Ree Drummond ’91: Pioneer Woman

By Sandy Siegel

If you asked Ree Drummond ’91 in 1991 where she was headed in life, chances are she wouldn’t have said a ranch outside of Pawhuska, Okla. But that’s where she ended up when she met and subsequently fell in love with a cowboy.

Ranch life didn’t come naturally for Drummond. The daughter of an orthopedic surgeon, she grew up on the grounds of a country club in the corporate town of Bartlesville, Okla. After high school, Drummond, eager to broaden her horizons, left for USC, first to study journalism, and later, gerontology.

“I loved [the city] from the second I arrived,” she says. From trips to nail salons to regular sushi dinners, city life didn’t disappoint. But after several years as an Angeleno, Drummond was ready for a change. She set her sights on Chicago, where some family and friends lived.

First, though, she made a stopover in her hometown. During a night out with old friends at a bar, she met Ladd Drummond, a rugged modern-day cowboy. It wasn’t long before she was trading in her high heels and big-city plans for cowboy boots and an isolated existence 25 miles from the nearest town (that would be Pawhuska, population 3,600).

“It was jarring,” Drummond says of her adjustment to a rural lifestyle with a cattle rancher. “I’m living out in the middle of nowhere, no grocery store down the street. There were cows in my yard and mud was everywhere.”

Fast-forward to 2006. One day, on a lark, she decided to create a blog. Calling it Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, she saw it as a way to share pictures with her mother. She first posted photos, then started writing amusing anecdotes about her pre-ranch days.

“Lo and behold, one day I noticed that I had a comment on something I had written,” she says. “I thought, ‘Mom, is that you?’ It wasn’t my mom. It was a reader who had stumbled upon the site.”

As Drummond added tales of her romance with her husband – whom she dubbed Marlboro Man – shared adventures as an unintended country gal and mother of four homeschooled children, and posted recipes with step-by-step photographs, the readership grew. Within a year, the site was named the Best-Kept Secret Weblog at the Weblog Awards – The Bloggies. Her online chronicle – a Bloggie winner for Weblog of the Year in 2009 and 2010 – now gets about 20 million pageviews a month.

Even better, the site has led Drummond to the holy grail for bloggers: books and (possibly) a movie deal. Released last fall, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl spent several weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. The Pioneer Woman – Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story, based on Drummond’s unlikely courtship and first year of marriage, will be published on Valentine’s Day 2011. A big-screen adaptation is in development at a major studio.

“This whole experience has been so fun for me, because you never could orchestrate something like this,” she says. “Everything’s been a surprise, and that has allowed me to really enjoy it.”

And the biggest surprise?

“The country has really centered me; I found myself in the country,” Drummond says. “I’m not sure if I ever really knew myself before I moved to the middle of nowhere, which is sort of the irony in the whole thing.”