Wyoming Photographer Snaps Nearly Perfect Image Of State Logo

Wyoming photographer Michael Magill spent years chasing a perfect photo that shows off the spirit of Wyoming. He captured a nearly identical image of the state logo last weekend at a rodeo in Chugwater.

Renée Jean

June 22, 20247 min read

A side-by-side comparison shows the similarities between Michael Magin's photo, left, and the Wyoming logo of Steamboat.
A side-by-side comparison shows the similarities between Michael Magin's photo, left, and the Wyoming logo of Steamboat. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

When Michael Magill moved to Wyoming in 2015, one of the first things he learned about was Steamboat, the iconic rodeo bronc that very few cowboys could ever ride whose spirit was indelibly captured by the famous bucking horse logo first developed by the University of Wyoming and later by the state of Wyoming.

The trademarked visage is literally everywhere. It’s on every license plate. It graces keychains and T-shirts. It’s on coffee mugs and stickers and all manner of other creations — including a special bucking horse Christmas decoration in Cheyenne.

The more Magill learned about Steamboat, the more taken the well-known rodeo photographer became with the idea of one day capturing a modern-day shot that would evoke the whole Steamboat legend.

“It’s the most iconic thing,” Magill said. “So, every time we’d look through photos, I’d check the ones that were close. But there was never one that was exactly right.”

Magill, who lives in Cheyenne, has taken literally thousands of bucking bronc photos since beginning to take rodeo photos in 2021 at Tom Horn Days in Bosler, Wyoming.

None of them ever quite passed muster. Until that is, June 15, at Chugwater Roundup’s Bracket Bronc Riding. There Magill believes he finally captured a horse in mid buck that matched the state’s iconic symbol.

“I kind of set myself up for the entire bronc riding with the bluffs in the background,” Magill said. “I always like it to look like an old-time watercolor, almost like what you’d see on a dime novel back in the old West.”

Magill takes his photos inside the outdoor arena, so he can get the best shots, one that puts the viewer right where the action is.

Getting The Money Shot

The backdrop is one of the few factors Magill can control when it comes to photographing cowboys on a bucker.

“The horse is going to do what the horse is going to do,” Magill said. “This could have gone the other way or there’s 100 other things that could have happened.”

Everything happens in the mere blink of an eye. Bronc riding is furious, and it is fast — way faster than human reaction times.

“By the time your brain sees something and recognizes it and you push a button, it’s already gone,” Magill said.

So Magill uses a rig set to take multiple shots at the push of a single button.

Every time he pushes that button, he’s hoping one of the 25 in the set will be the one: A money shot that either looks just like Steamboat and the bucking horse logo or just a really good shot someone would want to put on their wall.

But he’s learned over the years never to let his hopes get too high, and to just focus on getting as many shots out of each ride as possible.

Still, when he saw Teyvian “Doc” Frye riding a big paint stallion named Medicine Feathers, he couldn’t help but feel just a little bit excited. That’s because Frye had taken off his hat and he was waving it around as he fought to stay on top of the horse.

“I don’t know if there was another cowboy who took his hat off during the ride other than Doc,” Magill said.

Later, looking through the photographs, Doc’s arm was off to one side in a lot of the shots.

But finally, there was one with his hand overhead.

And not just that. The horse’s body was arched with the hooves pointing in and the tail held high — just like the bucking horse logo.

“I don’t think the shot could be more perfect,” Magill said.

A side-by-side comparison shows the similarities between Michael Magin's photo, left, and the Wyoming logo of Steamboat.
A side-by-side comparison shows the similarities between Michael Magin's photo, left, and the Wyoming logo of Steamboat. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The Hurricane Horse

But it’s not just the image that’s perfect, Magill said. It’s all the circumstances surrounding the photograph too.

For one thing, Chugwater is where Steamboat was born 128 years ago in 1896. Magill believes the horse was probably foaled a mile or so away from the arena where the Chugwater Roundup was held.

Steamboat was born on the Frank Foss ranch in 1896. He roamed the range wild and free until 1899, when the Swan Land and Cattle Company bought the jet black colt for its Two Bar Ranch.

They let him run another year before bringing him in for castration. The angry stallion threw his head down so hard during that it broke his nose. The cowboy who was there when the injury occurred, Jimmy Danks, thought the horse sounded like a steamboat afterward, when he was ridden. So that’s what Danks named him.

Danks would soon learn that Steamboat was a bucker, and one who grew craftier as time went by.

Eventually, the horse was purchased by C.B. Irwin for rodeo stock and fought his way to the top echelon of all rodeo horses everywhere, earning the title Worst Bucking Horse in the World in 1907 and 1908.

Newspapers at the turn of the 20th century described Steamboat as half hurricane and half horse. Few cowboys could outlast his unique bucking style in those days when there was no 8-second rule. Cowboys rode their horses to a complete standstill, or until they were thrown.

Steamboat would kick his front feet one way and his back legs another, all the while twisting his body around in the air. A cowboy might think he had it all in hand until, that is, Steamboat suddenly stopped, landing with board-stiff legs. Think of it like a jackhammer to the backside. Few cowboys could hold on after that.

The few who did make it past the dead-still drop often relaxed, thinking Steamboat was now standing still. But the horse wasn’t done quite yet. He’d just taken a breather for the next go-round.

That never-quit style and stamina made Steamboat the enduring Wyoming icon that he is today.

The Legend Of The Lazy 20

The bluffs where Chugwater’s rodeo is held are largely unchanged from what Steamboat would have beheld as a young horse on the range.

But here’s a connection that Magill knew nothing about before taking the photo.

The owner of Medicine Feathers, the horse in Magill’s iconic lookalike shot, is owned by Rand Selle, who also happens to own the brand that historians say would have marked Steamboat after he was born.

That brand is the Lazy 20, a numeral 20 lying on its side.

“That brand was first registered in 1921 with the Wyoming livestock board,” Magill said. “But Frank had been using it before that. The board itself didn’t exist until 1919.”

The brand has since been handed down through the generations, to people who will be good stewards of the brand, honoring and preserving the iconic history that goes with it.

Magill said Selle is thinking about branding Medicine Feathers with the Lazy 20, as he’s done with a lot of his colts.

Another connection is that the Chugwater Roundup contestants included lots of cowboys whose real-life day job is breaking colts.

“This is what they do for a living,” Magill said. “And over the weekends they go rodeo to try to make some money that way.”

That’s very similar to who was riding Steamboat in the day when he was known as the world’s worst bucker. His riders were all real cowboys, who made a living working on the range, and who did rodeo to make a little extra money, as well as test their skills against their peers.

With so many significant things coming together in one photo, there’s no doubt in McGill’s mind that the photo was divinely inspired to help carry on the legacy and spirit of Steamboat.

“I think the picture was taken at 1/1250 of a second, so for it to be that iconic, I mean the time just had to be there. And I don’t think things like that just happen.”

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter