Cowboy Careers Cut Short

By John Langmore


My father took the photo of Vern Torrance in 1974. Stiffy, as he was known, was a long time cowboy on the Padlock Ranch outside of Crow Agency, Montana. Vern had bad eyesight and purportedly refused to deal with it. A few weeks after my dad took this photo that stubborn cowboy mentality cost Vern dearly when he drove his old pickup truck on to a railroad track unaware of the oncoming train. It was a tragic end to a long cowboy career.


I had that classic photo of my father's clearly in mind when I took this shot of Ken Saucier on Arizona's Diamond A in 2013. Although Ken left Ohio late in life to become a cowboy, he personified what it means to be a "top hand" - good with horses, good with cattle and a man who'd never ask another to do anything he wouldn't do himself. In some cursed twist of fate, shortly after I took this photo Ken tied on to a big cow, his horse stumbled, fell on top of him and thrashed him in a way every cowboy dreads. Thankfully, after months in the hospital Ken mostly healed up. But, with lingering issues from the wreck Ken put his cowboy days behind him.

Although not every cowboy has the good fortune to end his time in the saddle quietly on a day of his choosing, I know none would trade it for a life lived safely behind a desk. Like my father before me, I feel fortunate to have crossed paths with men like Vern and Ken.

-John Langmore is a former working cowboy who spent five years photographing cowboys on twelve of the country’s largest ranches for the soon to be released film, Cowboys: a Documentary Portrait, and also a book titled, Open Range – America’s Big Outfit Cowboy.

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