Suzanne Montero named 2024 Ranch Hand of the Year

Suzanne and her family run a Red Angus cow/calf operation at Leonard Creek Ranch, located 90 miles north of Winnemucca.

Suzanne and her family run a Red Angus cow/calf operation at Leonard Creek Ranch, located 90 miles north of Winnemucca.

March 2, Suzanne Montero was presented with the 2024 “Ranch Hand of the Year” award before the kickoff of the 35th annual Ranch Hand Rodeo.

The event was held Saturday and Sunday, March 2-3, at the Winnemucca Event Center. 

Suzanne and her family run a Red Angus cow/calf operation at Leonard Creek Ranch, located 90 miles north of Winnemucca. As she puts it: “I live in the middle of nowhere on a wonderful hidden paradise away from cell phone service and people. I like to call it God's country.”

Suzanne was born in Culver City, California, and grew up in Hollywood, where her father owned a stable below the Hollywood sign. As a young girl, she worked for her dad feeding the horses and helping to maintain the business. Suzanne says she was raised to work hard from the beginning of time: “I would never leave a job until it was done well.”

Her brother worked at the Kings River Ranch in Humboldt County. That's where she met her future husband, Frenchy Montero. Suzanne recalls: “The evening I met him, we went to Leonard Creek Ranch to spend the night. We were traveling out in the middle of nowhere on a long stretch of dirt road in order to get to Leonard Creek. I remember telling myself that there was no way anyone could possibly live down that road . . . and I ended up spending the next 56 years of my life there.”

Suzanne and Frenchy were married in February 1963, “and that is how my career in the beef industry began,” she says. “I have been involved with ranching [since that time], and plan on staying here in God's country until I die.”

Suzanne says back then, women and children didn't have a place working cows. But that changed with Frenchy's death in 2006. “I work as hard as anybody and I can mother up cows and calves as good as anybody.” 

Suzanne and Frenchy had six children: five boys and one girl. “I would pack a kid in front of my horse with me and lead another,” she says. “The others would be loose on their horses around me. I would always worry where my children went; I would worry myself sick over where my kids were.”

During the spring, Suzanne's days are spent calving, watching heifers, checking cows and feeding. In the summer, she can be found in a tractor or moving cattle in the mountains; she always makes time for her garden. The fall means branding, gathering cattle and weaning cattle, and winter months are spent feeding cattle and watching the herds. 

“I love all the seasons, and I love the variety of works that comes with every season,” she says. But fall is her least favorite: “That is when all of my grandchildren head off to college or back to school. It is when my allergies break out, and it is the time of the year when my son Julian Montero passed away at the age of 11.”

Those are difficult memories. Julian owned a steer that he loved and would ride with a saddle. One day when he was picking apples in the orchard, he was standing up in his saddle on his pet steer and the steer spooked. Julian’s foot got caught in his stirrup; following a harrowing trip to the nearest hospital (90 miles away) he passed away. 

Suzanne says death is the hardest part of ranch life. “I can't stand the death loss of baby calves in the spring. It's hard to see anything die, and I fight for the lives of those calves during Nevada's sometimes very cold springs. I am really hard on my employees during that time, because we must be checking them constantly and making sure they have every ingredient to become one-hundred percent healthy.”

Ranch life breeds plenty of other memories as well. Several years ago, Suzanne and a ranch employee were getting ready to go feed cows when the police showed up and arrested the man. “I asked the cops if they would let him finish feeding cows first, but they declined my offer!”

Suzanne recounts that another time, one of the employees “was a bit crazy and decided he wanted me dead.” The man shot Suzanne in the hand before she was able to reach home, call the police, and have him arrested. Still another time, Ronald Bristlewolf, who was later tried for murder before dying in prison, was so near that he was eating Leonard Creek's dead cows.

One of Suzanne's best memories is the day the family bought out the ranch from the Bidart family. “Owning the ranch all Montero was very special to us.” Shortly after, things took a dark turn for a time. Julian died that fall, the area was engulfed in a terrible drought, and one of the windmills went out causing a bunch of cows to die.

Still, Suzanne would be the first to acknowledge that ranch life isn't any more stressful than any other life. “You know your seasons, you know your responsibilities, and you are around animals and God's wonderful creations.”

But she admits that even she had to grow into it. “I came from the city lights of Los Angeles to the huge open rural starry skies of Northern Nevada. I had to learn a new way of life. The life out here was not easy for a woman at first. Everyone and everything would try to run you off. The strong women stayed; I stayed.”

Certainly, those difficult times bring their own rewards. “Those who live in the depths of the cities will never understand the way of life we live and the peace of it,” she says.

She continues, “The whole world needs to know our story and appreciate what ranchers and farmers do. If you want to make your way in ranching just do it.  Be confident. Don't overthink it. You have to be brave and stubborn and say you won't give up on your dream. It will be hard at first but very rewarding later. The ranching life is an unforgettable one, a unique one. If your dreams don't scare you, then you are not making the most of your life.”

The “Ranch Hand of the Year” award is sponsored by the Agricultural District No. 3 as a way to recognize women and men who make their living in the ranching industry.

Past recipients include Frank Loveland, Loui Cerri, Harold Chapin, John and Tim DeLong, Buster Dufurrena, Jane Angus, Larry Hill, Louie and Frank Bidart, Sammye and Dan Ugalde, John Falen, Lilla and Woodie Bell, Garley Amos, Buck Tipton, Jack Warn, Ross Zimmerman, Diana Vesco, Chris Bengoa, and Dennis Brown.