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~ JOURNAL ~

There is some controversy in the art world with regard to artists utilizing photographs in the creation of their art. If you’re interested in reading about that subject, click here.

To learn about the process Bill Owen utilizes to create his art once he obtains his research photographs, click here. Or if you choose, you may simply enjoy some of the photographs he has taken shown below.

The photographs shown were selected for the following reasons:

  • Of the thousands of photos Bill takes, he may only end up with a handful that are actually something he can use. Perhaps the landscape isn’t the best, one of the subjects is in a bad position, or the entire scene simply isn’t good composition.

  • If he did do a painting, just copying a lot of the photos, the end result wouldn’t be believable. In spite of finding it hard to believe that an animal or person can get into some of the positions you’ll see, and especially that they could do so without getting hurt, the fact is not one person or animal in any of these pictures was injured. The athleticism of the animals and cowboys is amazing, but not believable and/or desirable in a piece of art.

  • And finally, even if a photo is absolutely perfect in every way, it doesn’t take away from the talent it takes to utilize that photo to create a piece of art that does God’s creations just a little bit of justice.

The photographs featured here were taken at:

  • Grand Canyon Caverns Bronc Riding, June 7, 2003
  • Arizona Cowpunchers Reunion Association Rodeo, July 2003
  • CO Bar Ranch annual gather of mares and colts in anticipation of their annual Colt Sale, July 8, 2005
  • Babbitt Ranch roundup, November 18, 2005
 
 
 
 
 


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Evolution of the Bill Owen Painting, “Leadin’ in a Maverick.” By Valerie Owen

Bill Owen dreamed of having his own working cattle ranch for many years. Not simply for the sake of owning a ranch, but for the specific purpose of having wonderful subject matter for his art at his fingertips. The evolution of “Leadin’ in a Maverick,” is a perfect example of how Bill’s dream has not only been fulfilled, but the reasoning behind it has proven to be sound.

Our ranch is located outside Globe, Arizona, in an extremely remote location. The ranch is in unbelievably rough country. The elevation ranges from 2,900 to more than 7,000 feet, with incredible variations of landscape. There are over one hundred springs located throughout the ranch, with Mineral Creek and Lyon’s Fork Creek both running through the heart of the deeded property, coming together at the lower end and then flowing into the Gila River. Pine trees abound in the higher elevations and sycamore, cottonwood, and mesquite trees are plentiful, as well as century plants, saguaros, and ocotillo.

There is quite a history associated with the ranch. It was used as a Calvary camp for many years, so it earned the name, Government Springs Ranch. From certain locations, we are able to see the legendary “Apache Leap,” where a band of Apache Indians committed suicide by leaping off a bluff, rather than be captured by the Calvary.

Due to the size of the ranch, as well as the extremely rough and brushy country, it is virtually impossible to gather all cattle during roundups. Therefore, some cattle that have been missed, become wild, living to be several years old before ever seeing a human or horse. These unbranded cattle are referred to as “Orejanos” or “Mavericks.” When a cowboy finds one, he is faced with the dangerous task of capturing, ear marking, and branding the unwilling subject. The following account details a day of research on our ranch in July of 2000, including the chase and capture of three such mavericks. Quite a story behind a Bill Owen painting!

At the time, we had a young cowboy by the name of Pete Criner working for us. He is a native Arizonan, who had been raised on ranches throughout Northern Arizona and had previously been a professional bronc rider.

Bill had just experienced the devastating loss of sixteen rolls of film, due to bad developer; research he had obtained here on the ranch that could never be replaced. Situations take place, and there’s only one opportunity to capture that particular event. Bill believed he had been in the right place at the right time, and had several pieces of research that could potentially result in wonderful pieces of art.

It was imperative that new research be obtained and two cowboys that had been working here temporarily when Bill took the aforementioned sixteen rolls, had returned home. Bill asked me if I would want to go riding one day, so I could take pictures and he would be free to help Pete. They hoped to find calves that needed to be branded, and perhaps come across some mavericks. They were going to a location on the ranch where I had never been, named Blue Lake. It’s called a lake, but is really a large, spring-fed dirt tank in a basin where livestock gather to water. I was delighted to go; never imagining what was in store for us!

