Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dally and Riata

     You may know that Pam and I just completed a cowboy jog out West and that one of my stops was Battle Mountain, Nevada.  I’ve been friends with the Goemmer family for many years.   Since the beginning of my art career, they have played a huge role in whatever success I have accomplished.  We’ve been friends long enough to see their girls grow up and to see them progress from “ranch kids” to “handy kids” in a very short time.
(L to R) Mindy, Riata, Dally and Shawn Goemmer 
      Shawn said he basically runs 400,000 acres with his wife, Mindy, and two young daughters.  At first, this might sound outlandish and unbelievable, but to see these two young girls go about the business of handling their own mounts and working cows is to clarify any misgivings you may have had.
     Ranch life is all they’ve ever known, and for generations, the Goemmer family has been steeped in the traditions of raising cattle.  One of the reasons I was so drawn to Shawn and Mindy was their adherence to the customs and rituals of the Old West.  You won’t find helicopters, four-wheelers or squeeze chutes on any of Shawn’s operations.  Everything is accomplished on horseback, and brandings consist of time-honored methods of roping and dragging to the fire.  The Cowboy Code is alive and well if you’re associated with Shawn.
     And you’re never too young to start learning.  Dally and Riata are not only home-schooled in the customary subjects that our society requires, but they are receiving an education that no city kid would ever dream of.  They were horseback before they could walk, and they’ve learned to count on their wits and common sense to get ahead.
     Pam and I watched them take off alone, over sage-brushed terrain, in search of cattle spread over countless acres; gathering and driving them to the branding pens, nearly 4 miles away.  Their parents each went in an opposite direction, and they would all meet up, pushing cattle to the pens, in a little over an hour. Shawn’s only word of caution was to make sure they had their cell phone and their pocketknives.  In my eyes, they lead an extraordinary life.  To them, it’s just how they live.
    Dally and Riata are very different in personality, yet very much the same in attitude.  We hadn’t seen them in probably 4 or 5 years, so they were naturally cautious, as ranch kids will be.  But once we earned their trust, they were warm and friendly, and ready to tell us about their rodeo winnings from the year.
     Riata is 10 years old and bleeds all things cowboy.  Shawn said the colder, wetter, dustier, and harder the cow work, the more she revels in it.  She goes about her work in a very quiet and intense way.
     Dally is 12 and seems to be a bit more jovial with the task.  She is a jokester and doesn’t mind giving her ol’ dad a hard time whenever she can.  She handles the work in a light-hearted manner, but don’t think for one minute that she’s less capable. 
Jette Black (L) and Dally
     I also watched both Dally and Riata go out of their way to help the younger neighbor children who were learning the intricacies of the branding pen.  They each showed amazing patience and grace for ones so young themselves, and gave constant support to the novices.  I watched them nurture and encourage a young 8 year-old cowgirl named Jette Black, whose confidence grew under their tutelage.
     I took some great working photos of the two sisters, but the picture I was most excited about was an interior shot of the girls.  (It reminded me of something Gordon Snidow might paint).  The dark shadows of the interior and the serious nature of the pose were fantastic.  I’m still not sure how to strategically attack this painting, but I am looking forward to it.
Riata (L) and Dally Goemmer
    I suppose the long road to Nevada will keep us at bay for a few more years, but I am most excited about our next visit.  Dally and Riata will be around 16 and 14, and will be seriously handy ranch kids at that age.  Their skills under Shawn and Mindy are compounding rapidly and I look forward to the gift of being able to document and paint their progress.  Once again, “Thanks” seems too trivial a word for what the Goemmers have given us.  I’m indebted to you, Dal and Ri.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.


  1. Strong young women and the parents that helped make them that way makes for very good reading. Thanks.

  2. how refreshing to hear the story of these two young cowgirls, raising two teenagers in suburbia, it is empowering to see what young people are truly capable of