Among the gold miners who scattered when a Carson City, Nevada mine shut down in 1881 was a couple with a red-haired little boy.
Little James Burgess’s hair caught the fancy of some Crow Indians on the northward trail, and they offered to give Burgess’ mother 16 horses in exchange for the boy.
James’ mother did not trade him. But he’d later say, tongue-in-cheek, that he didn’t forgive her for haggling with them in the first place.
The boy grew up in northern Wyoming working cattle. He earned a law degree in his early 20s and later started a ranch with his brother-in-law.
James also served as a District Court Judge for 33 years, his grandson Sheridan Burgess told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.
He died in 1950, at the age of 71. Whatever jokes, songs or truths James uttered to himself during his oft-solitary work out in the weather, we will never know.
But thanks to technology and an enterprising streak in the family, we now have a front-row seat to the musings of his great-grandson, Peter.
Peter Burgess, who turns 36 this week, put snippets of his unique life on display for the world about two months ago with the Youtube channel The Wyoming Way. He films and uploads his own videos about raising cattle on a craggy stretch of land near Sheridan, Wyoming.
In a November video, Peter takes the viewer over the train tracks to the pasture, where, riding a 3-year-old Thoroughbred filly, he rounds up his cows for a pregnancy check.
“Bred!” calls out the vet each time he finds a cow pregnant.
Six days later, Peter shared one of his all-time favorite songs – by yodeling it at a campfire.
The video shows Burgess strumming his guitar and singing “Coyotes” by Don Edwards, to his five children in the fire’s orange glow.
Peter’s oldest daughter holds his newest baby in her arms.
The song laments the loss of Geronimo, the red wolf and the outlaws – and flickers with the memories of a cowboy who feels he’s the last of a dying breed.
The cowboy vanishes in the song’s end. A lone coyote sings his memorial.
‘Don’t Look At Me In That Tone Of Voice’
Peter shoots his videos from a variety of angles.
“This is a Wyoming sunrise folks,” he says in a Dec. 8 video, while standing between a blood-orange sunrise and a camera on a selfie stick. “What a beautiful morning.”
Looped over a rafter in the stable, the viewer peers down on Peter dusting a fine snow from a horse’s back. Propped up on the freezing mud, the viewer watches Peter fasten a saddle.
The hills, the highway vanishing under a truck’s front end, and the restless cirrus clouds drift past each day’s chore.
Then there’s Peter’s humor.
“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice,” he tells his trusty mare, Toy Story, in a Dec. 8 video about riding out and treating a calf’s eye infection.
“Snot rocket!” he announces in his Nov. 9 pregnancy-check video, snurking a projectile into the barn’s straw flooring. “It’s dusty in here, gets my allergies going. Don’t judge me. You guys – you know you do snot rockets.”
Then in a Jan. 4 video, Peter skitters down a two-track road on a 2008 KTM 200, two-stroke dirt bike, to goad his horses back into the corral.
Many ranchers prefer being on four wheels (and probably a four-stroke engine) instead of two for this task.
“It’s probably not the way John Wayne would’ve done it,” says Peter in the video. “But hey, a guy’s gotta have a little fun in life too.”
Here I Am
Peter isn’t just snot-rocketing around. He’s building a social-media presence to give viewers an intimate look at the process of raising cattle: just what care and labor goes into that beef entrée.
His character-rich videos are one part curiosity, one part business. This is one way for people buying beef directly from the producer to know as much as possible about the product they’re getting, Peter told Cowboy State Daily.
“I’m becoming more aware, the more people I meet – especially people that aren’t from Wyoming – that it really is a rare and unique lifestyle,” said Peter. “It’s something people don’t have much experience with.”
Peter is a commercial beef producer, while his dad, Sheridan, has been in the registered-cattle (documented breeder) business for years.
Peter Burgess is taking over the WS ranch in northern Wyoming from his dad and his mother, Lindy Burgess, who grew up on a ranch in Montana and who has been her husband’s “partner” through their ventures. Lindy’s parents, Doug and Linen Greenough, have also been instrumental in the ranching operation, Peter said.
Sheridan Burgess said he’s as close to retirement now as he’ll ever want to be.
