Behind the Why

Have you ever had a part of your life become so special, so unique that you couldn’t imagine your life withoutDSC_0246 it? Artist Ride is that slice of my life. The piece that has been present since the day I was born.

We are approaching the 32nd anniversary for Artist Ride, a milestone for an event with very little publicity, yet is the art worlds most well-known secret! Lately I’ve pondered how have we managed to come so far. How has a seemingly small gathering continued for 32 consecutive years successfully? Well of course, because we host America’s greatest western painters and hands down the best western models is how.
This is definitely a “how,” but when I got to thinking about it my thought was, “Why?” Why have artists and models continued to return to the Artist Ride year after year? The answer, because our “why” is the same.

For my family and myself we want to share with the world our way of life and to let it know the west is still alive and well and we live it every day. It’s the hard work and deep appreciation and love we have for the work that we do that makes Artist Ride so unique. This IS real life. This is a working ranch, a culmination of several generations of hard work, love of the land, and deeply profound respect for the traditions of ranch life that have been passed down through the years.
Artist Ride provides a very unique opportunity to bring together those  who share this passion for keeping the west, then and now, alive. Artists and models create scenes that touch the heart, that reflect not only the serenity and the beauty, but also the trials and triumphs of  the past and the present. Models don’t don 1800s clothes because they like to dress up and artists don’t just brush paint on canvas for the heck of it. There is a passion there, a respect, a desire to bring to life that spark of imagination which makes a person stop and take a moment to reflect on the hard work that has gotten this country so far.IMG_0576

I recently asked artist Virginia Coudron, who has attended every Artist Ride since the beginning, why she continues to attend Artist Ride after thirty-two years.

It allows me to be apart of a historical life. I’ve dreamed of being apart of the western life ever since I was a little girl. To get to see it, touch it, hear it, be apart of it. It brings me back down to the freedoms, hard work, right to do what you want when you want. By going back you realize the hard work it took and helps to appreciate what you have today. I like to relive that and get away and appreciate the past to understand the present to look forward to the future.

If you’re passionate about your artwork and your heritage ask yourself why? What is behind the why that drives your dreams and passions? Take a step back and reflect and I think you’ll be surprised and invigorated with what’s behind the why.


Spring takes center stage in South Dakota!


As you’ve noticed I kinda fell off the wagon for posting regularly. I have a good excuse I promise! With the start of spring you can’t help but notice how the landscape begins taking on a greenish hue and the  buds on the trees swell with the new leaves within-wow that was poetic-even for me! But while glancing across the changing landscape a faint bawl echoes through the air as a new born calf says hello to the world.

All across the west men and women are witnessing the blessings of nature and it has kept us all busy! This calving season has gone

Mollie and Oscar

very well for us here on the Cheyenne-and though I speak only for my family I can’t help but feel the same is true for many others. Considering the devastation of the infamous October blizzard which left a nasty scar on western South Dakota, each calf born is another step towards recovery for many.

A portion of our excitement has arrived in the form of three sets of twins. I know some have probably had more and three is nothing, but for us three sets is something of a record. Now, as much as a blessing it is to get two for one it becomes difficult for some cows to care for both twins. Thus enters the nanny…or at least it would if we had a goat…but for now the nanny is myself. Yup, I’m a formula-mixing, bottle-feeding nurse maid to two twins. Now I usually don’t do the whole naming thing, but as these twins could be my responsibility for a while it seemed only fitting to call them something besides Calf 1 and Calf 2! So I now call them Oscar and Mollie and what a hand-full they are. They aren’t very big but by golly when its time to eat I brace myself for impact!

Now Mollie is younger than Oscar by about four days but Oscar is 4 inches smaller in dimension. Mollie inhales her bottle spilling milk and drooling bubbles like crazy  while Oscar, being the little gentlecalf he is, savors every drop and rarely spills. Who said girls were better mannered than boys?!

