Interview and photography by Jolyn Young
Whether roping cattle, raising horses or using dogs, this Nevada buckaroo is drawn to all aspects of the ranching lifestyle.
Cowboying has always been a way of life for Jan Buckmaster. She grew up working on her parents’ ranch, and today she lives in Fallon, Nevada, with her husband, Fred. Jan still day-works, but her priority is developing the horse and cattle herds that she and Fred have put together. She recently started roping competitively, and won the intermediate doctoring class at the 2019 Early Californios Skills of the Rancho with partner Jessi Redd.
Jan is hard-pressed to pick a favorite aspect of cowboying. She is passionate about all of it, and enjoys sharing her knowledge with others.
The first cattle drive I rode on was when I was 2 weeks old. Mom packed me.
Dad rode outside horses, day-worked, and they owned the sale yard. They both worked it. They also put on ropings. I went almost everywhere with them. My little feet were a long way from the stirrups, so I really hated trotting. I remember falling off when my horse jumped with a cow, and my dad brushed me off and put me back on. He told me to hold on tight next time I was going to turn a cow, all the while laughing.
I started my first colt at around 12 years old. Luckily for me, my dad knew quite a bit and helped. When I was maybe 13 or 14, I started helping ranchers trail to and from the Owyhee Desert. I got paid $50 a day.
When I was 27, I married, had kids, tried to be domestic. Worked several town jobs. Then in 2011, I moved back to Fallon and started over. I started working at one of the sale yards and day-working around central Nevada. I [agreed] to brand calves [for a local rancher] for two and a half days, and then never left for three and a half years. I still day-work for him. I didn’t burn any bridges. I don’t believe in it, and I try hard not to do it.
I was fortunate enough to be around some of the best in the business in their time. I continue to be fortunate enough to be around so many talented people that are generous with their knowledge. You learn from all of it. Keep what works for you. Don’t get too caught up in what doesn’t work for you. Some things are tried and true, and they just work, but there are a lot of things that vary.
My dogs are a big part of my “essentials.” They can find wild or spoiled cattle, bring them to me, and load them in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. It’s a rush to go in and have the dogs hit a scent, especially in the trees where you can’t see them, then hear ’em because they’ve got ’em stopped.
We have some broodmares and raise some nice, big, gentle colts. I had a stud when Fred and I got together. He was a pretty nice riding horse, and he just happened to be a stud, too. We had my mares, and Fred’s mares, and just kinda kept going.
I like riding mares, too. I don’t see the difference between a really good mare and a really good gelding. But if I’ve got a good mare, I can get colts out of her. If I’ve got a good gelding, I need to think about if I’m going to keep him for the rest of his life, or if I’m going to sell him.
When I was buckarooing [in my younger years], it was a whole different world than it is now. There weren’t women buckaroos or full-time women cowboys. What very few there were, they were the exception. Gals today don’t really understand how fortunate they are right now. If you’ve got some experience riding, if you can rope a little bit and can kinda read a cow, you can pretty much go to work. It didn’t used to be like that.
I enjoy [helping younger cowgirls]. I want to see them succeed and enjoy their lives. It may not be what they do later on, but while they’re doing it, I want to see them be successful.
I’d like to say to all the young kids out there, don’t go in telling how you’re a colt startin’, bronc stompin’, ropin’, cuttin’, great hand at everything. Just say, “I’m okay at it. I’ll do the best I can.” Use your ears and your eyes a lot more than you use your mouth, and you’ll be fine.