’s best photographers.

For his “shoot” at Maggie Creek, the photographer used a Civil War era camera that produces tintypes or ferrotypes. The process requires its subjects to remain motionless for several minutes. As soon as they were taken, he developed the negatives on the tailgate of a pickup using an historic process invented in the 1800s. The buckaroos and their families watched in amazement as each picture slowly materialized in the chemicals.

The editor of In Focus, Leah Bendavid Val, explained that choosing any cover photo is serious business, so editorial, marketing and publishing people view a variety of pictures selected from those representing a volume’s contents. In this case, they were all drawn to the black and white tintype, although National Geographic is known for color photography.

“We felt Ashley’s portrait showed strength and directness,” Bendavid Val said. “It has feeling, something to do with the way the photographer and his subject worked together. We require cover photos to be symbolic of the best of what the book is about, and even in black and white, this photo rose above that requirement.”

Ashley and her mother were invited to visit the National Geographic offices in Washington, D.C., where she was one of those featured at the lecture and book signing.

“When Ashley stood up after she was introduced, the audience cheered,” Bendavid Val noted with pleasure.

Even in sepia tone, Ashley’s piercing blue eyes are evident, and like a professional model, she’s tall and slender, with the confident demeanor of one who can do things – many things in her case. Home-schooled since she was a fourth grader, Ashley developed an interest in historical eras and a fascination for beautiful period clothing. She learned to sew and has made many costumes on a refinished antique treadle sewing machine. These are not small creations. They are worthy of any Hollywood set, and last July she won first and third places in the “Formal Dress Category” for her costumes. She modeled them herself at Cheyenne (Wyoming) Frontier Days.

Poised and confident inside and out, Ashley continues to spend hours riding with her father and frequently with her mother participating in regular ranch work. She particularly enjoys the camaraderie of brandings because they are community gatherings, peopled by Maggie Creek Ranch employees and owners who, like the three Riggs, have been on the place for years.

Ashley gardens, raises exotic chickens, collects antique plates and cooks. Her aim is to attend fashion-design school and, ultimately, to create costumes for plays and movies.

Her father, too, knew what he wanted to do when he was very young and he pursued it doggedly. “Cowboy college” started for Terry when he was about 12. Though his family lived in town, he acquired a mustang for $15 and learned to ride without help. He was galloping wildly around in a pasture one day, chasing its resident cattle when the owner, State Sen. Roy Young, caught him.

“Roy told me to come to the ranch and he’d ‘cut’ the colt for me,” Terry said. “I had no idea what he was talking about, but I hurried over and met a couple of his buckaroos. Pretty soon I was riding my new gelding with them and my cowboy education was underway.

“While I was in high school, I got jobs on other nearby ranches and when I was 18, I took a job with Bill Kane on the Spanish Ranch near Tuscarora.”

Terry eventually was hired to help start horses for the Ellison Ranching Company – all the divisions – and that’s a lot of horses. These were 6- and 7-year-old Thoroughbred-type, range-bred horses not yet halter broke.

But for Terry, it balanced out in the long days he spent riding alone in magnificent country on a good horse. He worked there for five years, all told.

“I learned a lot,” he admits. “Like one day Jim Dorrance came by. He was working for Tom Marvel, but he stayed a week or so and taught us what he called ‘survival techniques’ when it came to starting those big colts. With him there, we could saddle 18 in a day. Before he came, it would have taken us a week. When he left, he said, ‘Now don’t tell anyone about what I showed you. They won’t do it right.’”

In the late 1970s, Tom Marvel hired Terry to go to Idaho to Sally Marvel’s place in Weiser, and help her and Witch Holman start colts aimed for the cutting pen.

It was there in 1981 that Terry met Mary Nelson. At the time, he was riding for Buck Tiffin, an old-time bronc-rider, and neighbor to Mary’s family. She, too, was working for Buck and Helen Tiffin.

Terry and Mary married in 1984 and returned to Nevada to a cowboy’s job on the Gund Ranch near the Shoshone Indian Reservation. Eventually, they decided to put down some roots and both took “town” jobs to stockpile enough money to build a house. Mary found work with a cabinetmaker. Terry got a job with a well driller. They rented in Elko until Mary finished a basement on five acres in Spring Creek. They moved in while Mary completed the house above.

Ashley was born in 1988 and, a year later Terry went back to work as a cowboy, this time for Maggie Creek Ranch. When he was promoted to cowboss at headquarters west of Elko, Mary sold the house they lived in and the house she’d built on another lot and they moved into one of Maggie Creek’s residences, one that Mary has improved with hand-laid tile and other embellishments.

As cow boss, it’s Terry’s job to buy horses for the remudas for Maggie Creek, Lamoille and the Red House. He helps pick some of the bulls and decides when to rotate pastures. About 300 first calf heifers are calved out at headquarters every spring and those, too, are Terry’s responsibility, but he has a few other cowboys to help. He plans when and where brandings take place and keeps in touch with the men in charge of the other ranches.

Like the proverbial busman on holiday, Terry takes a few outside colts to start every year, and he and “his girls” are close to their Thoroughbred mare and colt kept next to the house. Terry’s personal mount is a Van Norman gelding.

Dogs are important, too. There are frequent litters and Terry is known for making good working Border Collies.

To keep from burning out, Terry skis as much as possible in winter. Luckily, Elko has a ski slope with a rope tow and small lift. Mary and Ashley participate frequently in local art shows and bazaars where they show and sell their handmade crafts.

Terry’s had his share of broken bones and wet, cold days, but he’s satisfied with his way of life. “It’s a good day,” he says, “when no one bucks off, the dogs stay out of the gate, the cows find the opening and the wind doesn’t blow your hat off.”

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