“I’ve got this little herd of registered cows and I enjoy working with them,” said Sheridan. “And I need to do something. I have to have something to do.”
Tracked for their survival and breeding attributes, his registered cattle will make good bulls for Peter to use, Sheridan said.
The family patriarch James Burgess, and his son Henry Burgess, and Sheridan largely operated by selling cattle to commercial feed lots in bulk shipments, Sheridan said.
But Sheridan said his son Peter can find better success by breaking into the direct-buyer market.
That’s where social media comes in.
“I personally think (his videos) are great,” said Sheridan, who sometimes finds himself on the very public end of the camera while working with his son. “He’s doing a good job with the technical aspects of it.”
Peter’s not alone in the project.
His neighbor DeWayne Noel has an older, established Youtube channel on ranch life called Dry Creek Wrangler School with nearly 1 million followers. And Noel gave Peter “shoutouts” this winter, recommending Peter’s page to Noel’s many viewers.
Peter’s following exploded after that.
The Good Wife
A couple weeks ago Peter’s wife, Sarah, had the idea to post short videos on social-media site Instagram. She trimmed the videos and posted them amid her already-boisterous hours homeschooling their children; rocking their baby.
This led to one of Peter’s videos going viral last week, when Peter warned everyone – humorously – that if bulls lie on the freezing ground without straw in a mid-January cold snap, it could sterilize them.
Sarah is grateful for the exposure the videos bring, but she’s also glad they give Peter a creative outlet, she said.
“It keeps him mentally occupied in the winter when he gets frustrated with outdoor activities that are kind of monotonous,” Sarah told Cowboy State Daily. “It brings somebody along, and makes him look at it from a different perspective.”
Sarah is managing the Instagram page, but the forum is completely new to her. When a post went viral, Sarah called up her 21-year-old sister for advice on managing the page.
“I’m learning as I go,” she said.
This was not Sarah’s first time taking on a foreign task: She grew up in northern California and met Peter when they attended the University of Wyoming. She had never worked on a ranch before, ridden a horse, or fixed a fence.
But that all changed when she came to the WS with her husband.
“It was kind of a long learning curve,” she said, adding with a laugh: “He’s kinda the businessman and I’m just the hired hand.”
What’s In This Thing?
The direct-beef market is on the rise because people are starting to question what goes into their beef. Buyers also value direct food sources more in the wake of the economy-disrupting COVID-19 pandemic, Peter said.
“I don’t think anybody could argue there’s a general state of confusion or mistrust when it comes to, say vaccines for example,” said Peter. “A current theme you’ll hear a lot in beef is, ‘Well does your beef have vaccinations?’”
Many people suspicious of mRNA vaccines look for beef without it, he said, adding that he and Sarah “certainly aren’t (using) anything of that nature.”
His cows receive antibiotics and other care as they need it, but not as preventative medicine, he said.
“We’re going to keep this product as pure and unadulterated as possible,” said Peter. “Fattened on grass, not given a bunch of extra stuff, and raised like a cow should be: stout in the hills.”
Cow People Are Sharp People
Hollywood and a few faux country singers sometimes propagate the notion that cow people are “simple” ho-down regulars who can’t run the numbers or enunciate the words.
Peter’s videos refute that.
Peter measures out medicine for a sick calf in a Jan. 13 video. He plans how best to use two commercial, walk-in freezers he bought, in a Jan. 4 video.
He tracks natural water sources through the seasons, works to become a registered-cattle breeder, calculates which attributes will help cows thrive on his ravine-etched ranch – and in one warm, office-bound clip, he discusses Dante’s “Inferno.”
“A lot of what we do is simple in the fact that we respond to the weather, and to the environment. So we’re people of the land,” said Peter. “But there is definitely a lot of wisdom and knowledge you acquire when you run a ranch, and you run a ranch for your livelihood.”
Though his bachelor’s in agriculture business and master’s degree in agriculture economics from the University of Wyoming have helped, he credited his parents with teaching him how to run the ranch.
“I’ve incorporated some newer technologies, maybe newer ideas into the business, but fundamentally, I’ve learned everything about how to make the ranch work from my parents,” said Peter. “And they learned it from their parents.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.