Chuck wagons offer food to ranchers working the spring roundup
April in Texas means spring roundup for most cattle ranches, one of my favorite events to photograph. Even today, ranch cowboys gather for all meals at a chuck wagon and camp in teepees until the spring roundup, which sometimes lasts for weeks or months, is over. The chuck wagon stores goods like flour, sugar, and cooking utensils. The cook folds down a countertop for room to prep the food before it’s cooked on an open fire. This seemingly archaic method is a convenient way to feed cowboys for weeks on vast ranches, since the nearest restaurant is miles away and ranch headquarters can be a long drive from camp. Pinto beans at every meal, sausage jambalaya, hamburger steaks with mushroom gravy, asado, and cherry cobbler provide necessary calories for long days of roping and doctoring calves. On this photo shoot, the wagon cook’s camp bread recipe, with ingredients like “two fistfuls of sugar” and “a half scoop of lard,” made one of the best breads I’ve ever tasted. The day I returned home that April, I had lunch with friends at Monument Cafe. For a moment my mind wandered from the conversation. I looked around the crowded restaurant and thought about the open space I’d just come from, populated only by cattle and a few people. It was hard to believe that only hours prior I was sitting at the wagon in the middle of vast west Texas pastureland, holding a plate of asado, tortillas, and beans and watching a beautiful sunset.