A few days prior, Bill had purchased an elongated pouch designed to strap behind the cantle of my saddle, so I could take items such as sun block when we ride. It turned out to be quite handy for the camera, several rolls of film, and for the first time ever; I slipped our cell phone inside. I also did something else I had never done before – I took a bottle of water with me! I had come to learn that Arizona cowboys don’t take water when they ride, but I decided, “Baloney on that, I get thirsty, and besides, I’m not a cowboy!”

We purposely left late that morning, hoping to find cattle on water, and since I was still sunburned from the week before, I wore one of Bill’s cowboy hats. This “city girl” hadn’t felt a need for a hat prior, so we stuffed the hatband with tissue to make it fit a little bit better, and we set out.

We took two of our Catahoula dogs, “Tita” and “Cowboy,” along with us. Catahoula are able to trail up cattle the same way a hound will trail up a lion. Experienced working cattle dogs such as these are extremely valuable and they perform many functions on command. They are trained to go ahead of riders, scouting large areas of country, locating, and rustling up cattle that hide in the brush. Cattle are so adept at hiding that a cowboy can easily ride right by them, never realizing they’re there.

We rode for probably an hour and a half, stopping a couple of times to take a break. The second time, Pete crawled up behind a large boulder, cautiously looking down onto Blue Lake through a monocular. All of us, including the dogs, were very quiet. Bill had gotten off his horse and I remained on mine, so I motioned for Bill to get the camera and take a picture of Pete. He had taken his hat off and laid it at the base of the rock purposely, so if there were cattle below and they looked up, hopefully they wouldn’t notice him silhouetted against the skyline; and I thought it could be a nice picture. He was in the process of doing so, when Pete turned and mouthed that cattle were below. Pete and Bill quietly got back on their horses and we continued on the trail toward the lake, sending the dogs ahead of us to hold the cattle up and keep them distracted.

I could not believe the trail! It was extremely steep and rocky for at least a quarter of a mile. I knew my horse Jake, was very sure-footed, but I wasn’t enjoying this descent! Suddenly, we heard the dogs barking, so we knew they were holding up a herd of cattle that probably included some mavericks! Bill told me before he and Pete took off at break-neck speed to just catch up to them when I could, which was just fine with me! Since I’m not a real experienced rider, I get a little nervous when a horse breaks into a run, so I prefer to go at a slower pace. Not only that, but I was having great difficulty keeping Bill’s too-large hat on!

I came to a clearing beyond the lake, and Bill and Pete were nowhere in sight. Although Jake was terribly unhappy to be left behind, and expressed his displeasure by whinnying often, I made him hold up there to wait for them. Soon, Pete came galloping up, asking if I had seen Bill. I told him I hadn’t, so Pete took off after a heifer maverick he’d spotted. I decided to follow him, but again, that fear of mine, and the hat threatening to blow off, forced me to make Jake slow down. I thought I was close behind Pete, but when I circled around the mountain, he had disappeared. I made Jake stop, and in between his whinnying I didn’t hear a sound, so I decided to return to the clearing and wait for them both to return. It wasn’t long before Bill rode into the clearing and asked about Pete. I told him he’d gone after a heifer, and he headed in Pete’s direction to help him. Before Bill located him, Pete returned and we were all together again. I was relieved, but totally clueless as to what would happen next!

Bill told me they had each roped and tied a bull maverick down in addition to the heifer maverick Pete had just captured. He explained that instead of building three separate fires so they could brand the cattle with their running irons, they would lead them all back to the clearing, build one fire and brand them all at once. I thought this was great! Until now, the only pictures I had taken were when activity was going on in a corral. Finally, I would have the opportunity to take some pictures in the wild!

As we made our way along another rocky trail, we came up on the bull maverick that Pete had roped and tied down. He was a fairly large bull with fairly long, sharp horns. Pete had tied his two back legs together quickly, so we stopped and he double-checked the knots. We then continued along the trail, located the bull maverick that Bill had captured, and he did the same.

