NEAR FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - It was the year 1886. That year, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York, a pharmacist in Atlanta invented Coca Cola, and Native American warrior Geronimo surrendered his last fighters to U.S. Cavalry Forces.
In that same year, five brothers struck out from their home in Ohio, and founded a business in Arizona. That business is called Babbitt Ranches, and it encompasses 700,000 acres of open land north of Flagstaff. Some 8,000 head of cattle are raised at the ranch.
To this day, 135 years later, the ranch operates in much the same way it did back then.
A day in the life
The day begins well before dawn on the Babbitt Ranches. It starts with a hearty cowboy breakfast in the bunkhouse consisting of eggs with sausage, French Toast, and strong, hot, black coffee served in a tin cup.
The meal is prepared by a cook hired for the season, and it is eaten mostly in silence. In fact, people might notice one thing at the ranch pretty quickly: there’s not a lot of chatter between the ranch hands.
When the leader stands up, that's the signal that the work has begun, and the whole crew heads out. They grab their blankets and saddles, and get their horses ready. Even the youngest members of this crew, some of them smaller than the saddles themselves, are ready to work.
The mission: herd cattle from their lower elevation, winter grazing areas up to the higher elevations for summer, so that the cattle can eat greener, sweeter grass. Calves are paired with their mothers for the trip. Sometimes, the little ones get confused behind the trees, and people will have to guide them out, but it's amazing to ride along and nudge the herd higher and higher, hearing them call out.
"You kind of have to like doing it," said Clay Rodgers. General Manager of Babbitt Ranches. "You're not going to get rich. There's no such thing as retirement."
As the crew head higher and higher, they start to encounter the pine forest. This is a little trickier, as the trees get thicker, and the cows and calves get tired and cranky. When the crew sees the San Francisco Peaks in the distance, they know they're close.
Six hours after saddling up, the crew hits the home stretch of the trip after crossing a highway. They also reflect on what the Babbitt Ranches calls the 'cowboy essence,' a set of morals that guides the operation, like honesty and respect.
The journey ends at a water hole, where the horses and cattle drink their fill. They're safe, and surrounded by rich new pastures. From there, the crew heads back to teh buckhouse for a real cowboy dinner.
While many things may have stayed the same at Babbitt Ranches, one thing certainly changed: online presence. Internet certainly didn't exist back in the 1800s, but nowadays, Babbitt Ranches has an online and social media presence.
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