Monday, March 30, 2009

Cattlemen's Culture Fades in San Diego County

This morning's Los Angeles Times features the story of Steve Tellam, a fourth-generation cowboy in San Diego County. Tellam's cattle business has dwindled since the 1970s, his herd slipping from over 6000 head to 500 today.

Steve Tellam possesses a century's worth of accumulated knowledge about a way of life that is all but extinct in Southern California. Great wealth is not the goal. The singular passion and purpose he has for his work is its own reward.

"If we broke down what we make to hours worked - that would be too depressing," Tellam says. "But I still have the greatest job in the world. I ride horses every day. I'm out here with eagles, wild turkey, deer - all this wildlife. I have freedom. It's a great life and a tough business."

Read the whole thing at the link.

Tellam has broken his kneecaps three times*, his knee plates twice, and his collarbone. He can't remember how many fingers he's broken. "He nearly lost a hand when his wrist got tangled in a rope tied to an angry cow." He can't get comprehensive health insurance, because companies won't underwrite it for him. He's pays $1000 a month for catastrophic coverage, a sign of cowboy individualism and self-reliance (and a part of the culture's that's slipping away as well).

* Correction appended.