In 1989, while working at the Sacramento Bee as a photojournalist, Adam Jahiel headed to the Russell Ranch in Folsom, Calif., on assignment to shoot Skoal’s Pacific Bell, the three-time PRCA Bull of the Year. It was an assignment that changed the course of his career.
Cowboy Nate Nix brings in the cavvy of the Willow Creek Ranch in Kaycee, Wyo. They kick up red dust from the red sandstone that surrounds the ranch.
At the end of a long day, Ord Buckingham stands at the door of the Willow Creek barn.
A horse runs behind two of the cowboy teepees near the Willow Creek headquarters.
In the ranch shop, this 1953 Wyoming license plate is one of many objects that reflects the ranch’s history.
Mike Burkich, from Kentucky, has been coming to Willow Creek to work brandings and roundups for the past few years. He walks through the corral, with the old barn behind him, on a cloudy September day.
Ord Buckingham is often found helping out or advising at the ranch. He’s spent a great part of his life on this ranch and knows every inch of its 57,000 acres.
Barry Crago, owner of the Willow Creek Ranch, rides through the red sandstone dust during the fall roundup.
“It was the first serious ranch that I’d been to,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this stuff still exists and I want to capture it.’ That was 27 years ago and I’m still documenting ranch life.”
Jahiel forged relationships with cowboys and ranchers throughout the Great Basin, photographing the region’s unique buckaroo culture at such storied spreads as the IL, Spanish, and TS Ranches.
“It’s such a big country out there,” he says. “In the spring, you have to go out in the desert and camp and follow the wagon because everything is so spread out. After the cowboys are done with the day, they’re not going home to a modern house. These guys walk to the flap of their teepee. Life there is so much more minimal.”
For nearly three decades, Jahiel’s photography of Great Basin buckaroos has contributed to a body of work he calls The Last Cowboy project, dedicated to preserving a way of life that is rapidly changing and often misrepresented.
“Ranch crews just get smaller and smaller,” he says. “In some cases, they just disappear altogether. I want my photography to evoke a reverence for this land and the people who work it. Hollywood portrays a romantic myth about cowboy life. That’s one view. I’m hoping I can offset that portrayal and balance it with reality—a reality that is more beautiful and romantic than anyone has ever faked in a movie.”
See more of Adam Jahiel’s photography, and learn about his annual photography workshop—held at the 57,000-acre Willow Creek Ranch in Wyoming—at AdamJahiel.com.