But besides these two hooligans, the pasture is filling up with little jaspers! We received and inch and ten in rain here this week which has proved a blessing and everything is green and growing strong! Weather forecasts predict a slightly wetter summer than last year and honestly last year was a pretty good year so here’s hoping!


I’ll keep ya’ll updated on the progress of Oscar and Mollie in the future. I hope everyone gets lots of moisture and for those of you down in Florida and the south, please send some of your moisture this way. P.S.-please don’t mail water as envelopes leak!

Horse Tales

The horse. What can I say about the horse that one doesn’t already know. They’re capable of grace, agility, strength, compassion, and sometimes stubbornness! The last has a tendency to describe my guys Diesel and Dandy… some of the time!

Diesel and Dandy are black Percheron-Quarter horse cross geldings. Diesel is 13 and Dandy is 12. Now these two guys have had quite a life. They’re original owners didn’t care for them all that much, I won’t go into details because that’s not what this story is about. A friend of my grandpa, Myron was his name,  acquired them because the owner said they weren’t worth it. In speaking one day Myron mentioned he had this team of horses that needed some work as their feet were  really disfigured, it’s known as founder. Lavon said we’d take them and brought them here in summer 2005.D and D

At first glance their future didn’t look all that bright but we’d do our best. Their feet were specially trimmed and we all worked with them frequently to get them back into shape. That summer we drove them in the Wasta and Wall parades and of course it was their first Artist Ride. I don’t know what it was but there was something unique about Diesel and Dandy. They may have acted up now and again, but they had spirit and character that even to this day amazes me.

In the spring of the following year it was decided to sell them, this wasn’t my decision, but I had little say in the matter. I remember watching them disappear down the road, knowing I’d never see them again. But, that was life and as much as I hated to I had to accept it.   Several days passed and life went on as usual on the river.  One day I spotted the pickup and trailer coming down the road and I have to admit I had a hollow stomach because I knew that trailer was empty. The trailer pulled into the yard and stopped before the barn and when the engine shut off I could hear horses stomping in the back. The door was opened and Diesel and Dandy stepped out. I was so excited and when I asked why they’d been brought back the answer was that no one wanted them. Well it was someone elses’ loss for I wanted them!

The three of us have been through a lot together, both good and bad. We’ve carried deceased loved ones to their final resting places, helped happy couples celebrate their marriage, showed off in the parades and just had fun. Well…there was that one time they decided they’d had enough Artist Ride and headed to the barn as fast as they could-that was fun!! But that’s a story for another day.

Diesel and Dandy are a part of our family, as is any horse to any horse owner. I know our lives have been made all the more exciting because of their spirit and character. Diesel is a “work” horse who will pull anything you hitch him to while Dandy isn’t quite as ambitious but he’s a card just the same! They’ve been through a lot more than some and though they are getting older they don’t show any inclination of slowing down. To my guys who have taken us through a lot and to those who love and respect their horses and everything they do to help us keep the legacy of the west alive!


Steam, Steel, and Smoke

As we grow older we often find that we forget things from our past and our childhood, that even to this day when we think about it can still bring back a tiny spark of joy and excitement. For me, I had Hot Wheels, dinosaurs, and my favorite, trains! I love trains, still to this day I can’t help staring as those iron-clad cars as they “clickity-clack” across the track(again with the rhyme!) I love all trains, but my favorite era is when steam, rather than diesel, ruled the rails. cattle call

There’s nothing more thrilling than hearing that steam whistle from the belly of a 4-2 Baldwin steam locomotive and listen to the steam hiss in and out, like a heartbeat giving life to the mechanical marvel!

However long railroading history may be in the U.S. its’ history is pretty short in western South Dakota. The first locomotive was brought from the Missouri by bull train to the Homestake mine in 1879. In 1881 Homestake began working on the Black Hills Railroad which would later become the Black Hills and Ft. Pierre Railway. It wasn’t until 1889 that rail would extend from the Missouri to the western side of the state. Even then only two lines ran from Chamberlain and Pierre both crossing the Cheyenne River in Pennington County. 

