Jean Laughton Photography
My Ranching Life



I moved to the Badlands of South Dakota in 2002 to pursue my personal photography projects. Since then I bought cattle and have been involved in ranching. I run my cattle and work on Lyle O’Bryan’s ranch on the White River – south of Belvidere, South Dakota. Lyle is a long time cowboy & rancher and does all of his cattle work on horseback – the cowboy way. His ranch is the old Thode ranch where Earl Thode grew up around the turn of the century. Earl was the first World Champion All Around Cowboy & Bronc Rider in 1929. It is quite an experience to ride on the same land and cross the same White River – doing cattle work that hasn’t changed much over the years – mingling with the past as I document the present.

I feel lucky to work in an area of ranches where things are done the old way – in the day of herding cattle on 4 wheelers I am happy to say we do it all on horseback. And we also brand with a wood fire and drag the calves in on horseback. There are many here who take pride in their cowboying - keeping the traditions and the spirit of individualism alive.

While working on the ranch I carry my camera (Noblex 120) on horseback as much as I can – to capture shots of ranch work. Documenting a visual timelessness that lingers in the ever-changing economic structure of family ranching.

There are many seasons and tasks with ranching. In the Fall there is vaccinating and sorting cattle, selling calves & moving cattle to winter pasture - feeding in the winter time and calving and branding in the Spring. During the busy times of Fall and Spring it is customary for us to trade work with the neighboring ranches. Some neighbors being 30 miles away, considering the size of the ranches. It is during this time that we get together and work together with many of the ranches south of Belvidere – Badure, Willard, Elwood, Fox, Anderson, Brunsch and others. It has been my pleasure to work with everyone and make many friends along the way. And it is during these times that I have an opportunity to get many of my photographs of ranch life

These photographs represent only a small portion of the vast experiences I have had the past few years – from roping my first cow – to wrangling horses at sunrise – roping all of Lyle O’Bryan’s calves by myself during our first branding so I could learn – herding cattle across the White River – riding pasture with bald eagles flying over – riding during the first snow of winter – the ups and downs of calving – being the first gal invited along on a 50 mile cattle drive – sleeping on the prairie - riding out a wicked hail storm in a old log barn – experiencing my first runaway horse – getting bucked off – wrestling hundreds of calves – helping break my first colt with Lyle…to name a few.

These photographs are sort of a diary of what I see while working – capturing the time from a different perspective of being one of the ‘cowboys’ – I will continue to add to the story because as with everything there is change. The land has a permanence all its own but the people and times are bound to pass and change and I hope to give a glimpse back some day to my ranching life and a time when the individuals and family ranches of this country were struggling to hang in there.

I would like to thank Lyle O’Bryan for giving me the opportunity to try my hand at the cattle business and for being my cowboy mentor – and of course for his great friendship and the hours and hours on horseback so far. More to come...