Buckaroo! The Hispanic Heritage of the High Desert

Buckaroo Installation  Buckaroo! The Hispanic Heritage of the High Desert.
Western Folklife Center Wiegand Gallery
November 2003 through November 16, 2008. 

Buckaroo! traces the California vaquero roots of the working buckaroo of the High Desert through a memorable collection of historic and contemporary imagery and artifacts, including photography by Charles A. Blakeslee and Kurt Markus.

This exhibition was produced by the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, which generously loaned it to the Western Folklife Center for five years. 

Buckaroo Exhibit

Distinguished by regional customs of horsemanship, language, and style of dress, buckaroos are a society within their desert communities of eastern California, northern Nevada, southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon. Their story has evolved across 700 years and three continents. Despite the current pressure of economics and conflicting views over the use of public lands, it is a way of life that endures today. It is a calling, a chosen work and lifestyle, but it is little known or understood outside of the high desert.

Buckaroos Wilfred Ruecker and Waltzy Elliott, Spring 2002 Buckaroos
Wilfred Ruecker and Waltzy Elliott,
Spring 2002,
Northern Nevada. 

Photograph by Charles A. Blakeslee courtesy of the High Desert Museum.

In every rangeland community gathering there are always a few old time buckaroos, elderly but active and engaged in their community. They are valued for their experiences and appreciated for their willingness to share them with the younger generations. Wilfred Ruecker grew up in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1935 came east of the Cascades to spend most of his life as a buckaroo. Waltzy Elliott was born in 1905 to a ranch cook mother and a buckaroo father. He learned to do the work from an old vaquero and was on his own at the age of 13 riding for Miller & Lux.

The Harper Family,
Little Humboldt Ranch,
N. Nevada Spring 2002.
The Harper Family, Little Humboldt Ranch, N. Nevada, Spring 2002 

Photograph by Charles A. Blakeslee courtesy of the High Desert Museum.

Jerry Harper buckarooed across Eastern Oregon owning little more than his gear and a couple of horses, one to ride and the other to pack his bedroll. In time he married Nancy, whom he met working on a ranch. With hard work, and some help from ranchers who admired their determination and ability, they are working their own ranch in Northern Nevada. Their boys are growing up in a traditional horseback way of life that older buckaroos find reminiscent of their own childhood.

Frank Morgan, Burns, OR, ca. 1903  Frank
Frank Morgan,
Burns, Oregon ca.1930. 

Photograph courtesy of Tom Robinson and the High Desert Museum.

Born in 1905 on the family ranch at Post, Crook County, central Oregon, Frank Morgan spent a lifetime buckarooing for ranches across the High Desert. It is clear he wanted the photographer to focus on his silver inlaid spade bit, rawhide reins and California style spurs. In this proud pose it identifies him as a buckaroo, a horseman with traditions beginning in California over a century earlier. Still remembered today by ranch families and aging buckaroos across the High Desert, a lifetime on horseback ended at the age of 80, when Frank was bucked off of a horse while roping at a branding.

To find out more about what is happening around the ranching west, visit our virtual exhibit, Back at the Ranch - an Artful Life.

Buy related products in the Western Folklife Center Gift Shop. View products, including a review of the companion book to the exhibition Buckaroo! The Hispanic Heritage of the High Desert, in our online catalog.

Acknowledgements: High Desert Museum and Nevada Arts Council.