Long-time readers recognize Kathy McCraine’s byline on ranching articles and images, especially those focusing on Arizona, this contributor’s home state. McCraine infuses her Western Horseman articles with a sense of authenticity, as she has experienced many of the challenges in ranching first hand. One example of her dual photography and writing runs in the July issue—”O RO: Throwback Outfit.” Here, Western Horseman visited with McCraine to get acquainted with this regular contributor.
WH: Tell us about yourself and your background. Before you wrote for Western Horseman, what was your creative outlet?
I have been involved in writing and photography ever since I graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism. Over the years, I have been editor of the Record Stockman, Brangus Journal, Arizona Quarter Horse and Arizona Cattlelog. I published the Arizona Rancher at one time, and have also written and published a couple of books, most recently Cow Country Cooking: Recipes and Tales from Northern Arizona’s Historic Ranches. For many years I owned and operated Livestock Communications, one of the first livestock advertising agencies in the country. I’ve always enjoyed having a hand in all aspects of publishing, from the writing and photography to layout and design.
WH: What about the Western lifestyle drives you to write about those living and working in it?
I was raised on a cattle ranch in Arizona, so I never considered any career that didn’t involve ranching. My husband, Swayze, and I have always ranched, and currently operate Campwood Cattle Company, running about 1,200 head of cattle and a small herd of registered Quarter Horses. I enjoy the lifestyle as much as I do writing about it. Our country is becoming so urbanized that more and more ranches are being lost to development every day. Fewer and fewer young people want to dedicate themselves to a life that is physically hard and monetarily unrewarding. I really have the desire to document the Western lifestyle before it is gone. The added bonus is getting to meet and become friends with so many wonderful people around the country.
WH: What are some of the lessons you have learned traveling to ranches, and is there a certain article you wrote that struck a chord?
Coming from Arizona, I had to marry a Louisiana man to realize that not all good cowboys come from the West. We have also ranched in Mississippi and Florida, and though cowboys in other parts of the country may sometimes do things a little different, there are good hands and good horsemen everywhere. One of my earliest articles for Western Horseman, written in 2000, was about our Mississippi ranch. One of my all-time favorite stories, “Creole Cowboy,” which appeared in the October 2011 issue of Western Horseman, is about Louisiana cowboy Darryl Guillory and his cow dogs. Riding in the marshes with him to gather a bunch of wild cattle was about as much fun as I’ve ever had, and Darryl has now become a very close friend.
WH: Which of your articles has had the biggest impact on you, either personally or professionally?
Rather than a single article, I think the entire body of articles and photography I’ve done on Arizona’s famous O RO Ranch over the years means the most to me, both personally and professionally. Part of the ranch is the Baca Float #5, an old Spanish Land Grant, and at 257,000 acres it’s one of the largest, most remote and certainly most rugged ranches in Arizona. We are neighbors, and for the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to be one of the few photographers allowed on the place, and as far as I know, the only one to write about it in the last two decades. I’m especially proud of the photo story I did for the July 2013 Western Horseman, “O RO—Throwback Outfit.”
WH: Is there a ranch or subject you hope to write about soon?
I hope to continue writing about and photographing the O RO Ranch, but I would also like to go into south Louisiana to photograph more Cajun and Creole cowboys and ranchers because so little has been written about them. The terrible hurricanes over the past few years have wiped out many ranch families, but I expect those that have hung in there have some amazing stories to tell. I got just a taste of that when I went to the huge Gray Ranch in southwest Louisiana and collaborated with Ross Hecox on the story “Water World” for the May 2013 issue.