The Real Deal

Ranchers for 150 Years

Story and Photos by Merri Melde

My friend Regina and I hang back a bit from Owyhee County rancher Paul Nettleton and his hands. As long-time endurance riders, we don’t quite fit in with the ranching crowd: we’re riding Arabians, and our horses wear endurance saddles. My outfit consists of blue nylon spandex tights, frilly red-and-black half-chaps, and a lavender riding helmet. The cowboys and cowgirls are probably somewhat amused by us, but they tolerate us because we know enough to help move cows, and we know when to stay out of the way (particularly of bulls), leaving the harder jobs to the real cowhands.

This is no dude ranch cattle drive, and these aren’t city slickers in new cowboy hats and creased blue jeans and polished boots. Their weather-beaten, faded and sweat-stained Stetsons, the scuffed chaps and chinks, and the custom spurs mark the real cowhands of the Owyhees, just as Paul himself is the real deal.

I live twelve miles southeast of here, and often have driven the somewhat remote Highway 78 in southwestern Owyhee County where a big sign in the draw of Sinker Canyon reads, “Joyce Ranch, Established 1865. Oldest family-owned ranch in Idaho. Paul Nettleton, General Manager.”

A fourth-generation rancher of the Joyce-Nettleton family, sixty-five-year-old Paul hedges over whether his title should be owner or general manager.

“I like to call it caretaker of the current generation,” he chuckles.

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Merri Melde

About Merri Melde

Merri Melde is a horse photographer, writer, artist, horse rider, horse packer, carriage driver, racetrack groom, hiker, birder, wildlife technician, trail-builder, theater sound engineer, world traveler, rabid obsessed endurance rider, and Tevis Cup finisher. But not all at the same time. See more of her work at

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