Emery Elliott, a cowgirl from Texas, grins as she grips a knife between her teeth during a branding at the Hell & Back Ranch near Douglas. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

In a romanticized portrayal of branding day at a Western ranch, the cast is traditionally male: cowboys, ranch hands and horsemen doing the hard and dirty physical work.

Cowgirls huddle around a calf at a branding this summer on the Hell & Back Ranch near Douglas. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

But at a branding day on the Hell & Back Ranch near Douglas this summer, photographer Mike Vanata found a different scene.

Frankie Zwick, a singer-songwriter, lent a hand during the branding at Hell & Back Ranch. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“It was mostly women who were doing the roping,” Vanata said. Women, too, were giving the animals shots, castrating them and searing brands into their hides.

Emery Elliott helps castrate calves during a branding at the Hell & Back Ranch near Douglas. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“I feel like brandings in the Western world, it always seems to be a male-dominated thing,” Vanata said. What he saw on the Hell & Back Ranch, he said, “proved elsewise … it just shows that this is not a man’s world.”

Stirling Moore runs the sheep and cattle operation with her family. The fifth-generation rancher is also a pilot — she flies helicopters and airplanes over her acreage.

Fifth-generation rancher Stirling Moore operates the Hell & Back Ranch near Douglas with her family. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Moore approaches brandings as festive events. The theme of this one was animal print — evident in many of the cowgirls’ getups. The ranch held another this summer with a black tie motif.

“Ranching is a wonderful lifestyle with constant reason to celebrate but limited time to do so, so we give our brandings a theme to add a little ‘play to our work, Moore wrote to WyoFile.

The theme of the branding day was “animal prints.” Workers and volunteers brought fashion flair. Whitney Darr kicked it up with a fake mustache. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Vanata was there to photograph but said that like everyone else, he was expected to chip in. Every once in a while one of the girls would tell him: “Put down your damn camera and go brand,” he said.

Katie Jarve stands near a field of cattle. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“It’s one of those takes-a-village things,” he said. “But it takes a certain kind of villager to get that kind of work done.”

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Katie Klingsporn

Katie Klingsporn is WyoFile's managing editor. She is a journalist and word geek who has been writing about life in the West for 15 years. Her pieces have appeared in Adventure Journal, National Geographic...

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  1. what a great story, on a great family ranch. Sterling Moore and family, are what America once was, and Wyoming remains. Hard working, God Fearing, and nothing but Red. White, and Blue.