Raising Sheep in Wyoming

  Today Last 24 hours Last 7 days Last 30 days Total
Hits 48 233 1676 5748 1633658
Pages views 30 147 938 3411 1257327
Unique visitors 9 11 11 11 263545
Unique visitors ‪(1h interval)‬ 22 118 611 2182 659015
Unique visitors ‪(30 min interval)‬ 23 130 718 2475 705936
Hits per unique visitor 5.33 21.18 152.36 522.55 6.2
Pages per unique visitor 3.33 13.36 85.27 310.09 4.77

Sheep Raising in Wyoming

       by Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the November/December 2006 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

            The 100° longitude meridian line runs north and south over the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  This longitude line is more than a man-made global positioning line.  The 100º meridian coincides to a remarkable degree with the climatological boundary between the Midwestern area of the United States and the Great Plains.  East of the 100º meridian is the Midwest with its plentiful annual rainfall amounts.  To the west, in the much drier land of the Great Plains.  Whereas farming in the Midwest is diversified and includes row crops like corn and soybeans, farming in the Great Plains is specialized—limited to the growing of small grains, predominately wheat.  Wheat is grown in abundance in the Great Plains.  Thus, the Great Plains has been called the “bread basket” of the United States.

The entire state of Wyoming is located in the Great Plains.  Situated along the eastern escarpment of the Rocky Mountains, the climate of Wyoming tends to be very dry, even by the standards of the Great Plains.  Because of the extremely dry conditions of the state, Wyoming was, at first, considered unsuitable for crop raising.  Wyoming seemed fit only for grazing cattle—and Wyoming had grazing land available.  Over 80% of the land of the state of Wyoming was publicly owned (federal and state) land.  This public owned land was called “open range.”  The open range had long been freely available for grazing by the cattle by ranchers that settled in Wyoming.

An individual cow requires forty acres of grazing land to sustain itself.  Thus, even a small herd of cattle requires a great deal of land for grazing through out the year.  Thanks to this free grazing policy on federal and state owned lands, individual ranchers did not need to “own” (and pay taxes on) the large amount of land required to support there cattle.  They needed only own a small site for their house, barn and other buildings.  The cattle could be grazed on the open range for most of the year.  Even though the winter snows presented a feeding problem for the cattle rancher in Wyoming, this problem could be overcome by the rancher putting up hay in the summer to feed in the winter when the grazing became too scarce.  The ranchers could even cut hay on the publicly-owned open range and store the hay in their barns to supplement the grazing during the winter months.

Wyoming has proudly nicknamed itself as the “Cowboy State” in recognition of the vast cattle herds (and the men on horseback that handled those herds) that still graze the land of Wyoming.  At first, cattle raising had a monopoly on the open range of Wyoming.  However, in the mid-1880s, sheep were introduced into Wyoming and began to compete with cattle for the grass on the open range.  A struggle between sheep ranchers and cattle ranchers, over grazing rights on the open range, resulted.  This struggle or “range war” between the sheep men and the cattle men has been a popular subject for Hollywood movies.  However, the overwhelming reality of the introduction of sheep into the Great Plains is a bit more prosaic.  Sheep gradually replaced cattle on the open range of Wyoming, because sheep simply offered a more profitable means of making a living than did beef cattle following the mid 1880s.

Since the end of the American Civil War, beef prices had ranged from a normal high of about $6.30 per hundred pounds to a normal low of about $4.00.  However, in February of 1886, the price of beef fell to $3.85 per hundred pounds and from that time down through 1896, beef prices began to fluctuate within a range from a normal high of about $4.00 per hundred pounds and a normal low of $3.30 per hundred pounds.  Raising cattle had become less profitable as time went on.  On the other hand, the price of wool presented a different story.

