Photographers Boone Rodriguez and Luke Leasure traveled last month to McArthur, California to spend a few days with an extraordinary family of ranchers in the heart of the valley.
McArthur is a census-designated town located in the southwestern region of Shasta County. Home to a mere 338 individuals. McArthur is, in many ways, quintessential small town America – a community filled with hardworking families and timeless traditions dating back to the days of folklore in the wild west. Life in McArthur is simple. And its residents embody the spirit of their hometown pride.
The town was founded in the late 1800’s when John McArthur settled in Northern California to start a general store for the locals, dubbed John McArthur Mercantile. Shortly thereafter, Mr. McArthur purchased a significant amount of land and fathered the town into existence by establishing a post office to get mail to his employees. Over the next 100 years, the town and its expanding businesses have been passed down through generations.
Today, the family operations are run by George and Chris McArthur – and it is this family who graciously took us city-dwelling photographers into their home, allowing us to step sideways into another world to live and breath as the McArthurs live and breathe.
Well, for two days that is.
During our stay, we captured the town in the only way one can truly capture life on a farm – by working. We drove cattle on horseback, learned the ins and outs of the livestock business, tended to a variety of animals, and checked in on the farm supply store in town (McArthur Farm Supply). And no small-town trip would be complete without a community fundraiser for the local high school, abundant with country-style cooking and a good old fashioned sniper rifle competition. It was like slipping into another world. Like some kind of foreign culture of which we knew very little.
But beyond the surprisingly diminutive populous, the rolling landscape, and the alien way of life, we discovered that our notion of the proverbial cowboy was way off. The days of the gruff Marlboro man have been replaced by an equally hardworking, yet robustly educated and technologically advanced cowboy. RFID tags allow for tracking cattle and their health throughout their lifetime. GPS-guided tractors track plots of land, pinpointing the exact areas that need tending and in what order. And when they’re not driving cattle or riding tractors, these farmers aren’t praying for rain, they’re utilizing Masters Degrees in Bioengineering to develop new ways to maximize the efficiency of crop yield and minimize the use of pesticides (though, as any farmer will tell you, there’s always a little praying involved).
But beyond their articulate vocabularies and laser leveled plots of land (replete with underground irrigation systems), the most memorable conversations we had were around George McArthur’s dedication to running a sustainable and employee-driven enterprise. George spoke with immense pride on the living and working conditions that he and his family have provided to the countless individuals they’ve employed over the years. One of Mr. McArthur’s greatest accomplishments is knowing that the hard work of his family and their staff has created an opportunity for everyone to receive decent wages and respectable housing for their families, many of whom have migrated from Mexico to California in hopes of making a better life for themselves.
Ultimately, we didn’t find ourselves surrounded by the ‘John Wayne’ cowboys of Hollywood. Rather, we found ourselves surrounded by a dynamic community who welcomed us with open arms. We received home cooked meals, warm beds, and a brief and beautiful glimpse into their world. After a short but exhausting 48-hours, we left with a little piece of McArthur tucked away permanently in our hearts (and a few bruises from falling off a horse), along with the open invitation to come back and visit our ‘extended family’ any time again in the future.
We’ll be back, McArthur.