That Cowboy Gal - Interview with Kailey Klein - TNC Podcast - Episode 20
I had such fun chatting with Kailey Klein from Magpie West Leather Co! She’s a busy wife, mom, leather master, cowboy gal, and more.
I feel so fortunate to be friends with some of the most amazing women! To listen in on our conversation, click here.
I sure appreciate your support with my podcast. Downloads are blowing up and I’m so glad. I’m so glad these interviews are as popular as I hoped they would be. My guests deserve so much recognition for everything they are contributing to the world!
I hope you enjoy what Kailey has to say in her interview questions below!
Name, where you grew up, where you live now, give a little background on yourself.
My name is Kailey Klein. I am a full time leather maker and western artist, also the owner of Magpie West Leather Co. I’m a mama to a wild red headed toddler, cowboy gal, and ranch wife. I live with my husband and daughter on a remote high desert cow calf operation outside of Eureka, Nevada.
I was raised in the green rolling hills of southern Oregon. I did not grow up in ranching or large scale agriculture like many of my peers, but I was raised in a rural community. I started riding English at a young age and had an obsession for cross country jumping. We had a couple of acres outside of town and it was paradise for a horse crazy girl. My family had a small hobby farm and my parents always worked incredibly hard to make sure we were involved in 4H, Pony Club, etc. and had horses to ride (though not always very gentle. I griped about the half broke horses at the time. I’d be the girl on the high headed horse lapping the fancy pleasure horses in my 4H classes at Fair. Looking back now, I am grateful for the it).
High School was a struggle for me. School was not my thing; I would draw on my math tests instead of answering the questions and I never really felt like I fit in. I spent most of my time in the art room. In my household, it was college or bust, so I applied to Oregon State University with hopes of entering vet school and was accepted. I took one pre-vet class and realized my right-brained self was in way over her head. I then switched to Fine Art. Even though I was an artist, that major wasn’t for me either. I listlessly drifted from random class to random class, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my future. At that point I was pretty lost in every aspect of life. I almost dropped out to enroll in tattoo school - that was a fun conversation with my mother.
I joined the university Polo team (horses, not water) after a few months at school, trying to cure my depression from being away from my horses and to see if it would provide me with some much needed direction and purpose. I was instantly hooked to the adrenaline rush and eclectic group of people who were involved in the polo world. I went on to play for OSU for almost four years - traveling all over to west coast schools playing tournament and participating in clinics. I don’t think I would have made it later in life riding colts, pack station trash, and bottom of the barrel ranch horses if it weren’t for my time spent on hot headed polo mounts.
I met my husband shortly after joining the polo team. After that, things really started to fall into place for me. He was a strawberry blonde blue eyed cowboy who was a mutual acquaintance and sat next to me in Biology 101 as my lab partner. I asked him where he was from and he answered with the same small, middle of nowhere, familiar desert cow town that my mom had been born in. No way, I thought. The next thing I know, I’m teaching Cody Klein how to play polo. I needed to go exercise a few horses, so I asked him tag along. The look on his face was priceless as I handed him the reins to a 16 hand snorty thoroughbred; yet he climbed up in that English saddle and started swinging that mallet like there was nothing to it. Once I realized that he was about as far as you could get from the all-hat-and-no-cattle type, the cowboy from the desert had all of my attention. That was our first date.
Cody grew up in Bishop, California. He spent most of his life in the back country of the Sierra Nevada packing mules and cowboying down below in the desert of the Owens Valley. He taught me how to ride colts, doctor and brand cattle, pack mules, shoe horses, stamp leather, and just about every other useful skill I’ve got today. I don’t know where I’d be in this life without him, but I can’t imagine that it would be all that much fun. Anyway, in college he taught me how to stamp leather and do some other basic fiddling around with leather work. I was instantly hooked. Shortly after, I changed my major to Agricultural Sciences and met a whole wonderful network of fellow students who were cowboys, farmers, ranchers, and everything in between. We moved out of town to the University owned research ranch and roomed with about 5 cowboys who were also students and worked for the school ranch. Those were some of my favorite memories of college; we ran wild out there. We started colts, had bonfires, roped anything that moved, stayed up too late drinking beer and talking about saddles, and did a lot of leather work, probably while we were supposed to be in class. Our roommate, Bill, was a saddle maker and took me under his wing when he saw that I was interested in leather work. He taught me how to tool flowers and even let me help him build a saddle. Ever since then (2014, I think) I have considered myself an aspiring leather worker.