Traditionally, United States wool growers had benefited from the protective tariff duties which were imposed on the importation of foreign wool into the United States.  High duties on imported wool, assured domestic growers of wool within the United States of a high price for their product without foreign competition.  Protective tariffs had been a highly charged and much debated political issue throughout much of United States history.  The tariff issue had, traditionally, divided the two major political parties of the United States.  Since the time of President Andrew Jackson, the Democratic Party had stood in opposition to the policy of high protective tariffs.  The Republican Party, and before them, the Whig Party, had traditionally supported high tariffs to protect United States industries.  Predictably, when the Republicans were in control of the presidency and the Congress, high tariffs were the enacted.  Conversely, when the Democrats were in power tariff reductions were enacted.  Recently, this dynamic had resulted in the passage of the McKinley Tariff Act in the autumn of 1890 by the Republican-controlled during the administration of Republican President Benjamin Harrison.   Then in the summer of 1894, during the second administration of Democratic President Grover Cleveland, the Democrat-controlled Congress passed the Wilson-Gorman Tariff.  The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act had removed all duties on imported wool.   Consequently, wool prices sagged to a new low of 34.8 cents per pound in June of 1895.

The Panic of 1893 which began in the east hit Wyoming hard when the Union Pacific Railroad became bankrupt in October of 1893.  Sheep ranchers struggled under the double effects of the lack of any protection from cheap imported wool and the further  restriction of markets for their wool imposed by the economic recession which followed the Panic of 1893.  Still, despite the economic hardships faced by the sheep ranchers, the beef industry was harder hit economically.  In Wyoming, the number of sheep had long since surpassed the number of cattle in the state.  However, the Panic if 1893 and the depression that followed the Panic widened this gap between the number of sheep and the number of cattle in the State.  By 1898, there were 1,940,021 head of sheep in Wyoming as opposed to only 706,000 head of cattle.

As the economic depression which followed the Panic stretched into it third year the public became disenchanted with the incumbent Democratic (Grover Cleveland) Administration.  As the presidential campaign started in 1896, it seemed clear that the public was in a mood to turn the Democrats out of office.  All indications pointed to a Republican victory in November of 1896.  In anticipation of the return of the Republican party, and the expected return of the high protective tariff, the price of wool began to climb.  If any further indication were needed, the Republican National Convention held in June 1896, voted in support of a platform that strongly favored a high tariff.  Senator William McKinley, author of the 1890 high tariff Act which bore his name, was nominated by the same convention as the Republican nominee for president of the United States.  In October, 1896, the price of wool rose to 39.1 cents per pound as a monthly average for the entire month.  On election day in November of 1896, McKinley won the presidential race.  Wool climbed to 41.3 cents per pound as a monthly average for November 1896.

In 1897, Congressman Dingley of Maine became the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  Additionally, Chairman Dingley introduced a a tariff bill that would bear his name.  The Dingley Tariff bill proposed to raise duties on imported wool higher than the duties had ever been under the McKinley Tariff of 1890.   Ordinarily, wool prices operated in an annual cycle, dropping in June or July as the sheep flocks across the nation are shorn of their wool and all the shorn wool makes its way into the market and rising again in the fall and winter.  However, as the spring of 1897 yielded to the months of summer, the price of wool did not drop.  Rather, the price of wool continued to rise to 42.4 cents per pound as an average for March and to 45.6 cents a pound in April, 1897.

Bands of sheep herders had always moved across the landscape of Wyoming. Wandering along in pursuit of the next patch of good grazing for the sheep, these flocks of sheep, accompanied by sheepherders, dogs and camp wagons, averaged in size about 2,500-3,000 head.  Thus, the average band needed to cover a great amount of land area to find adequate grazing.  Many of the bands crossing the State of Wyoming did not originate within the borders of Wyoming.  Many flocks of sheep actually originated from Colorado, Utah or other neighboring states.  In 1897, the high price of wool and the anticipation of still higher prices supported by a new Republican protective tariff, brought even more flocks of sheep into the state.

