« Return to this article

Know the West

A glimpse of a family in the shifting West

A Montana family balances raising small children with the challenges of modern-day ranching.


Photographer Louise Johns has been documenting daily moments of the Andersons, a multi-generation ranching family in Montana, over the course of four years. Her photographs provide a glimpse into the lifestyle of a family of range riders, modern-day shepherds who try to prevent predation of livestock by coexisting more harmoniously with wildlife. Johns has followed closely the day-to-day life of Hilary Zaranek-Anderson, who in 2013 founded the first range-rider program in Tom Miner Basin, near the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park. As a range rider, some of Zaranek-Anderson’s main tasks include tracking wildlife, riding through cattle daily and sharing observations with landowners and cattle managers.

Johns’ connection with the family delivers intimate moments between the Andersons and their small children that help define life on the range. The photographs’ most revealing details — like an aging mare that has lived through more than two decades of harsh, Montana winters — show the enduring warmth of the range lifestyle.

In Johns’ words: “Despite the challenges of living and ranching in a dynamic, unforgiving environment, this family has cultivated a space that is tender and loving, inviting of imagination and curiosity, and dedicated to the landscape they call home.”

Johns observed a symbiotic relationship between range-riders and the landscape. “Instead of being a dominant force, the Andersons strive to be part of the landscape, humbled by the rugged space that surrounds them, rather than threatened by its unpredictability,” Johns writes. “This family’s search for balance in a landscape is both courageous and uplifting, leaving me with hope for a future that values working with the wild.” —Paige Blankenbuehler