 

Bill and Pete decided to go on over the mountain to see if they could find a third bull maverick that had escaped them, and I told them I would stay and wait for them to return. I was hot, tired and thirsty. I stayed on Jake for a while, probably fifteen feet away from the young bull maverick. He had watched Bill and Pete as they rode away, but soon noticed Jake and I. He glared at us. Oh yes, they can and do glare! He stood up, never taking his eyes off us, but I wasn’t afraid. After all, the knots had been checked, so I felt certain he wasn’t going anywhere. I got the camera out and took a few pictures of him as he watched us, and drank some of my water.

I knew the guys were going to be awhile, so I decided to get off Jake. I hobbled him, and sat on a rock a couple of feet closer to the bull. I kept the camera with me so I could take pictures when Bill and Pete returned down the mountain, since there was a possibility they’d be leading another maverick. Soon I saw them in the distance. I got up and started snapping away.


Before I realized what was happening, Pete yelled at me, “Watch out! Don’t let the bull get you!” I turned just in time to see the bull charging toward me! I started running across the large boulders. Try that with camera in hand, boots, spurs and heavy leather chaps on! For a minute, everything was a blur. The next thing I remember was Bill telling me he’d get my horse. The bull had charged and hooked Jake, knocking my water bottle out of the pouch onto the ground! Bill picked it up and brought Jake to me, who was fine, just a little nervous. Now my adrenaline was pumping!

After charging and hooking my horse, the bull hadn’t made it far before he fell. Bill later explained why they had only hobbled the back legs. The mavericks could have been tied securely, and would not have been able to get up at all. But that isn’t how they do it, for a couple of reasons. Some cowboys prefer to capture these cattle by roping them around the neck and simultaneously catching one front foot. Caught in this manner, the cowboy has the advantage of being able to jerk the animal down gently. A good horse then holds the rope tight, enabling the cowboy to get off and hobble the animals back legs together with the “piggin’ string,” that cowboys carry through a ring on the left side of their chaps.


Should he rope around the neck without catching a front foot, or rope around the horns; he then throws slack out on the rope in front of the animal. When the maverick steps over the rope with his front feet, the cowboy jerks up the slack and rides away, which trips and takes the animal down. The horse keeps a tight rope while the cowboy gets off to hobble the hind feet of the maverick. Regardless of the method utilized, it’s done in a hurry so he can quickly take off to catch another maverick in the same manner, then return later to secure the animal to a tree. Another reason they hobble only the back legs is because cattle don’t sweat. This particular day was very hot, over one hundred degrees, and the mavericks had run some distance. Being tied in this manner enables them to get up, move around some and cool off. Had they been tied where they couldn’t get up, they could have died due to the heat. Now he tells me! If I’d known all this, Jake and I would have stayed far, far away from that bull!

Now the time came to lead the maverick to the clearing. Dangerous situations such as these require that everything be done in an efficient, organized manner. The last thing a cowboy wants is to injure or kill one of these animals even though the powerful maverick could injure or kill him while attempting to escape. Good cowboys work together as a team and Bill and Pete didn’t have to stop and plan out what to do; they knew what had to take place. Pete roped the young maverick around the neck and Bill removed the rope around his hind legs. Bill quickly got back on his horse, and the bull started charging Pete’s horse. At one point he even got in front of the horse, hooking him under his chest and lifting him off the ground. This was no surprise to Bill or Pete, as mavericks will almost always charge, trying to hook the horse. The bull’s horns were small and growing downward so there was little chance of injury to the horse and no need to tip them. As the bull charged, Pete moved in the same direction in an attempt to draw him close to his horse’s shoulder and dally up short to keep the bulls head up. The bull stopped, and since good cowboys know to lead rather than drag, Bill assumed the role of “booger man.” He rode out of the brush from a distance, rushing the bull, yelling and making noises to “spook” him into moving again. As soon as he moved, Bill retreated quickly so the bull wouldn’t become focused on him and charge his horse, going in the wrong direction. After some time, Pete had the bull leading nicely up the trail when he suddenly yelled, “Bill, come get this bull!” The other bull they had tied down along the trail was climbing up, charging toward Pete! Before Bill could reach him, the bull fell down. We quickly made our way past the fallen bull, continuing on up the trail with Pete leading the young bull ahead of us.



