Meeting the Sixth Street Cowboy, Finding Inspiration by Tess Cagle

This semester I worked on one of those kinds of stories that consumes your thoughts and changes your life. It was the kind of story that reminds you of why, despite the low pay and compensation, you choose to become a story teller. It was special. The story just came out in ORANGE Magazine, and I feel like I need to commit to paper the feelings that are behind the feature.

One day in October, I hit a low point. I had just received a 45 on an accounting exam and the stress levels were high when it came to anything work related. I grabbed my camera, and headed to a riverfront near my apartment that I had been meaning to explore. I needed photos for my “sense of place” photo assignment, anyways. So, I’m walking around this gorgeous riverfront when all of the sudden a man on a horse appears out of nowhere. He asks me what I’m taking a pictures for, and if I want to take his. He gives me his card, which read “Sam Olivo, the Sixth Street Cowboy.”

When I first told my friends about this encounter, I believe I told them that I had just had a huge “cosmic / universal aligning” kind of moment. I also believe that they all asked me if I was on drugs or something. It just seemed too strange that the moment I felt my worst, the universe would send me something so inspiring.

I found Sam on Facebook, and read all about his story– the accident, how he lost everything, how he found himself. The lack of press about him shocked me. Why had no one talked about his story? Here was this traditional Native American living the modern-day cowboy life with an amazing background. I reached out to Sam and, thankfully, he was on board to talk to me about his life. We made plans to meet and he told me he was going to give me the full story.

Initially, before our first meeting, my sister made the comment that I should ride with him. One strange tid bit about me is that for all of my life I have been terrified of riding horses. You could not have paid me to ride one. I told my sister there was no way I was getting on a horse. I planned to just run to keep up and walk along with Sam. When I got there, however, Sam had something else in mind. The horses were already saddled. Sam looked at me and said “I guess we can flip a coin to decide who’s riding which horse.” I stared at him with a blank face and insisted I was ready to run to keep up and explained to him my fear of riding.

It was weird, he just sort of gave me this smile and said “trust me. Get on the horse, and we’ll just ride for the energy.” I don’t know what it was about him, or his horses, but I decided to trust him. I got up onto Mula, and he got onto Tex, and we rode down the road to chat. It only took me about five minutes to feel at ease.

The rest of the evening is a blur. I ended up riding with him all of the way to his band’s gig. In that 45 minute time span, we seemed to talk about everything. He told me about his accident, about getting back in touch with his Native American roots. We talked about Austin, the changing landscape, how he felt about modern day life. We talked about the time he was arrested on horseback, how he became the Sixth Street Cowboy. We talked about his friends and family on the reservation, about persecution of minorities, even about current events like Ferguson. He told me about finding a way to express himself through music, his band, and about staying positive.

As we crossed the intersection of I-35 and Riverside, he turned to me and said: “You want a story? I’ll tell you the story of a lifetime.” He was right.

Sam lives the kind of life that you see and you just know that what he is doing matters and has a purpose. There are so many components to his story that I couldn’t include but are so important– like his first cross country trip to California or the venue he is building in his backyard. He is truly an amazing man. He got me (someone who tends to hide behind a camera and observe) onto a horse, and convinced me to ride with him through Austin’s busiest streets. He reminded me about the importance of doing good and helping others– the importance of staying humble. His spirit and positivity is contagious.

Photographing Obama, Catching the News Bug by Tess Cagle

One week ago, if you had told me that I would stand 65 feet away from the President of the United States with a camera in my hands, I’m not sure I would have believed you. After the exclusivity of the Civil Rights Summit, I thought my chance at being in the press pool while Obama was still in office had passed.

Then Monday afternoon I received an email from my editor at the Horn, asking if I wanted to apply to for press credentials to a speech happening at Paramount Theater. I applied, assuming I wasn’t going to get approved. As a student run publication, we aren’t very high on the list of priority publications when it comes to White House events. Almost 12 hours had passed after the deadline to apply, and we still hadn’t heard anything, so I assumed we weren’t going to receive the credentials and moved on.

Then, I woke up the morning that Air Force One was to arrive in Austin, with an email in my inbox saying I had been approved to be in the press pool. Excited does not begin to describe how I felt.

That night, my editor and I made the drive to South Terminal to watch Air Force One touch the ground. I gathered with fellow photographer friends at the front of the press pool, camera in hand, ready for what I was sure would be one of the most amazing moments of my summer. Unfortunately, the sun set before the president arrived, and by glancing around the risers I realized that I had the smallest camera in the pool, and no flash.

Needless to say, I did not catch a shot of Obama stepping off Air Force One.

I was embarrassed. Around my fellow journo friends, I’m known as a talented photographer. So to end my night without a photo of the president and only a measly grainy photo of the plane was just embarrassing. I think that was when I realized that if anything, my encounter with the White House Press Pool was going to be humbling.

The next morning I woke up bright and early to head downtown to the Paramount Theater. As I began my hour long wait in line to be checked in, I learned another major journo lesson: patience is truly a virtue. After going through an airport secuirty-style check in, I was escorted to the risers for the press.

I climbed up the stairs and then looked forward: The stage was set, covered in red, white and blue. Large American and Texas flags were hung. It was awe-inspiring. I quickly took out my phone and snapped a picture, sending it to my parents. As I began to photograph audience members taking pictures in front of the stage it hit me: I was about to be up close and personal with Mr. President himself.

Other photographers began to fill the risers, and another two hour wait, filled with standing in close quarters, began. As I started to make friends with the journalists around me, my excitement about what was going on only grew. While the more experienced complained about waiting around and the views they all had, I could only feel enormously blessed to even be standing where I was.

As per usual, the White House agenda was running behind schedule. Apparently, Obama had made a stop at Magnolia Cafe to meet with a UT student. As the news spread in the risers, it was amazing to see all the stories develop. Talk of what he’d had to drink, and what he was going to eat later, were scrutinized and analyzed by all the journalists around me.

This is around the point where I realized what they meant by “catching the news bug.” It was contagious! I have always seen myself as more of a magazine/feature writer, but at that moment there was nothing more exciting to me than the prospect of getting to cover events like that everyday.

Then, the AP, Reuters, and New York Times photographers filed in and began to get their pictures in the front of the room. It was like seeing a bunch of celebrities. I can only dream that one day I’ll get to cover some of the events and see some of the views that those journalists see.

Obama took the stage, and all at once all of the emotions I had been feeling all morning heightened.

There he was.

Here I was.

65 feet away from the most powerful man in the country. Taking his picture. Realizing my presidential photos were going to be published. THIS was my job. I was the luckiest student in the world right at that moment.

Once I was home, I realized how exhausted I was. I had been on my feet for seven hours straight, and now I had 700 pictures to sift through, edit, and submit. I grabbed a cup of coffee, got comfortable, and knew that this was truly the coolest job in the world.