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AMY KIRK: Women key to the modern ranch

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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

A depiction of a modern-day ranch just wouldn't be complete or accurate without a determined woman in it. You know the kind of woman I'm talking about: a tough ranch wife struggling with a gate to open or close it, maybe even hurling a few expletives in the process.

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Hardy gals have been a crucial part of many-a-ranch, and back in the old days, women had it even tougher, handling the work of men while wearing long dresses. These resilient women have contributed in numerous ways, not just for their culinary skills, heir-raising adeptness, and washboard scrubbing techniques to get dirty trousers clean. I have seen old photographs of pioneering ranch women riding horses and branding cattle in long, black dresses.

Ranches have stood the test of hardships and have had to go through changes over the decades in order to keep thriving. Ranch women have had to do the same. The dresses just weren't cutting it to get the job done when the hems of their dresses became more of a job hazard than the feisty range cattle they had to deal with such as when they branded calves.

Some things from the old west didn't survive, and thankfully, women ranching in long dresses was one of the things that didn't make it to the 21st century. Ladies made room for improvements in the way they did ranch work by modifying their work attire. Even though American ranches and the women that lived on them have gone through some transformations over the last 150 years, both continue to be a great part of western Americana.

Now, back to talking about the modern-day ranch wife. I think it's safe to say that country women wrestling a tight gate should be the first image that comes to mind when talking about a scenic picture of today's American ranches.

Some gates are easy openers and some are real doozies but regardless, 99.6 percent of the time that a ranch couple pulls up to a gate in a pickup or on a four-wheeler, the wife gets the gate. There are exceptions to this scene of course, and that's when a rancher forgets to ask his wife if she wants to go for a drive. Coming to a gate on horseback changes the percentage also, depending on the couple and the ranch ... and maybe the number of gates. If kids are involved, that has the potential to decrease the percentage of time the wife has to get the gate, too.

A standard joke in the cattle ranching world is the ranch wife "getting the gate." Stories have been told and written about it and cartoons have been sketched illustrating it.

If you've ever followed the Stampede cartoons by Wyoming cartoonist Jerry Palen, you know what I'm talking about. A common theme every ranch wife can relate to is the Stampede cartoon ranch wife character, Flo, and her perpetual gate-getting battles.

Whether in a long dress from the mid 1800's or blue jeans of today, ranch women have wrangled gates with the same tenacity that has been necessary to ensure the continuation of ranching.

A ranch wife's grit and fortitude in getting gates is symbolic of what it takes for ranching to continue as well as the ability to end the absurdity of ranching in a dress.

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