 

Once in the clearing, Bill held the roped bull up while Pete sawed branches off a mesquite tree in order to tie him up. Bill explained that choosing the right tree is very important. Quite often these mavericks are left tied to the tree overnight, so they need to have complete freedom to get up, lie down and move around the tree. Leaving them tied in this manner also helps to “break” them to the rope, so when the cowboy returns to lead him in they’re more cooperative. When Pete finished preparing the tree, he and Bill tied the young maverick to it. Jake and I stayed there while the guys went to get the other bull. This time we sat a farther distance away – I wasn’t taking any more chances!


Before long they returned, the bull “on the fight!” I thought it interesting that the tied bull turned to watch the action. Getting the larger bull tied to a tree next to the other one was more of a challenge. I took pictures as this was going on. Then Pete yelled over to me, asking that I come “spook” the bull in an attempt to get him in the necessary position, since both of them had ropes on him. I put the camera back in the pouch and directed Jake toward the bull, making noises and yelling to try to get the bull to move. Suddenly, the young bull tied to the other tree charged toward Jake! He got out of there quick, and I think he was more than happy to return to a safe distance so he could simply sit, while I resumed taking pictures!


It took quite some time and lots of work to get the second bull tied to the tree. Once they were done, Bill and Pete were really hot, in spite of full cloud cover much of the time. So they took a break under the shade of a tree nearby. Bill asked if I had any water left, and if he and Pete could have some. Now this was a first! I only had a small amount left but was happy to share. Bill smiled at me and said, “I promise we’ll only take one swallow, and I’ll never make fun of you for bringing water!” Of course he was only kidding, but I couldn’t help but think, “Yes!” We each took a sip and the water was gone.

All of this had taken much longer than anticipated, so it was decided we would water our horses, then the heifer maverick would be lead into the clearing and all three would stay tied overnight. Another cowboy was coming the next day to help, so the three of them would return bright and early to lead the cattle into headquarters for inspection prior to shipping.


While the horses watered at Blue Lake I took a couple of pictures. It was so hot and humid! After a bit, we all got off our horses to air their backs out and let them take a breather. I had wrapped a small towel around my water bottle, so I took it out and asked Bill to soak it in the dirty water so we could cool ourselves off with it. Pete said he was going on the other side of the lake where the water appeared a little cleaner to get a drink. I asked if he’d like to fill the empty water bottle to drink out of and he took it. Arizona cowboys are accustomed to drinking tank water, which is why they don’t carry water with them. Bill wasn’t sure how I would react to this, so he proceeded to tell me he didn’t think it would be a real good idea for us to drink there. I thought to myself, “Yeah, RIGHT!” Well, I can’t tell you how many times that bottle got filled, but I will tell you this, we were all more than happy to drink until we were no longer thirsty!

Before it became time to go back for the heifer, I kept eyeing a shaded area under a tree along the bank of the lake. Finally I told Bill I was staying there while they went to get her, so he unsaddled Jake, took his bridle off and hobbled him for me. I went to the shaded area, took my chaps off, sat down and watched as the guys rode away. I wet the towel again and put it around my neck, then lay down, using my folded up chaps as a pillow. I didn’t even care that there were large red ants crawling all around me; I was so tired, I just thought, “Let them bite me!” All I wanted to do was take a nap. Well, Jake started whinnying again, and I rise up only to see him lifting his hobbled front feet, lunging away! I called to him, telling him to come back. Ha, horses don’t come like dogs do! He was left behind again, he didn’t like it and he was doing something about it this time!

So now I weighed my options… I’m exhausted and don’t really feel like chasing after him. I’d have to get the bridle, catch him and lead him back. I looked at the distance he had already traveled and decided, “No way.” He kept going, whinnying all the while; so I figured he’d either find Bill and Pete or they’d come across him on their way back. If neither happened, I felt fairly certain they would be able to ride back out and find him. Regardless of the way it played out, I knew I wasn’t walking home! I just hoped that Bill wouldn’t think my decision was a dumb one.

