Singer, Writer & Rancher Jessie Veeder on North Dakota Ranch Life
Singer and songwriter Jessie Veeder spent years on tour, performing in coffee houses and music venues, before deciding at the age of 28 to settle back home at her family’s working cattle ranch in the badlands of Western North Dakota, an area that’s undergoing an oil boom. It’s the ranch and this part of America that is her muse. Since moving back a year ago, she’s written 13 new songs that were recently released in her alternative country, folk rock album, Nothing’s Forever, including a song about the changes in her area, Boomtown. She also writes a blog “Meanwhile, back at the ranch…”, a weekly column about ranch life for Fargo, North Dakota’s Fargo Forum and shares her stories with Prairie Public Radio.
I interviewed Jessie to learn more about her life, riding horses, writing music and living on a ranch outside of Watford City in Western North Dakota. To learn more about Jessie, read on and check out Jessie's guest post for Equitrekking, To Always Ride Horses.
Jessie Veeder doing what she loves, playing music about her home ranch and life in North Dakota.
Darley Newman, Equitrekking: Who or what inspires your music?
Jessie Veeder: I started singing alongside my father, a folk musician and rancher, at a young age. I remember sitting next to him as he played his red guitar and sang John Prine or Bruce Springsteen, and I fell in love with the people in those songs. Hearing his voice and watching his callused fingers pluck the strings of that guitar were some of my first memories. To me, the ranch, my father and the music are the same element. My songs are inspired by the oak trees and the clay buttes, the blizzards and the thunderstorms, the cattle and the horses and a life on the edge of North Dakota that can be romantic and breathtaking one moment and so completely unforgiving the next.
Video that highlights the inspiration and creative process that went into making Jessie Veeder's new album “Nothing’s Forever.”
Equitrekking: What was the best part of growing up on a rural ranch?
Jessie Veeder: I grew up thirty miles from the nearest gas station and one long, uphill mile from my nearest neighbor and best friend. The best part of growing up on my family’s ranch was all of the space and freedom we were given to let our hair tangle in the wind and run wild through the creek bed that wound through our ranch. My summers were spent riding my favorite mare, Rindy, bareback with my best friend, picking chokecherries and raspberries and building forts in the trees. Fall meant roundup and I would tag along as we trailed our cattle home to wean. Winters found us sledding down our steepest hills, skating on the stock dams, playing guitar and waiting for spring.
An idyllic view on Veeder Ranch, North Dakota.
As a kid, my world was the back of a horse, the top of those hills, the raspberries and the creek. As I grew up I began to explore what the landscape and lifestyle meant to me in my writing and through my music, and I continued to explore it as I moved on to college, taking a little piece of sagebrush with me to remind me of home, hoping to find a way back someday.
Equitrekking: Why did you decide to move back to your family ranch in North Dakota?
Jessie Veeder: Ever since I was a young girl I have known that this ranch, which has been in the family for nearly 100 years, has been the ultimate gift. I married a man who grew up alongside me, falling in love with me and falling in love with this place as well. We promised each other that if we had a chance to make a living out here, we would do what it took to get back here one day to raise a family.
When we graduated high school in 2001 that dream seemed so far away. People were leaving this area for work in other parts of the country and young people weren’t moving back. Fast forward ten years to the discovery of new technology that allows for the extraction of oil from the Bakken formation 10,000 feet below our feet, and we have found ourselves in the middle of one of the biggest economic booms this area has seen since the 1970s. There is work, abundant work, where it had been quiet for so many years, so we took our chance to move home, build a house, help out my parents on the ranch and start working on making our plans and dreams come true. I have to tell you, every day has been an adventure, but it has been the biggest blessing.
Jessie and her husband, working on building their new home on the family ranch.
Equitrekking: How has life changed for you and your family with the oil boom in your area? Are you feeling the effects of the oil boom at home on your 3000-acre ranch?
Jessie Veeder: We moved back with the wave of oil activity when my husband took a job in the industry. Together we have watched as our town of 1,200 people has stretched to nearly 10,000 and growing. It’s a strange thing watching your hometown, a place once etched on the back of your hand, speckled with memories of ice cream at the corner diner and football games on Friday nights, change with each passing hour. It’s an exciting time as people from all over the country flock to this boomtown to find work in one of the only places in the U.S. where jobs are abundant. It has brought culture to our small community and opportunity beyond measure.
During my recent ten year class reunion, I discovered that 75 percent of my graduating class of 45 had either moved back to the area or were working on plans to do so. Ask any of my family members and they will say the best part is that we are all together again out here. My younger sister has just moved back to the area and is working as a teacher in a neighboring small town and my older sister has been back for several years. She helps my mother who has just purchased a local department store downtown where they sell high-end clothing to women and work clothes to the large population of men living and making their homes here.