Once we graduated college, we hit the ground running to see as much country as we possibly could. You see, Cody and I don’t have ranching in our blood. We weren’t collecting calf nuts as kids at brandings and we don’t have a family ranch waiting for us to come back to one day. Everything we’ve done and learned in this industry we have learned by doing. We were very fortunate to have some incredible folks as resources to teach us what we didn’t learn as kids. We started from the bottom and scratched out living; determined to make a life in the isolated places we loved. After school, we worked on ranches, both big and small, in Oregon, Nevada, California, and Montana. We spent time at pack stations, guiding guests on 10 day backcountry trips through the Sierra. We spent time apart, him cowboying and me working for a guest ranch. We spent a lot of time cowboying together, usually just the two of us and a lot of cows.
The entire time we were young and moving around from ranch to ranch, I was still tooling leather. Poorly I might add. I had a small duffle bag full of my tools and a janky workbench I scored at Goodwill. I made purses and tooled spur straps in cow camps, run down ranch house kitchen tables, pack station picnic benches, horse trailers, and the list goes on. Leather was my creative outlet I needed to survive. When we’d be in the back country packing, I’d bring a notepad and draw bridle horses and scrolls by the fire. I did a lot of YouTube learning and failing in those early years. I also did a lot of experimenting with leather and paint; I was drawn to bright colors and the wild cowboy scenes from famous paintings I had seen by Russel and Dixon; I wanted to put that kind of artistry on leather and branch out from the traditional floral tooling I’d been taught.
Not everywhere we went allowed women to cowboy. There are a lot of old school outfits where wives and girlfriends don’t get to work cattle, but are left to raise babies and stay home. I’m sure you can guess the thoughts in my young head on those particular situations, but I’ll just say they weren’t positive and I had no interest in either of the aforementioned things. Alas, a few times we found ourselves in those predicaments. During those times, leather work became my entire life. In a way, I’m glad it happened because it forced me to put in the time to get better. During that time, I also discovered the usefulness of social media for a rural business. I started posting pictures of my tooling and beforeI knew it, gals were buying purses. The more leather work I sold, the more time and effort I invested in marketing, mainly on Instagram. I learned to take quality product photos and how to tell a story and build trust with my small audience. Eventually it just kind of became second nature to me and I built quite the following. Ever since then my business has been on of main passions and focus in life. I was completely ruined on ever working for anyone but myself again.
Five years after we met, Cody and I said our “I do’s” in a cottonwood pasture on the outskirts of that same middle of nowhere cow town in 2017. There was swing dancing and prickly pear margaritas poured until the big high desert moon set over Mt. Tom. I wore boots and a pawn shop squash blossom and he wore a cowboy hat. Since then, it’s been a nonstop adventure. We’ve had some wonderful times and some really tough times; at the end of everyday we’re grateful for each other. All over the Great Basin and western states, we’ve seen some beautiful country and experienced some unbelievable things.
In 2020, we had a daughter named Teal Sage Klein. Now, I’m a full time mama and business owner on a gorgeous Nevada ranch. Though it’s maybe the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, I really enjoy staying home to raise my little gal. Magpie West has evolved into quite the small business (though most days it does not feel small) and I have a lot on my plate, which I love. I am excited to further my career this coming year with teaching, a new shop of my own, and lots of leather tooling. I am fortunate that I still get to cowboy and do all the things I love; I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.
What is your role in agriculture?
I have had many roles in Agriculture: Ag student and graduate, grazing intern, guide and backcountry cook, cowboy and rancher, leather worker and western artist, ranch wife and mama.
What got you interested in ranching, farming, etc.?
My husband introduced me to the world of ranching. Once I attended my first branding, I knew I wanted to be involved in Agriculture and ranching for the rest of my life.
Are you married (special someone in your life)?
Five years this August married to Mr. Cody Klein.
Do you have children?
Yes, I am mama to a sassy almost two year old cowboy gal, Teal Sage Klein. She loves hound dogs, helping me bake cookies, and throws a pretty serious temper tantrum when you pull her off of a horse. She spends almost everyday playing in the leather shop or sitting on my bench handing me tools and drawing me pictures on my plywood workbench top while I work.
Inspirational person in your life?
