As the clock strikes 4 a.m., the world awakens at the Stuart Ranch in Waurika, Oklahoma, blanketed in a serene predawn glow. It’s a time when the coffee pot bubbles to life, and the rhythmic clatter of horses being loaded into trailers fills the air. Cowboys and Cowgirls from near and far gather here, drawn by a deep-rooted love for the land and the legacy of the Stuart Ranch, the oldest family-owned ranch in the state.
This sprawling expanse, crisscrossed by the legendary Chisholm Trail, unfolds before them like a chapter from the past. Vast pastures, oak-filled bottoms, and landscapes steeped in history have been stewarded by generations of cowboys, but today, it’s the Forst Family – led by Terry “Boss Lady,” her sons Robert and Clay – who helm this timeless operation.
The first week of May brings a sacred ritual to these rolling plains, as cowboys from different ranch divisions and neighboring spreads converge on the Stuart Ranch. Their mission: to gather and brand a thousand calves. The mornings echo with the harmonious blend of cowboy whistles and cattle as they corral mother cows and their calves across the expansive pastures.
With a grace honed by years in the saddle, they guide the pairs into pens, a dance of experience and tradition that ensures efficient sorting and branding. The sun climbs higher, and the air fills with the scent of cottonwood and leather.
Thirty to forty calves are driven to the branding fire, where Cow Boss Bob Benton selects two cowboys for the solemn task of roping and dragging the calves. Meanwhile, ground cowboys attend to vital duties: castration, vaccination, and the application of the iconic “7s” Stuart Ranch brand. Amidst the work, smiles, laughter, and compliments on their ropework and horsemanship flow freely.
As the morning matures, partners and children arrive, adding their support and passing down the cowboy way of life to the next generation. Clay Forst imparts the art of knife sharpening to his son Arlington, while Robert cradles his own son, entrusting him with the legacy of branding.
Though branding season lasts just a few fleeting days, ask any cowboy in those moments, and they’ll tell you it’s their favorite time of year. It’s a time when the past and present harmonize, where a love for the land, a passion for tradition, and the bonds forged in sweat and dust become etched into the very fabric of their souls. At the Stuart Ranch, the legacy lives on, one calf at a time.