America’s ranches may have gone through some changes over the last 150 years but ranching is still going strong and continues to be a great part of western Americana.
From the start of most of America’s ranches, hardy women have been a crucial part of the operation and women have contributed in numerous ways. I have seen old photographs of ranch women riding horses and branding cattle in long dresses. Ranch women have also gone through some changes in their appearance but like the ranches themselves, the women of the west have adapted to change, making room for improvements in the way they do things. (Most noticeably is probably the ranch woman’s work attire.)
In order to depict today’s ranch woman or ranch wife, it just wouldn’t be accurate without an image of a woman walking to a gate, opening a gate, or struggling to shut a gate. In fact, it’s almost safe to say that should be the first image that comes to mind when talking about the modern day ranch wife. Some gates are easy openers, some are a real bugger but regardless, 99.6% of the time a ranch couple pulls up to a gate in a pickup or on a four-wheeler, the wife gets the gate. Coming to a gate on horseback has mixed results depending on the couple and the ranch…and maybe the number of gates. If kids are involved that can also change the percentage of time a ranch woman has to get the gate.
Ranch women “getting the gate” has become a standard joke in the ranch world. Stories have been written about it (myself included for my column) and cartoons have been drawn about it. If you’ve ever followed the Stampede cartoons by Jerry Palen, a common theme with the ranch wife character Flo is her perpetual battle with gates. Every ranch woman can relate to Flo and her gate struggles.
Even though ranch women see and open and shut a lot of gates in their lifetime, we all have one favorite gate: the one our husbands get.