The rails in our part of the state helped facilitate a population boom as towns were spaced some 10-15 miles apart to refill steam boilers. This is also true for most western states. As the rails progressed westward history sees a merger with the great cattle drives from Texas to the Dakotas. Rail allowed quicker delivery of cattle to the east, though many still preferred to drive their cattle to the steamships on the Missouri. RR

Westward expansion and railroad growth will forever be entwined in our historys’ mind(again with the rhyme) being hard to have one without the other. This is why we decided that Artist Ride was in need of its own railway. So in the summer of 2013 I stood before the commission and presented my case that it was of the utmost necessity and benefit to the blossoming region of western South Dakota that we…build…this…railroad!! Or at least that’s how I had it pictured in my daydream.  Needless to say our railroad is an awesome addition to Artist Ride. The locomotive is a future addition-I’ll have to check on Amazon-hmmm… I wonder if they ship UPS?

Cabin Fever 2: The Conclusion

Alright, to continue my story. I know you were on pins and needles and just couldn’t leave your computer for fear you might miss the ending, well fear not!! Now, where was I…oh yeah…we had just placed the foundation of our cabin and had the appropriate logs in place. Much celebrating took place then, back slapping, hand shaking, Lord you’d have thought we reconstructed the Biltmore Estate the way we were carrying on! When we all regained our senses our cabin was still only four logs on the ground. Looking around at one another, the thought must have occurred to us all at once, “we’re gonna need more logs.”

Trucks, tractors, four-wheelers, and a-foot, we searched, felled, and drug logs from afar. Big ones, small ones, short ones and tall ones (better be careful I’m falling into rhyme)-we piled our stock and began selecting the most worthy logs for our project. After measuring for length, we hoisted the logs into place and notched them to fit the matching logs. Notching the logs was actually the most difficult because they had to fit perfectly to get a good seal between the logs.

Needless to say we didn’t finish our cabin that day. Rather, a series of days and a couple hundred hours found our cabin taking shape. We moved from using whatever logs were available, even rotten ones, to making sure the logs were rot free and had minimal gaps. After all the effort we want it to last a long time.

I have to say during the whole process I couldn’t help but think of IMG_0020those pioneers whose cabins were built for living. I mean they had to build their homes quickly to beat the winter, make sure their belongings were situated and weatherproof it to some extent. The drive and perseverance those folks had to have.

When it came to cutting the door out we had some interesting discussions! I thought it should be fair sized because we all hate squeezing through tiny doors. But Grant, he thought it should be fairly small, his reason being so when the ole grizzly bear chased you into your cabin you had a small enough door he couldn’t quite get in… haha he should be so lucky! We had a similar discussion when we cut out the window, only this time it had to big for when that old grizzly slithered through that small door you so carefully cut out you had enough room to jump through the window, slam the shutters, and run around your cabin and lock that old grizzly inside! 

WINNER! Take that you ole’ grizzly! Then…while you’re congratulating yourself, you hear the bear settle in for a long winters nap and then the snow begins to fall….hmmmm….now what?

Probably the most unique feature of the cabin is the half round roof. The original plan was to put a straight roof on it. But, we were able to shape five cottonwood branches, that already had a slight bend in them, to fit almost perfectly, and I do mean perfectly in place!


Rafters installed and all the logs tied down it was time to move our cabin to its new home about a mile up the river. Using the four-wheel drive John Deere tractor, we hitched up our cabin and prepared for take-off. The John Deere pulled tight the chains and gave a mighty groan and the cabin moved an inch then stopped! It soon became apparent that our cabin was much heavier than we expected. In order to move it we resorted to pulling it with the John Deere while pushing it from behind with the backhoe, what sight it was. 

An hour later, after a lengthy pull across the prairie, the cabin came to its resting place along the Cheyenne. It was quite a process but the end result was well worth it. The best part was seeing it put to use by all the artists imagination during the 2013 Artist Ride. So now you know…the rest of the story! 

