Photographer Scott Baxter has spent the better part of 10 years in a marathon photo shoot capturing an essential, yet all-too-quickly disappearing slice of Arizona history: the men, women and families who have worked Arizona ranches for 100 years or more.
Baxter – a horseman, fly fisherman and history buff as well as a respected professional commercial photographer – is compiling the large-format, black-and-white portraits into a book, “100 Years, 100 Ranchers,” that will be published to coincide with the Arizona Centennial in February 2012.
The project has been designated as an official Centennial Legacy Project.
The project began innocently enough in 1999 during a fly fishing trip on a ranch near Springerville, where Baxter met Arizona rancher Wink Crigler, whose grandmother, Arizona pioneer Molly Butler, established the guest lodge in Greer in 1902 that still carries her name.
Crigler and her sister, Sug Peters, introduced Baxter to another Arizona pioneering family. Baxter’s stark image of Sam Udall checking fences on a snowy day near the Sunrise Ski Resort turned into the impetus for the project. The photo of Udall is now the centerpiece of the “100 Years, 100 Ranchers” headquarters in a 1920s adobe home at the base of Camelback Mountain donated to the project by John LaPrade of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley.
“The ranching heritage and tradition in Arizona are quickly going away,” Baxter says. “In 2000 or 2001 I come up with the idea to shoot 100 people for the centennial. Over the first four or five years, I shot about a dozen people.”
As Baxter met, talked with and photographed more ranchers, they introduced him to others.
“Everywhere I’d go, the ranchers would feed me and put me up and tell me stories,” he said. “As someone who loves history, especially the history of Arizona, I’ve been overwhelmed.”
His images show the faces of deep-rooted Arizona families with names like Bayless, Perkins, Udall, Riggs, Ronstadt and Hays, and his subjects range from 35-year-old Andy Smallhouse of the historic Carlink Ranch north of Benson to 95-year-old Ken Chilton at the Diamond Bell Ranch (part of the Chilton Cattle Company) southwest of Tucson. Smallhouse was 25 years old when he took over the ranch after the untimely death of his father.
Along the way, Baxter has covered thousands of miles of every type of road, sleeping at times in the back of the four trucks he’s used, today a Ford F-250 diesel with 205,000 miles. He had to give up Toyotas because he got tired of the ribbing by the ranchers.
The unfinished project has been profiled in Arizona Highways, which will publish one image a month through the Centennial, American Cowboy magazine.
The images are being processed and printed at Cattle Track Art Compound in Scottsdale, which also prints images by Pulitzer Prize nominated cowboy photographer Jay Dusard.
“I’m still looking for about 10 more people to photograph, but I’m very close,” Baxter said.
For more information or to donate, visit www.100years100ranchers.com or go to the 100Years, 100 Ranchers Facebook page.