Thursday, May 5, 2016

Alberta Ranch Cowboy Chore Photos

This post continues my series of early 1900 photos of an Alberta ranch, all photographed by the ranch owner, Hugh Beynon Biggs and available for online viewing through the Glenbow Archives in Calgary. 

The captions don't specify who is featured in the photos, but according to the 1901 Canada census record, Hugh Biggs employed 3 bachelors whose names, ages, occupations and annual income were recorded as:
James Cozey, 20, Cow boy, $60
Harold Robson, 20, Ranch hand, $60
Francis Daw, 34, Farm Labourer, $300

This first photograph was taken in 1893, the year that Hugh Biggs bought the Springfield Ranch. Thus, sometimes you'll see it referred to by that name, and other times you'll see the Biggs Ranch. The man in this photo is identified in the image remarks as J.F. Corey, but we don't know if he's a cowboy, ranch hand, or farm laborer since he wasn't around when the census was taken in 1901.  

Bachelor washing clothes, Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1893. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

I'm not sure if cutting hair would be considered a chore, but it had to be done and if someone on the ranch knew how to do it, why not get it done before you hit town and scared all the ladies.

Man receiving hair cut, Springfield [Biggs] ranch, Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1900. 
Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Cows need to be milked twice a day - back then and now. It's one of those gender neutral chores like gardening. On my grandparents' farm, Mamma always did the milking but there were many ranches and farms where the man was happy to do the milking instead of the cooking. Usually, if he was married, by the time he brought the pail of frothy milk back to the house, he was rewarded with a hot meal. 

Man milking cow in corral, Springfield [Biggs] ranch, Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1900. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Sometimes a cow died either in childbirth or shortly afterward leaving her young calf to fend for itself. That's when someone either volunteered or was assigned to take over the task of feeding the critter. It looks like this cowboy/ranch hand might be teaching it to drink from a bucket which involves dipping his hand in the milk and then rubbing it on the calf's nose and mouth area. The calf starts licking and sucking the cowboy's fingers and so he lowers his hand into the milk. 

Of course the problem is that it's not a natural way for the calf to drink. Even if the calf lost it's mama in childbirth, it has an inclination to butt the udder to bring down more milk. That usually means a tipped over bucket. It's easier to get a calf to suck from a quart sized bottle, but never let a young child do it. When calves are hungry, they'll butt anything hard without mercy. 

Man with calf, Springfield [Biggs] ranch, Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1900. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

In this next photo of the bull, do you think the man is a cowboy or ranch hand? I think it's funny that the photo identifies only the cow without mention of the human holding onto the ring in its nose. This reminds me of a conversation I had with my sister-in-law once. She said they were going to wash cows for the sale. I said that I thought it was a bull sale. She laughed and said, yeah but they're all cows. Hmmm... not in my dictionary. They might all be cattle, but only the females are cows. Yet looking at this caption, I have to wonder...

Cow at Springfield [Biggs] ranch, Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1900. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Now here's a good-lookin' rancher for ya. From captions on the other photos, I believe it may actually be the big man himself, Hugh Biggs. I wonder about his horse, though, because the caption reads that it's a cayuse. I could be wrong, but I thought a cayuse was what was known back then as an Indian pony and in my limited knowledge of such things, I thought they were pintos, paints, or appaloosas. 

Rancher on cayuse, Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1900-1905. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

This next image, on the other hand, specifies that it's a work horse which is confirmed by the collar and harness. What strikes me as odd in this image is that when I checked to see if he had feathered hooves which would designate a heavy horse breed like Percheron or Belgian, I can only see feathering on the back of his leg. Does that mean it could be a cross from a draft and light horse?

Rancher with work horse, Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1900-1905. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

One of the continual duties of a ranch hand is stringing fence or repairing it. Other than the skinny fence post, I find it reassuring that the tools of today - hammer, staples, and wire stretcher, are the same as they were back in the early 1900's, although the wire stretcher looks like they might be using the old wooden type. 

Men repairing fence, Springfield [Biggs] ranch, Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1900. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

With the fences fixed, fall roundup is the chore at hand. Here the cowboys are out on the range rounding up all the cattle for sorting. As you can see on the left side of the following photo, the calves have been nursing all summer and are getting big. They need to be separated from their mothers who are probably pregnant again and will need a respite before birthing another calf in the spring.  

Cowboys rounding up cattle, Springfield [Biggs] ranch, near Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1900. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

These photographs represent the assortment of chores that cowboys and ranch hands face on a ranch. When you think about it, there's not much difference between then and now

On the 5th of June I'll be back to show images of the farm and feeding side of the operation. 

If you missed them, the other posts in this series can be found through the following links:

I'll leave you with another laundry photograph. This one actually states that it is the rancher himself, Hugh Biggs, doing the chore in 1897.

Bachelor washing clothes, Beynon, Alberta. ca. 1900. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Do you think the bachelor in the above photo is laughing because: 
1) He loves doing laundry
2) Someone grabbed his camera and is using it to snap a photo of him instead of the other way around

Or better yet, what do you think Mr. Biggs is saying? What would your caption for this photo be? I'm looking forward to your answers. 


Anita Mae Draper's stories are written under the western skies where she lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their four kids. When she's not writing, Anita enjoys photography, research, and travel, and is especially happy when she can combine the three in one trip. Anita's current release is Romantic Refinements, a novella in Austen in Austin Volume 1, WhiteFire Publishing, January 2016.  Anita is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Management. You can find Anita Mae at

Romantic Refinements 

by Anita Mae Draper

It's the Texas-style version of Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility...

 misguided academy graduate spends the summer fallinin love . . . twice.

One of four novellas based on Jane Austen's heroines. 
Find them in... 
Austen in Austin Volume 1


  1. I love these pictures....and the pay rate made my jaw drop. As for the last photo, I envision him smiling at a lady photographer....perhaps there is a budding romance there?

    1. Perhaps, chappydebbie. I know there were lady photographers around at the time, and neither the caption, nor the Glenbow Museum's remarks specify, so it's possible. Great role reversal.

      Thanks for popping in and playing along. :)