Be Like Remington

Be Like Remington

The Artist Ride in South Dakota can create a world worthy of the next great artist.

Written by Bill Markley Published August 31, 2007

A delirious blood-covered cavalry soldier rises up.

Firing his pistol, he makes a mad dash to run through the Lakota warriors. One warrior rushes forward and tomahawks the soldier to the ground. Shouting a cry of triumph, the warrior bends over the prostrate soldier, grabs his hair and places his knife to begin scalping. It grows quiet, except for clicking sounds.

“Okay! That’s great! You can stop now!” shouts Jim Hatzell, Artist Ride director, at a group of 20 Western artists taking photos.

Jay Red Hawk, the Lakota warrior, stands up, reaches his hand down to me and pulls me to my feet.

“Close shave for you, Bill,” says Jay, with a grin. “Lucky for you, Jim told us to quit!”

I tell him “I’m gettin’ too old for this,” but I don’t really mean it.

One weekend each August, Grant and Jo Dee Shearer’s 20,000-acre ranch near Wall, South Dakota, becomes a journey back into the Old West. Cowboy, Indian, Mountain Man, military and pioneer models rendezvous at the Artist Ride where approximately 50 artists set up the scenes and models to fit their vision of the West. Like Frederic Remington, who utilized his cameras and sketch pads to create his masterpieces (see p. 30), these artists also take reference photographs to help them create their Western art.

The picturesque Shearer ranch, featuring steep bluffs rising above gnarled old cottonwood trees alongside the Cheyenne River, is a working cattle ranch that includes longhorns and horses. Little has changed in this part of the country during the last hundred years.

The Artist Ride began in 1984, evolving over the years so much that the event organizers limit it to about 50 artists and 80 models. Lavon Shearer, Grant’s father, was one of the pioneers of the Artist Ride.

“It all started when a few of us took a little wagon ride with a few riders and cowboys down in the Badlands one weekend,” Lavon says. “The artists, Dan and Cat Deuter, went along. Of course, they took lots of pictures. Dan and Cat said ‘Lavon we need to do this again next year. We got good pictures.’ So, the next year we did it again with a few more people and artists. They all said ‘Boy, this is really nice. Let’s do it again.’ Then we started to hold it along the Cheyenne River on our ranch.”

When these shutterbugs create a painting of the Old West, they strive for accuracy. That’s where Jim Hatzell comes in. He contacts the artists and asks for their wish lists of models and scenes. Then he does his best to fulfill on them. One year, Hatzell says, “an artist asked me to find a Model-T car that the artist could change into a chuckwagon. We got it for him.”  Another time, an artist wanted Pancho Villa-esque Mexicans and the 1916 U.S. Cavalry. If Hatzell isn’t told the requests in advance, the models won’t know what gear to bring with them.

The best part about the Artist Ride is the cooperative community it fosters. “The Ride is like an artist co-op,”?Hatzell says. “If you need a stagecoach, we’ll get a stagecoach and then pass the hat to pay for it.”

The artists and models get along so well that after the shots for the day have been captured, they settle down together for hearty meals such as pork chop suppers with beans and baked potatoes. Some folks bide their time at the Dead Horse Saloon. A stone’s throw away, a large bonfire usually blazes. Old cottonwood tree trunks surrounding the fire make good seats as folks discuss the day’s scenes and make plans for the next day. Father and son ranchers from downriver often

sit on logs, strumming their guitars and singing cowboy songs. “I’ll play anything

but ‘Leaving Cheyenne,’” one father may say. Of course, someone inevitably shouts out, “Play ‘Leaving Cheyenne!’” The backdrop of flames silhouette several couples dancing.

A breeze may blow in, cooling the hot August night as a full moon rises over a ridge where coyotes begin to howl—the perfect ending for a day at the Artist Ride.

via Be Like Remington.


Reliving history one painting at a time!

%d bloggers like this: