Amarillo cowboy and star of 'Unbranded' doc to speak at PPHM screening

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
"Unbranded" will screen Thursday at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

"Unbranded" trailer

An Amarillo cowboy who took part in an insanely treacherous ride from Mexico to Canada will speak Thursday at a screening of the film that documents his crazy trip.

Unbranded — a breathtaking documentary following four cowboys, including Amarillo natives Ben Thamer and Ben Masters, on an insanely treacherous ride from the southern to northern borders of the United States — will screen at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Hazlewood Lecture Hall at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, 2503 Fourth Ave. in Canyon.

Ben Masters leads the drive in "Unbranded"Ben Masters leads the drive in "Unbranded""Unbranded" film

Thamer will join Michael R. Grauer, PPHM associate director of curatorial affairs and curator of art and Western Heritage, and Bonney MacDonald, West Texas A&M University professor of English and Western literature, in a roundtable discussion of the film.

The cowboy, whose wisecracks are a highlight of the film, said he's always happy to watch others' reactions to his adventures with Thamer and fellow Texas A&M University graduates Thomas Glover and Johnny Fitzsimmons. He'd just rather not listen to himself.

"It's like hearing your own voice on voice mail, but it's worse," Thamer said. "It's 90 minutes."

Cowboys make a snowy climb in "Unbranded"Cowboys make a snowy climb in "Unbranded""Unbranded" film

While the audience is thrilling to the cowboys' adventures, Thamer will be thinking about incidents that didn't make the final cut, like a heart attack suffered by their farrier or the time Thamer got struck down with dysentery.

The film charts the efforts of the quartet to break 16 wild mustangs and ride them some 3,000 miles from the deserts of Arizona to the snow-packed mountains near the Canadian border. Masters came up with the idea for the ride and the Kickstarter-funded documentary, which has gone on to win awards at the Telluride (Colo.) Mountainfilm Festival and Hot Docs, the Canadian International Film Festival.

Unbranded not only puts a spotlight on the unsupportable population of wild mustangs and the irreplaceable nature of America's public lands, but also on the value of setting out on an adventure, no matter how crazy it may seem.

"Unbranded" cowboys ride off into the sunset"Unbranded" cowboys ride off into the sunset"Unbranded" film

I saw the film in September, before a downtown screening held after it had made the rounds of the festival circut. I found it unexpectedly thoughtful, more than a gorgeous travelogue — though it certainly is that. Director Phillip Baribeau has cameramen riding alongside the cowboys or sending drones above them throughout the trek; the roustabouts even wear Go-Pro cameras on their hats. All of that makes the film a visual stunner, but Baribeau and Masters have bigger ideas in mind, interviewing conservationists, wild horse activists, Bureau of Land Management officials and others to make insightful points about the state of mustang management and the vital necessity of public lands.

If you haven't seen the film yet, head to Canyon and hear Thamer and the panel speak on it, but if you can't make the screening, rent or buy the film digitally. It's a must-see.

Admission is $10 or free for museum members. Call 806-651-2258.


Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and at on Facebook.    

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