When asked for pictures, photographer Dave Leiker of Emporia is happy to oblige, but sometimes he gets more than he bargained for.
Leiker will present "New Women of the Trail" at 7 p.m. July 25 at Newton Public Library, 720 N. Oak.
"The project started with a request from Symphony in the Flint Hills, wanting to do a special spread for their field journal," Leiker said.
Leiker was one of several artists commissioned to create visuals for the organization's theme for 2017, which centers around the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail. "New Women of the Trail" is an integration of photos and experiences he gathered.
"It caused some real challenges, because the Chisholm Trail was really nebulous," Leiker said.
"There's nothing left of the Chisholm Trail except a few markers and the way a few towns have developed some history around it."
Wondering what he could photograph besides trail ruts and modern-day reconstructions of Old West buildings, he turned to the history books.
In his research, he came across the story of a woman who drove cattle on the Chisholm Trail with children in tow, Margaret Borlund. Borlund even had to take her young children with her as she drove cattle up from Texas to Wichita.
The story inspired Leiker to expand his project to include "New Women of the Trail" — an exploration of current and future female ranchers.
"I thought, 'why not showcase women?' Ranching and cowboying is dominated by males in our way of thinking, but there were a lot of impressive women, too," Leiker said.
Exploring further, he found several families and women who were willing to let him ride along as they worked on their ranches in and around the Flint Hills.
"It gave me something tangible I could do with the Chisholm Trail," Leiker said. "I'm really not so much interested in telling the story of the past so much as what's going on right now."
Wielding his camera from the back of a horse, Leiker tried to be as unobtrusive as possible as the ranchers went about their day.
"Ranching, if you're around people who do it, is really a calm occupation," Leiker noted. "You're trying to avoid drama; that's when people get hurt."
The confidence young women — some not yet into their teen years — could display on horseback was impressive to him.
"It's fun to see the different generations coming up and wondering what their lives will be like," Leiker said.
The land itself provided a powerful backdrop, as the sun rose and set over rolling hills covered in prairie grasses, much as they would have been 150 years ago.
"Watching the fog rise over the Flint Hills, that was dramatic and emotional," Leiker recalled.
Though ranching has changed over the past century and a half, Leiker hopes "New Women of the Trail" will honor the people who were a part of it both then and now.
During his photographic journey, Leiker met women who were not only ranchers, but also teachers, lawyers and musicians.
"I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of what's out there," Leiker said. "They're actually a dynamic, important part of what we are in the Midwest. We'd be more better off if women took more positions of power and influence."
To view Leiker's photography, visit http://daveleikerphotography.com.