The Peruvian ranch hand in Montana

Jose Luis Muñoz Anco wears second-hand Wrangler jeans, which are too tight, so he leaves the button undone and the zipper about halfway and a belt keeps them up. He’s oblivious to his sacrifice for fashion. He wears a blue T-shirt from a college unknown to him, along with small, even stylish, rectangular framed glasses and a ball cap. Whatever labor is required, his shirt is tucked in.

At 7 a.m., Luis tops off the power steering fluid of the four cylinder Toyota flatbed pickup he drives and brings only a pair of gloves for working the fences and rubber boots for the irrigation ditches. He bounces down the driveway seeking a single radio station with no luck.

Without the radio, he whistles, clean and sharp.

He conducts a few chores in the morning such as feeding the chickens, the barn cats and the horses and makes routine checks on the main water pump and soil moisture.

Roger and Betsy Indreland — who own the ranch Luis works on about 15 miles north of Big Timber — greet him in the front yard of their home. In in the dust of Indreland’s pickup bed walls, they review the day’s work, Roger drawing lines, explaining in English.

Roger Indreland was once the ranch hand he now employs.

As a young man, Indreland was allowed one afterschool activity. He chose FFA.

When not in FFA activities, Indreland was required to be home working the family ranch.

He explains that, today, kids are involved in multiple activities. They aren’t as reliable and hard-working as they used to be. With his two daughters grown and off the ranch, he needed a hand, a ranch hand. So he looked to someone with experience.

Back in Peru, Luis also worked as a ranch hand.

Here in Montana, he makes more than double the wage he makes for similar work in Peru, allowing his wife to be home with their children even if dad is thousands of miles away.

Luis works 48 hours a week, for six days a week, at $11.60 per hour, providing for his family back home in Peru.

Luis has a migrant worker visa. This is his fifth year working for Roger and Betsy Indreland on the family ranch where young angus bulls are raised.

During the summer, Luis lives alone on a hilltop void of trees where the rolling plains of Montana meet the Crazy Mountains. He’s 35 years old, fit, healthy and handsome. He eats well: fruits, nuts, beans and fish. Luis goes by his middle name — his full name being Jose Luis Muñoz Anco.

Luis has Huanca roots, native people from presentday Huancayo, Peru, the primary commercial center of central Peru’s Andean Mountains. The Huanca were eventually subdued by the Inca Empire.

His wife and two children, a son, 5, and daughter, 10, are back home in Huancayo while he works five months a year at the Indreland Ranch. As he talks about life back in Peru over the course of an hour, Luis sips a Bud Light in a bottle.

“It’s very difficult,” said Luis of being away from his family.

His wife and daughter support his working in Montana, but not so much his son, who wants “Pappi” home yesterday.

His Montana house is furnished with the basics, and only belongings that fit in a luggage case for a flight are found in his home. It’s minimal, simple, just as Luis is.

On his kitchen table is a pitcher, which contains a tea made of herbs that remind him of home.

Luis keeps four varieties of herbs native to Peru for his personal well-being — four varieties for four different symptoms: upset stomach, stress, pain and an herb to lower libido.

Among the few belongings in his home is a statue of Mickey Mouse — his son’s favorite character — and a reminder of Luis’s dream to take his family to Disneyland in California.

He explains his work over a binder of maps printed from Google Earth which are marked with lines for fencing and irrigation, his primary work.

He likes “Mr. Roger,” as he calls Roger Indreland, and especially appreciates the use of the Toyota flatbed pickup truck he’s allowed to use for trips into Big Timber, a benefit not often had for other Peruvian ranch hands.

Luis confirms his understanding of daily tasks with, “Yes, Mr. Roger.”

While discussing plans sometimes it’s simply, “No, Mr. Roger.” He’s confident and isn’t afraid to propose an idea other than what Indreland suggests.

He is direct, to the point, with minimal English speaking abilities. Indreland listens closely when he speaks.

With the day’s tasks known, Luis swaps his pickup truck for a four-wheeler and his rubber work boots for leather boots.

Luis is a speck on the vast landscape, a period on a page, with fence lines stretching for what appears to be miles.

Luis takes an hour for lunch. Today he cooks frozen fish fillets, mixes a bowl of almonds, walnuts and raisins and makes fresh coffee, drinking three cups.

He packs a cooler for the second half of the day with water and oranges.

Cattle and fences need to be moved for greener pastures.

Many days he wonders if this will be his last summer in Montana, with his family on his mind.

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