One of the first things you learn when you run a magazine is that you’re going to get to know a lot of people who are “somebody”. Our magazine cover is continually featuring World Champion cowboys and cowgirls, PBR stars, leading rodeo executives, actors, big name ranches and ranchers, musicians, events and the people making it all happen.
And maybe we sometimes get a little off-track with that – our purpose is in our name “REAL” American Cowboy Magazine and it’s not often we get an opportunity to present a dirt-road, make a living on a horse, work-a-day cowboy. Especially one who’s 77 years old who has done it his entire life and still does it today.
Once a week or so, when I am done writing in the morning, I get on the phone with a cowboy or cowgirl I know and we just talk. One of the people I talk to is an old cowboy from Fallon, Nevada. His name is Mike Laughlin. He is 77 today and we wish him a happy birthday.
It’s safe to say Mike Laughlin is a top hand. In the early days, the cowboy who was designated as the “top hand” was entrusted with the lives of livestock and humans alike and all the property of the ranch – he made every decision when cattle were trailed – which direction, where rivers would be crossed, what to do with the everyday injuries and accidents along the trail.
To be a “Top Hand” is to be respected by your peers, it’s not the result of a contest, you don’t get there with a time or a score. You get there over time, developing your skills, consistently getting the job done because you have the heart of a cowboy. And Mike Laughlin certainly fits those criteria.
Mike Laughlin has been a working cowboy his entire life and still rides every day. Conversations with him usually get away from me – he has a lot to tell and time can slip by fast. Some of the biggest horse and cattle ranches in the West have trusted their mega herds to the skills of Mike Laughlin. He’s run 2,000 horses – think about that – 2,000 horses – pretty much living with them year round. At 77, he still runs cows in the famed Nevada Ruby Mountains.
Nevada is a funny state. Some states love to think of themselves as “independent” – well, Nevada really is. Mike lives in Northern Nevada – home to a lot of top working cowboys who do things their own way. And Mike Laughlin’s name and reputation is that of a top hand, even today. He stays active in rodeo, he hangs out with his buddy Former Governor Jim Gibbons, he keeps his calendar full and lives life the way we all should.
Mike has written many articles for Western Horseman – he’s an extremely literate man – so I asked him to send me the highlights of his career – which I intended to re-write, but after reading it – I decided to let his words speak for themselves.
The following is what Mike Laughlin had to say about his career in his own words. What I want to say is this: Mike Laughlin, for me, is an anchor. He’s the real deal and there aren’t many of them around anymore.
I like to talk to Mike because he takes my brain away from cowboy commercialism and reminds me of the kind of cowboy I grew up and relate to. To be brutally honest with you, over the course of 60 years, I have met and/or had the privilege of working with maybe 10 REAL cowboys. Mike Laughlin is certainly among them.
Happy Birthday Mike.
My Life as a Working Cowboy
Mike Laughlin for Real American Cowboy Magazine
I was born on the north side of a snow bank in North Dakota in the winter of the “big snow” March 16, 1936.
My father took my pregnant mother in a team-drawn bobsled to Dickenson, ND and then on by car to Aberdeen SD where her family lived and I was born. We never got back to the ranch until two months later.
I grew up on the ranch with cowboys and saddle bronc riders. Some of the best bronc riders in the US came out of ND at that time.
I joined the military when I was 18 years old and spent 2 1/2 years in North Africa during the Algerian Revolt trying to stay alive.
When I got out of the military I got married and hired on as a US Government trapper. I trapped predators that were killing ranchers’ livestock. I left ND and trapped for the government in Arizona. While there, I attended Arizona State University on the GI Bill and obtained a degree in Wildlife Biology.
I spent a few years in Bend, Oregon supervising trappers, hunting lions and coyotes horseback and from both fixed-wing and rotor-craft aircraft.
After a few years, I transferred to Elko, Nevada where I supervised trappers throughout the state and hunted lions horseback with hounds. We also used fixed-wing and rotor-craft aircraft. Our job description throughout was protecting livestock and human health and safety.
Then I transferred to Wyoming and ran their government trapper program statewide for several years then on to Montana doing the same work, ending up in Miles City where I retired after 31 years of government service.
In 1988, I hired on with Sombrero Ranches out of Colorado and spent 17 years with them handling over 2,000 head of horses. Might mention that in the same year I met my best partner, Lee Raine, and we have traveled together ever since.
We ran Sombrero’s concession at Glacier Creek Stables in Rocky Mountain National Park for 10 years. In the fall of the year we rented hunting horses and guided for elk and deer hunters, and outfitted in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Western Colorado, out of Meeker, CO.
In between here, I worked for Russell Ranches out of Eureka, NV in the winter and spring of ’92/’93, a really tough winter in Nevada. They represented 30,000 head of cattle on 20 million acres. And then for Silver State Ranches out of Warm Springs, NV, a real buckaroo outfit with a wagon.
Also have written for Western Horseman Magazine for probably 20+ years and represented the magazine throughout the west as well as writing articles for a number of other western publications.
In around 2002, I rolled up and took a job punching cows in Montana out of Miles City for CM Coffee Ranches, a Montana icon stockman. After two seasons there, we went to work for ourselves and bought a ranch in the Ruby Mountains of Northeastern Nevada.
I also worked for Maggie Creek Ranches Lamoille Division for five years and dayworked for ranches in the Lamoille Valley while taking care of our ranch.
I presently take care of cattle in the Ruby Mountains in Elko County on a summer grazing permit and private ground and day-work for ranchers in the Lamoille Valley. In the winter, I work for livestock auction yards in Fallon, NV, pen riding and sorting cattle, as well as day working for ranchers in the Churchill County, Nevada area where we have a winter ranch.
I have stayed horseback all these years and have made a lot of horse tracks in mountains and canyons of the west and will continue horseback. I have the best string of saddle horses I ever had and the best partner I ever had. I am “living the dream” and life is good in my cowboy world!
Wish Mike a Happy Birthday @ http://firstname.lastname@example.org!
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Best Selling Western Writer Charlie Nicks has published 14 books and historical novels. His books are available at more than 800 fine independent book stores throughout the West and on www.BarnesandNoble.com. He is also the Editor and Publisher of Real American Cowboy Magazine. Contact Charlie at email@example.com.