Working on ranches in Colorado, Nebraska, Montana, Utah and Wyoming has taught this cowgirl new methods, how to adapt to her environment, and about the things she values most.
Ranching is the only way of life for Emilie Wilcox Heggie. The 29- year-old cowgirl’s earliest memories are of punching cows on her family ranch and on the Preston Nutter Ranch, located high on the West Tavaputs Plateau in eastern Utah.
I COME FROM an amazing and historical ranching background. My great-grandparents, Budge and Pearl Wilcox, settled and built their ranch in Desolation Canyon and on the West Tavaputs Plateau near Green River, Utah, in the late 1800s. My grandparents, Don and Jeannette Wilcox, and my parents, Jim and Kelly Wilcox, continued to ranch there for many years.
I TAKE PRIDE that my brother Jesse and I are the fifth generation of the Wilcox family to have been raised on the family ranch and run cows [on it]. One of the greatest gifts of my life has been this ranching legacy and the knowledge that was passed down from my grandparents and parents to my brother and me.
I BEGAN RIDING with my dad at age 4. One of his favorite stories is about the day he took me to check cattle and put me on a red roan gelding he’d raised out of his best saddle mare, Katrina. The gelding’s name was Barbarosa, and he was as gentle as a horse could be. But on that particular spring day he was excited to head across the flats and kicked up as he jogged through a washout. I fell off and landed in the dust. Then I jumped up, grabbed my reins and said, “Damn you, Barbarosa.” I got right back on him and rode the rest of the day.
MY BEST FRIEND has always been my brother, Jesse. Growing up on a ranch far from town or any neighbors, we spent most of our time with adults and didn’t see or interact with many other kids.
I BECAME PART of the cowboy crew at an early age, not only because it was what I wanted to do, but also because it was what I had to do. We always lived in remote locations, where there was no such thing as daycare. Our horses became our babysitters, and we were lucky to have some of the best cow horses around.
WHEN I WASN’T cowboying with my dad, I was lucky enough to be taught how to cook for big crews by my grandma and my mom.
COWBOYING IS ALL I have ever known. Working was fun, and we did it as a family. I never felt like I was missing out on anything.
FROM THE BEGINNING, my dad expected me to be tough, and he never treated me any different because I was a girl. That is probably why I have never had a problem working with a crew of men.
WHEN I WAS 4 years old, my parents leased summer range from the Ute Indian Tribe on the East Tavaputs Plateau. It was about an eight-hour drive to cow camp. My dad had a tepee set up for us, and my mom cooked our meals in Dutch ovens on the campfire. By the end of the day, Jesse and I would be covered in dirt. Mom and Dad would heat water over the camp stove, and we’d bathe in a No. 3 washtub at night.
DURING THE SUMMER, my brother and I rode almost every day, gathering cows in the morning and branding calves in the afternoon. This was my life, living in a cow camp during the summer, riding, branding and doing all of the things that encompass ranch life. I’m not the type of cowboy who is opposed to doing jobs that are not all done on horseback. There is more to being a cowboy than just being able to rope and ride.
IT CAN BE HARD for a woman to get a ranch job. I have had to work very hard to prove that I’m not just an average girl. The most important thing my family instilled in us is a work ethic. That is the one thing that has got me to where I am today.
I STARTED COWBOYING in Montana, and it was there that I met my husband, Marty. Our son, Jacob Martin Heggie, was born on December 25, 2008. He is the light of our lives and is continuing on with the cowboy life.
MARTY AND I have taken Jacob to work with us on a ranch since he was only a few months old. He is now almost 4 years old, and the greatest reward for us is that he has taken such an interest in the lifestyle we love at such a young age.
WE ARE PRETTY CAREFUL to avoid burning Jacob out on ranching. The biggest mistake I think a parent can make is to not make ranching fun for a kid. It was always fun for my brother and me, and we grew to love it.
MY GRANDFATHER once said, “I love this life, and if I didn’t have it, I don’t know what I’d do.”And that’s exactly how I feel.
This article was originally published in the October 2012 issue of Western Horseman.