Writing on the Range

Cowboy Walls that Talk

Western Horseman introduces Bob Welch as a new blogger.

Cowboy codes and stories from the West captivate Western Horseman’s newest blogger, raised in the ranching life.

Cowboy code, and all the traditions and heritage of the ranching lifestyle, confront me on a daily basis. They peer over my shoulder as I’m writing this now. That’s because on the walls of my home hang the mementos of a half-life.

Western Horseman introduces Bob Welch as a new blogger.
Bob Welch (left) has spent his whole life in the ranching and Western world. Welch’s father (right) drags a calf during a branding on a place they lease in Montana. Photo by Ross Hecox

Most prominently, there are photos of my family — mostly snapshots taken by photographer friends as we worked — usually branding calves or shipping yearlings. Here, the treasures of my heart and my life’s calling are captured, printed and displayed.

Those same walls remind me of my heritage. One grandfather’s putter, buttons and swatches from his suit coats worn in his duties as county commissioner, are arranged to represent all his grandchildren and are hung next to a photograph of each grandchild. Below that hangs the purple heart from the great-uncle I never knew, but for whom I was named. On a shelf rests an S&W bit, co-designed by another great-uncle.

There are the sketches by artist friend, T.D. Kelsey, used as studies for his sculptures: a colt, a heavy horse, a buffalo calf and a mature bull. And, on my mantle sits one of his bronzes, Ain’t a Hole In Him. Few artists’ work speak to me the way Kelsey’s does — always an authentic representation of the West yet stretched just far enough with an impressionistic flair to allow the viewer to fill in a few gaps.

In one corner hangs a signed print by actor/artist Buck Taylor of cowman and plainsman Charlie Goodnight — a confluence of the Old West and the television Western’s Golden Age in one piece. Another signed poster of the Reno Rodeo by Buckeye Blake represents my time working in the rodeo industry. (I spent time in the media department at Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, as well as with production companies that televised rodeo, most notably the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. I also worked in the publishing industry writing for natural horsemanship, team roping and Western lifestyle magazines.) Nearby is a program from the Wrangler Hall of Champions ceremony signed by nine prominent all-around champions, from Gerald Roberts to Ty Murray.

I was recently given two photos — probably from the 1920s — of my local county fair rodeo. One is of Swede Nelson reaching with his spurs toward the shoulder of a bronc named Gun Powder, and another is of roper Earl Carpenter giving chase to a 500-pound calf.

And opposite my office is a wall of books. Nearly every significant book on the West that I’m aware of sits there. On that wall are names like Teddy Blue Abbott, Will James, J. Frank Dobie, Jo Mora, J. Evetts Haley, Elmer Kelton, Larry McMurtry and Tom McGuane. There’s also a small collection of classics and a good selection of books written to help understand the greatest book ever written, the Bible.

These varied, yet not-totally-unrelated influences converge in my daily thoughts and writing. Somewhat naturally, each time I sit staring at the blinking cursor at the top of a blank page, I attempt to fit all this together in the framework of our created order.

A great narrative must have purpose. Some stories exist just for the sake of entertainment or shock value, but I want to listen to and relate stories that reveal a deeper truth, a lesson or an ethic. People of the land — and cowboys in particular — are my fertile field.

The idea of the cowboy code — an objective set of standards somewhat unique to this culture — is a topic I often find myself alternatively endorsing and questioning in light of an even higher standard. Nevertheless, this culture, the people, the horses, the cattle, and the land are endlessly captivating.

To share my musings under the Western Horseman masthead is an honor I was never sure would come to fruition. So, thank you for taking the time to meet me. I hope you’ll continue to check in on my monthly posts, and I hope together we can expose truths about the cowboy world that will inspire us.

3 thoughts on “Cowboy Walls that Talk”

  1. I’ve followed Bob’s writing for awhile now. His columns are are authentic, thought provoking and speak to all – cowboy or not. Glad to see he’s on the payroll of Western Horseman.


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