Photo © Jason Lugo

Nestled among sage garnished hills, beneath the wide-open western skies of Albion, lies the Chatburn Ranch – and a lesson in American cowboying history.

Each morning as the sun ascends, shedding rays of light across the isolated rangeland, the Chatburn family has long since started the day. Ranch life is more than a job; it’s a lifestyle requiring devotion and commitment. Each day begins before the break of dawn, feeding livestock, maintaining water supplies, mending broken fence, and tending to a variety of other chores necessary for the ranch’s function.

Photo © Jason Lugo

Son-in-law Adam Miller sorts through the calves.

A cowboy’s workday is filled from the moment it begins, often not ending until long after the moon has reclaimed possession of the sky. Though strenuous and trying at times, the rural lifestyle is not without great reward. Life is straightforward and simple out west.

Jeff and Tammy Chatburn – the fifth generation to operate the family ranch – believe that the ranching lifestyle instills deep-rooted morals and values that are hard to come by in other settings. There is no other life they would rather have for themselves and their family.

The two met at the Rupert race track, where Jeff trained racehorses and Tammy rode them in the races. Women jockeys had a hard time earning respect in those days.

“No one wanted to get beat by a girl,” Jeff laughs.
They were married and Tammy continued racing until after having children, at which time she took Jeff’s father up on an offer for half interest in the horses and hung up her riding boots. Leaving the racing world behind, they turned their focus solely to the ranch.

Photo © Jason Lugo

Jeff Chatburn prepares a branding iron while Rocky Mountain oysters cook on top.

Tradition has long been the foundation of the cowboy way out west, though convenience and technology have begun a widespread takeover. The Chatburns see things a little differently than many ranch owners and still run their operation in the same manner it would have been over 100 years ago. You won’t find the Chatburns rounding up cattle from the padded seat of a 4-wheeler or the air-conditioned cab of a pickup. Instead, their dusty boots rest in stirrups, mounted atop a powerful four-legged steed.

Dirt flies as their well-trained horses anticipate every move of a stubborn cow, herding it in the desired direction by always keeping one movement ahead, like a game of chess. Once all the cattle are gathered, the powerful cadence of hoof beats reverberate through the ground as the riders press them forward.

Photo © Jason Lugo

Daughter Jamie (right) holds a young calf while Tammy (left) vaccinates. Tammy’s dad KLynn Bennett is on the palomino horse.

Branding is gone about the old-fashioned way with the Chatburns. Many ranchers have transitioned to running calves through squeeze chutes or rotating them on calf tables for expediency. The Chatburns, however, choose to adhere to their cowboying roots and, once again, mount up horseback. Well-worn ropes swing above head, a quick flick of the wrist sends the lasso sailing in pursuit of either the head or hind legs of the calf. Once both are secured to the riders’ saddles, the ground team takes over. A hot iron is used to emblazon the ranch’s “CR” or “CM” brand on the calf. The ropes are then loosened, freeing the calf and the process continues until all of the previous year’s calves bear their brand.

Though it may not be seen as convenient in the eyes of some, the Chatburns are proud to continue in the tradition of their ancestors.

“I always said that when the day came that we had to revert to a calf table is the day we quit,” Jeff says.

“It teaches our kids how to work cattle and it’s a good way for them to practice their roping as well,” Tammy adds.

The ranch has come a long way since the days of its founding in 1881. The Chatburn ancestors began its legacy in Idaho as grist millers. After losing seven children to typhoid fever and a short relocation to Conner Creek, the remaining family returned to its original destination of Marsh Creek and branched out into ranching.

Although they started out rather humbly, running only about 100 head of cattle, their ranch was also a figurative and literal hotspot for the surrounding community. With several warm springs on the property, the Chatburns created the only public bathhouse in the area.

Today the Chatburn ranch encompasses over 3,800 acres of land and runs between 400 to 450 cattle a year. Most of their cattle are Red Angus, a breed that Jeff’s father began raising in an area dominated by Black Angus.  The difference between the two breeds is not large, defined mainly by color and disposition. There is an old adage that says Black Angus breeders know how good Reds are because those are the ones they eat. That claim, however, is completely up for debate.

Photo © Jason Lugo

The Chatburns run around 450 head of Red Angus cattle.

The Chatburns enter their Red Angus in shows across the country, often winning top honors in renowned competitions, such as the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado.

In addition to cattle, the Chatburns also run a small horse operation, breeding, breaking and training quarter horses. Today they have roughly 50 head, some of which they will keep for their own ranching.

When the time comes, the ranch will be handed down to the Chatburn children, who are the sixth generation brought up in the ranching lifestyle. Jeff’s father had a saying that the best thing for the inside of a kid was the outside of a horse. Jamie, Kody and Keegan have adhered to their grandfather’s advice, all spending much of their time horseback.

Photo © Jason Lugo

6-year-old Keegan Chatburn is a sixth-generation rancher.

Jamie and Kody rodeoed through high school and college. Jamie, 23, competed in all girls rodeo events as well as cow cutting and team roping. She also captured the crown of Miss Teen Rodeo Idaho in 2002. Kody, 21, competedin all boys timed events. He preferred the more dangerous event of bull dogging, which requires contestants to jump from a charging horse onto a long horned steer and wrestle it to the ground. He also competed for the College of Southern Idaho rodeo team. Keegan, 6, is also getting an early start in the sport by mutton bustin’ (riding sheep) in little buckaroo rodeos.

Although the Chatburns are considering a move to allow for the expansion of their purebred Red Angus operation, they are confident that they will carry on the family ranch, hopefully for several more generations to come.

“We consider ourselves pretty lucky and blessed to be able to live this lifestyle in this day and time we live in,” Tammy affirmed.

Learn more about The Chatburn Ranch at their website.

About the author

Nicole Swafford - Nicole's deep affection for Southern Idaho's outdoors and rural heritage has long been an integral part of her life. Whether guiding horseback in the majestic Stanley basin, avidly pursuing big game archery-style, attempting a successful 8 seconds atop raging bulls or leaping from perfectly good airplanes, she revels in the many adventures Idaho offers. After obtaining a Masters of Public Administration, serving as the Managing Editor of her college's newspaper and writing correspondence for daily newspapers, Nicole has settled back into her beloved world of magazine journalism.

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