In the spring of 1897, one particular sheepherder and his brother were tending a flock of 2500 head of Rambouillet sheep on the plains adjacent to the western escarpment of the Wasatch Mountain range in the State of Utah.  This was their home.  They lived here with their families.  However, every spring our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother rounded up the sheep in their flock and started to drive them north across these plains known as the Wasatch Plateau.  Leaving their families behind, our Wasatch Range sheep herder bid his family goodbye and told his young son to obey his mother and “be the head of the family” while he was gone.  Our Wasatch Range sheep herder would be gone all summer grazing the sheep in the Wyoming Rocky Mountains. He and his brother would not see their respective families again until the coming September.  He and his brother spent nearly as much time in Wyoming as they did in their “homes” in the Wasatch Range.     Herding or “punching” sheep was a hard, lonesome, time-consuming  job.  For much of the year the only “family” that our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother knew were  the sheep and their two dogs—“Rexie” and “Queenie.”  Rexie and Queenie were Border Collies and like the dogs of that breed, they were very protective of the flock.   Natural “sheep dogs,” Border Collies are generally small black and white dogs,  weighing from 40 to 60 pounds.  They are an intelligent breed and are easily taught to react to various hand commands.  Indeed people said the Border Collie could be taught as many as forty (40) individual and different commands.  Our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother did not need that many different commands.  A mere series of motions horseback or even while standing on the ground would send the dogs off in different directions to round up the flock.  Rexie and Queenie would move around the flock in a dead run bring the flock together in the evening.

Now, early one particular morning in April of 1897, our Wasatch Range sheep herder saddled up his Pinto horse.  Then slipping his left foot up into the stirrup of the saddle, he stepped up and swung his right leg over the back of the horse to the other stirrup.  He was back in the saddle for another summer.  Before crossing over into Wyoming for the summer, however, our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother needed to deliver the sheep to the shearing pens near Provo, Utah.  Here the sheep would be shorn of all their wool and be ready for the summer grazing again.  Riding out to where the flock had been sleeping all night, he now signaled Rexie and Queenie to round up the flock and head them north toward Provo.  His brother followed driving the team of mules pulling the camp wagon which was jammed packed full of supplies for the summer.  Tied to the rear of the wagon was his brother’s own horse—a light bronze/brown Mustang mare.

With all 2,500 sheep headed north, Rexie and Queenie continued to work tirelessly along the edges of the moving flock to keep the flock headed in the right direction.  From time to time our Wasatch Range sheep herder would signal Rexie and Queenie to work from the same side of the flock to change the direction of the flock as they made their way across the Wasatch Plateau toward Provo.  Our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother were determined to deliver the flock to the Provo shearing pens in a timely and an efficient fashion.

In actual fact, this flock of sheep did not belong to either our Wasatch Range sheep herder nor his brother.  This was the problem that had bothered our Wasatch Range sheep herder for most of the last year.  He and his brother had been working together, for the last two years, herding sheep for a lawyer located in Provo, Utah who actually owned the sheep.

This attorney employed a number of sheep herders at the price of a dollar a day to herd sheep for him the year around.   The attorney owned 10,000 sheep which were divided into four (4) flocks or “units” as the flocks were known in the business.  Each unit contained between 2,500 to 3,000 head of Rambouillet sheep.  Rambouillet sheep were chosen for this form of open range raising of sheep for wool, because of the amount of wool they produced.  The average individual Rambouillet sheep would yield eight (8) to twelve (12) pounds of wool each year.  This compares with the five (5) to eight (8) pounds that was produced by the typical individual Southdown or Suffolk sheep which are raised in the midwest and sold primarily for meat rather than wool.

The sheepherders of the various units of sheep owned by the Provo attorney, would drive the sheep in their unit from their winter grazing area to summer grazing areas in the Rocky Mountains.  Each of the units would head off in different directions in quest of good grazing lands.  Our Wasatch Range sheepherder liked to take his sheep deep into Wyoming to his favorite grazing locations during the summer.  There was more “elbow room” in Wyoming for grazing of the sheep.  With the increasing interest in selling wool, the population of sheep in the State of Utah had been growing rapidly throughout the 1890s.  Currently there was almost 4 million head of sheep in Utah.  Despite Wyoming’s larger size, the sheep population in Wyoming was less than half that number.  Of course, there were large herds of cattle in Wyoming.  Although sheep and cattle shared grazing on the open range of the publicly held lands of the western states, our Wasatch Range sheepherder knew that in the summer there was no need for cattle and sheep to compete for the same piece of grazing real estate.  At altitudes above 8000 feet above sea level, cows became starved for adequate quantities of oxygen.  This condition was known as “brisket disease.”  Because of their smaller body mass, sheep required much less oxygen and could thrive at elevations above 8000 feet.  Thus, our Wasatch Range sheepherder and his brother always preferred to keep the sheep grazing in the mountains in Wyoming at altitudes from 7,000 to 11,000 feet above sea level.