Sallie Knowles Joseph inspires me everyday. She was an incredible western artist, poet, leather worker and saddle maker, gritty cowgirl and horsewoman, mother, and friend. She saw everything as art - the sagebrush, the sunrise, saddling horses, teaching tiny kids how to ride, the nastiest of thunderstorms, and the friendships she shared with all kinds of people. Sallie created art and gave it generously to the people in her life, without expecting anything in return. One time when I was young, I had a very special horse colic and die and I was devastated. Sallie drew the most stunning portrait of her on a lampshade atop a beautiful vintage lamp and left it for me. I still have it and every time I turn it on, I think of her light.
She also loved to teach and spread the passion she felt for this way of life to anyone who was willing to learn. I admire the way she lived: simply and with no concern of what other people thought. An unconventional and beautiful life with her horses, dogs, art, and open country. Sallie was taken from the world too soon and is missed vey deeply by many. However, her memory is alive and well through an event held every summer in the high Sierra called the Cowgirl Art Rodear. It’s a weekend event in her honor where female western artist of all sorts gather for a trade show, concerts, and benefit silent auction. This event funds a scholarship in her honor that allows women in the western trades to further their education and future careers. She would have absolutely loved it and I am so happy I get to be apart of it every July.
Most memorable moment?
There are many memories that come to mind, both good and bad; I’ve been lucky enough to experience some very unique places, people, and jobs in the last ten years. Some of the most memorable include watching 5 Montana grizzly bears tear a calf apart from 100 yards away on my horse, or a one day 30 mile ride through the Golden Trout wilderness to the Kern River of the Sierra with a pack string and my husband, or the feeling of freedom, fear, and judgement when I quit my stable job to become a full time leather artist, or that time I got in over my head at a branding and necked a big soggy calf that ended up getting me in the worst wreck of my life and bucked off in front of about 20 people, or climbing a mountain in a white out blizzard and three feet of snow thinking that the morning sickness was going to kill me while helping Cody kill a bull elk… I can’t pick just one.
Too many to count. I am a firm believer that you don’t have to be good at your hobbies, as long as they bring you joy. I am far from mastering most of mine, but they all make me happy.
They include hunting, fishing, roping & summer ranch rodeos, western photography, beadwork, gardening, baking, painting, homesteading, chicken wrangling, canning, thrifting, western decor & fashion, and a newly acquired fiddle that I play very poorly!
What is your favorite movie?
What is your favorite music?
Anything red dirt, classic country, classic rock, folk, the list goes on. I am all over the place when it comes to music.
What is your favorite food?
It’s a tie between authentic carnitas street tacos and homemade sourdough cinnamon rolls.
What is your favorite color?
Turquoise. Always turquoise!
What is your favorite recipe?
Good old homemade sourdough bread. It reminds me of simple times; I love how just three ingredients can create something so delightful and nutritious.
What is your favorite animal?
Elk. Living in Montana and hearing eight point bulls fight and bugle after cows on the hill across from my kitchen window really made me fascinated with them. I love to admire them, draw them, as well as hunt them. I have so much respect for Elk. That bugle sends chills up my spine. Not to mention they are delicious.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
I’d say my least favorite attribute of a person is when they think they have learned it all and know it all. You are never done learning.
Dishonesty is a close second.
What is your favorite quote/motto?
“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear”
“No grit, no pearl” -Unknown
What are you excited about (business endeavors)?
Learning to build saddles, the release my small business planner, teaching more folks to tool leather, getting better at my trade.
What are your goals/aspirations?
Expand my teaching, nail down an apprenticeship with a renown saddle maker, have a professional shop space that is all my own, do more collaborations, get better at tooling cool stuff, go to more trade shows, meet more of my favorite people - makers, get better at roping and making horses, be a better friend, help my family to become completely self reliant and self employed.
Where do you go to clear your head?
Anywhere as long as I’m horseback!
West Texas & the southwest.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d say to her that talent is great and all, but it is a complete waste unless you’re willing to work hard. Just because you’re naturally gifted does not mean that you’re entitled to success or that you can have mediocre customers service, accounting, and business skills. You’ve still got to put in the long hours and do the dang work.
I’d also tell young naive Kailey to protect her energy. Stop doing things because you think that’s what other people want you to do and stop saying yes to projects and folks that don’t truly inspire you. You only have so much energy and creativity, stop giving it away.