I lay back down and started thinking, “What in the world am I doing? I’m hot, I’m tired, I’m exhausted, I’m hungry, I’m out here by myself and my horse ran off! I’m scared to death of snakes, and I’m laying flat on the ground by a lake! What if a bear or lion comes in to water here? I don’t even have a gun with me! I’m fifty years old, and on top of everything, I’m a city girl who knows absolutely nothing about any of this stuff!” I decided I must be out of my mind! Then I thought, “Yeah, but I got to experience things today that most people don’t even know exists, let alone ever gets to see up close and personal!” And, “I’m not thirsty anymore, plus I get to go home soon.” I began to relax and cool off, although I was dreading the long, hot ride back.

It wasn’t too long before I sat up and saw our dogs returning, and behind them, Bill leading Jake in. What a relief! While Bill saddled Jake up for me, he assured me I had done the right thing by just letting Jake go, which made me feel much better.

As we were preparing to leave, it started to sprinkle. We had no sooner topped out on the steep, rocky trail, than there was a huge crack of thunder that seemed as if it was directly above our heads! Jake jumped, almost reared and broke into a dead run. At the same time, I see Pete take off on his horse, hauling you-know-what! I pulled in on the reins and, thank God, Jake responded. What a good horse! It began to pour, continuing to thunder and lightning all around us. I thought, “We’re up high, this is not good!” So, I let Jake go a little faster, all the while hanging onto the flopping hat. Once we reached the trail below, we were all able to leisurely ride along, simply enjoying getting wet and cooling off. It felt wonderful! The rain let up after awhile, and just about the time we rode into ranch headquarters, I pointed out a beautiful rainbow to Bill.

It was 5:30 or 6:00 by now, and we decided to ride to our house so I could go inside to get the guys a cool drink. I was happy to finally be out of the saddle for the day and be back home. They led Jake to the corrals and did the evening chores while I took a shower and starting dinner. What a day it had been!

Later that evening, we discovered our cell phone was missing. Ordinarily, a missing cell phone wouldn’t seem like a big deal. But, since our ranch is in such a remote location, there are no phone lines and the cell phone is our only way of communicating with the outside world. So, it was a big deal to us! We racked our brains trying to figure out when it could have been lost and decided it either fell out when Bill unsaddled Jake at the lake, when I was in the clearing taking pictures of the guys tying up the bulls, or when the bull hooked Jake. Once we figured out where Bill needed to look for it the next day, we were fairly certain it would be found. After all, we didn’t have to worry about humans happening along to find it!

Bill, Pete, and Joe Haught left around 4:30 the next morning to return to the clearing where the three mavericks were tied to the trees. I stayed home, perfectly happy that Bill would be the photographer this time. When he returned that evening, he relayed the sequence of their event-filled day. It was a pleasure for me to hear about since I had been there and could picture everything clearly in my mind. I was also happy to hear Bill had found the cell phone, lying open, battery nearby, on the ground where the bull had hooked my horse! We decided we could make a great commercial for the phone company, kind of along the lines of the old Timex commercials.

A few days later, we made a trip into Tucson to drop cattle off at the auction and we picked up new developer that Bill had ordered. This time when he developed the rolls of film, the images appeared! Bill and I both enjoyed viewing the prints more than any others we had viewed together. He chose to do a painting of Pete leading in the bull that hooked Jake!

We discussed the day I had been the photographer and I told Bill how I had felt at different times throughout the day. He was surprised at some of my revelations, telling me that I’m so quiet while things are happening that he didn’t how I had felt. I was happy I could honestly assure him how much fun I had and that I would gladly go again sometime. I did tell him, however, that I just wish I were twenty or thirty years younger!

So there you have it – the evolution of “Leadin’ in a Maverick.” The painting went on to be featured in the 2000 Cowboy Artists of America catalog and sale.


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