The Cowboy Way

Ranching is a living link to Oklahoma’s legacy.

Ranching 2
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In many ways, however, Drummond’s tale is a powerful reminder of the legacy honored by countless ranchers in the Sooner State.

Drummond’s great-grandfather was eldest son of a Scotsman who traveled to Oklahoma in the 1880s to trade with the Osage. The family stayed, and there are now some 182 family members in the sixth generation. The family’s original 160 acres was leased in a trade with the Osage, and today, oil wells on the property creating wealth for the Osage Nation – not the Drummonds – are a powerful reminder of the origin of their now-significant ranch holdings.

Still, Drummond says there are things that have stayed the same and some that have changed enough that they would confuse his predecessors.

“Ranching has evolved so much from the time of my great-grandfather,” Drummond says. “He’d probably shake his head in dismay at the automation, at networks of ponds – things he would have never imagined.”

Still, Drummond says, “I know this land.”

Tulsa attorney Wendy Drummond, Gentner Drummond’s wife, recognized the drive in her husband from the beginning.

“From the moment I met him, I knew that the most important thing to him was building and making the ranch sustainable for our children,” Wendy Drummond says.

Despite changes, the work remains largely the same. Cows must be cared for, kept healthy, fed and eventually utilized for their ultimate purpose – the production of beef cattle that, when sold, supports the ranch and provides investment capital for continuity.

But details have certainly changed.

“When I was a boy, we had 12 men working the ranch,” Drummond says. “Now, with technology, it takes only five men. When I was a boy, the typical pasture was 1,200 acres, so you needed that many men. Today, we’re more strategic and have smaller pastures. With each pasture, you need a pond, and you have to build those. Every year we dig at least 10 ponds.”

Feeding, too, is easier today with automated machinery and large vehicles.

“When I was a boy, we’d load a truck and my brother and I would load square bales of hay to distribute,” he says. “Today, with automation, we require decreased manpower and increased productivity.”

The laws of supply and demand are also influential on the ranching industry today.

“Thirty years ago, zero percent of our cattle were fed on grain,” Drummond continues.

Ranchers today have to know biology and soil, Drummond says.

“Who is an environmentalist and who is not is the first lesson I learned as a young boy,” Drummond says. “I was taught that we don’t own the land, we are the land’s stewards, with the idea to pass it on. As I figure it, I’m in the business of growing grass. The picture of today’s ranchers is of people with college degrees in ecology or agriculture.”

Newley Hutchison followed the college path himself for three and a half years before returning home. “Home” is a series of seven ranch sites in northwest Oklahoma that date back to the late 19th century.
“My great-great-grandfather came into the Oklahoma Territory in 1893, but he was 17 and too young to stake a claim on land,” Hutchison says. “So he traded a shotgun and $60 for the original acreage. Six generations of our family have lived here.”

Hutchison calls the cattle operation “a family affair,” consisting of numerous members of the expanded family.

However, Hutchison himself once considered leaving the ranching life and its remote nature, which led to his nearly four years in college.

“I went to college and kind of realized that home wasn’t so bad,” he says. “I think we all went through something like that. We got out of the county and learned to come back.”

It is that attachment to the land that ranchers have in common, and it is the source of much of the romanticism “city slickers” associate with the working rural lifestyle. Reality is different, but perhaps not as different as some might think.

“Ranching is a great, great way of life,” Hutchison says. “You just don’t quit. You have to love it and have a passion for it. You don’t get time off. I think people might misjudge the actual work that goes into livestock. I don’t really have any hobbies, except ranches and farms. But I feel we are blessed to live the way we do it. It’s just non-stop.”

Wendy Drummond has a particular perspective when it comes to contemporary highs and lows in ranching. She grew up in southern California, so ranch life – and work – was not terribly familiar when she married Gentner Drummond.

“On a typical winter weekend, as soon as there is light, we load up the feed truck and spend five or six hours feeding one-third of the ranch each day,” Wendy Drummond says. “Counting cattle is also not an easy thing. It has to be done, and it isn’t as if they stand still. We have to feed, count and examine for health each cow.”

While it is work – and hard work – it is also labor a million figurative miles away from being a high-powered Tulsa attorney.

“Actually, in a certain way, there is a lot of solitude, a lot of quiet,” she says. “It’s kind of relaxing after being a lawyer all week. It might be cold, but there is very little stress. When it freezes, we have to cut holes in the ponds so the cattle can drink. In really bad weather, calves can freeze. You become very familiar with the cycle of life and death.”

Wendy Drummond says that when she returns from the city to the scenic ranch, she could easily see herself giving up her career away from the ranch.

“It’s a simple life, but so, so rich,” she says. “There’s the animals, and the people are so warm – they are part of the family. When there is a fire out here, you see it. Everyone turns out to fight the fire. There is a really warm quilt of people associated with ranching.”

Gentner Drummond mentions some ranch workers who might not be anachronistic but who would probably make his forefathers proud.

“We have two men who work for us, our foremen, who have been with us for three generations now,” he says. “They don’t want four-wheelers. Every morning, they saddle up their horses, and they treat the acreage and the cattle as if they were their own. They don’t want technology. To them, what they do is the highest and best calling. These men would kill for the land. There is a relationship between the men, the land and the cattle. You just can’t be more traditional, and more committed, than that.”

Neither Gentner nor Wendy Drummond has any problem identifying the moments of the rural side of their dual lifestyle that are most impactful.

“There’s nothing more gratifying than to be on the ranch as the sun sets, with rays of light across the meadows, the creeks and the hills – to see the sun go down with someone you love and with the land that you love,” says Drummond.

Wendy Drummond says there is only one recurring moment she likes even more.

“For me, it’s the early morning. It’s silent. Dew is on the ground. The light is so beautiful,” she says.

Her husband points out something that may come across as unusual to Oklahomans more accustomed to pavement and cement.

“We have a symbiotic relationship with the ranch – we know when it’s healthy,” he says. “And there are discoveries every sub-season. In April there are the early flowers. Everything blooms in its own season, and it’s a beautiful connection to the land. In the country, everything is regulated by nature. It’s a very spiritual thing.”

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