Views of the ranch in winter.
But with this growth and opportunity comes challenges, and we are seeing them. The once-quiet dirt road where I used to ride my bike and my horse is no longer quiet and oil is being drilled behind the old homestead and across the road. It is not as quiet as it was when I was growing up, and sometimes I miss that isolation. But I understand that in order to keep this place alive and vibrant for future generations there needs to be work and there needs to be industry. It would be difficult for my husband and I to survive out here on ranching alone, and the same is true for many of my friends who have found new opportunities to work and live on their family ranches.
There has been oil in the county for 60 years and it has existed alongside agriculture since the first well began producing. We need to continue to keep our fingers on the pulse of what it means for our future, ask the right questions and work to ensure that this place is taken care of. By staying involved in my community, I feel like I have a bit more control and understanding of the changes that are occurring. I feel that in the end we will have a vibrant community where people will want to stay and build their lives.
Equitrekking: Between ranching, performing, writing and photographing, what is daily life like for you at the ranch?
Jessie Veeder: I have to admit it has been pretty crazy lately. During the past year my husband has been working on building our house and I have been busy writing, recording and releasing my recent album. I am in the midst of a state-wide tour and much of my time is focused on how I can continue to sing and tell my story to those who are curious and want to listen.
When I moved back to the ranch nearly three years ago, I made myself a promise to do all of the things that inspired me as a child—so I slid down the gumbo hills, walked the coulees, rode my horses bareback, picked wildflowers and wrote and sang and wrote some more. I am inspired every day by this place, and I enjoy sharing it with others on my blog, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch…” and in my weekly column for the Fargo Forum. Every day out here evokes in me a new feeling or unfolds a new story and I make it my priority to capture it and tell it. The first thing I do in the mornings is connect with my readers on my website by posting a poem or photographs or a story from the week. From there, I might work on a freelance writing project, fulfill a photo order or book a show. I also work as a communications consultant and special projects coordinator for our county, so I make the trek to town to fulfill those duties a few times a week.
Chug, Jessie's pug, gets ready for the winter elements on the ranch.
In the spring and summers when we have cattle, my father, my husband and I spend our evenings riding and checking the cattle, fixing fences, and trying to keep up with repairs on the place. Sometimes we get away to the big lake near our house to fish for walleye, or the river to try out the catfishing. The fall is busy with roundup and hunting season and in the winters my husband likes to cook homemade soups and German dishes from scratch and I like to eat☺ . I take the opportunities the long nights provide to focus on my music, writing and other creative projects, and we spend as much time as we can with our friends and family, making plans for the place and for the upcoming summer.
This summer we will be introducing some small guest cabins to the place, bringing us one step closer to our ultimate goal of opening up our ranch to guests.
Jessie Veeder, riding hoses on her North Dakota ranch.
Equitrekking: Do you have a favorite horse? Favorite place to ride?
Jessie Veeder: My father is an excellent horse trainer who hasn’t met a horse he doesn’t get along with. When I was a teenager, he would have me help put miles on those green broke horses while he was at work. I have to admit that I’m not the horse whisperer he is, and the scars I have to prove it help me lay claim to the best, most well broke, cowy horses on the place. I guess I might get special treatment, but I’ll take it! My favorite these days is a new bay we purchased this fall. He’s a beautiful, gentle horse that understands cattle and moves like a dream!
Equitrekking: How has moving back home changed your perspective on life and your future goals?
Jessie Veeder: Out of everything I’ve learned about myself since I’ve moved back home—my hatred for bats, my obsession with wildflowers, and the fact that I will never again own a clean car— the biggest lesson has been the importance of family. To work alongside my father, meet my mother for coffee, take a ride with my sister and take my nephew sledding has been the greatest gift. To be able to live in this place is a true blessing, but it wouldn’t mean as much if I didn’t have the people I love to share in the adventure of it all.
Equitrekking: You blog and photograph from your family’s working ranch. Can you share a favorite photo with us?
Jessie Veeder: North Dakota has four very distinct seasons, and they all offer a unique sort of beauty, but this shot has to be my favorite. I took it during my first winter back home when the snow was so deep that I had to use my snow shoes to get around. I trekked up to the fields to find the horses and they came running to me, snorting steam out of their nostrils, kicking and jumping and genuinely in great spirits despite the bitter cold and piles of snow.
Winter excitement on the ranch.
Read Jessie's guest post for Equitrekking, To Always Ride Horses