However, their immediate goal was to herd the sheep across the Wasatch Plateau.  The Wasatch Plateau was a desert climate.  The nights could be near freezing while the daily high temperatures even in April could approach 80º F.  Consequently, the two men liked to get the flock up and going early in the morning while the temperatures were still cool.  Then let the flock settle down for the daily grazing that the sheep needed to do every day.  The sheep would be allowed to graze during the warmest part of the day and then toward evening settle down to chew their cuds.  After having stood and walked all day while grazing, the sheep enjoyed lying down on the ground with their heads up and their legs curled under their bodies to chew their cuds.

The sheep from all units owned by the Provo attorney would begin arriving in the range near the shearing pens and would be scheduled to be shorn as quickly as possible so that a particular unit could be moved out of the area around the shearing pens as soon as possible. The arrival of each unit was scheduled to be staggered in comparison with the other units.  This early in the spring the meadow near the pens did not have enough wild grass and/or other plant life to support all the sheep from all the units at one time for an entire month.  The pens, themselves held enough sheep for one-days worth of shearing by the shearing crews.  Each day, as the pens became empty they were filled with the sheep that were scheduled to be shorn the next day.  The sheep needed to be kept away from food for almost an entire day before shearing to avoid having them choke on regurgitated food while they were being handled during the shearing process.  Another concern during the shearing process was how the sheep would respond to the handling during the shearing process.  Every ewe in every unit was in the advance stages of pregnancy.  It was expected that lambing would begin on about the 25th of April.  Hopefully, the shearing process would not result in any un-necessary aborted pregnancies among the ewes.

Our Wasatch Range sheepherder had more than the usual amount of interest in the condition of the unborn lambs this particular year.  He had made an offer to the Provo lawyer that owned the sheep, to purchase all the ewe lambs this coming autumn that had been born to the sheep in the various units.  The lawyer had expressed some interest in the proposal.  Our Wasatch Range sheepherder  had dreams of having his own ranch—a permanently settled home rather than living out of a camp wagon moving endlessly from place to place all year.  He was saving all his money to achieve this goal.  He also knew that at the rate of a dollar a day, he would never reach this goal in his lifetime.  However, he was as much aware of the rising price of wool as anyone else in the industry and he hoped to get a flock of his own and make more money faster by raising and selling his own wool from his own flock of sheep.  He hoped to create his own flock of 2,500 sheep by obtaining that number of ewe (female) lambs next September from the crop of lambs that were soon to be born.  He was not alone in his dream of making money from an agricultural pursuit.  In the 1890’s, farming of all kinds was rapidly moving from a largely subsistence basis to a market economy basis.  Rather than trying to raise all the raw materials and make their own food and clothing, farmers and ranchers were now starting to sell the raw materials raised on their farm and buy their necessities of life from the local general store.

The main product of the sheep owners was wool.  Usually, the lambs that were born each year were regarded as a “by-product” of the sheep raising industry.  Under the old Wilson-Gorman Tariff of the early 1890s, sheep owners had been used to a price of wool that fluctuated in a range between 35 cents and 40 cents a pound for wool.  This meant that the wool coat on every sheep averaged about five (5) dollars.  However, the lamb that the pregnant ewe carried inside her would be worth only about $3.15 in the fall, if the lamb survived all the dangers that were presented to it throughout its early life and provided the lamb reached an average market weight of 100 to 125 pounds.  Thus, it was the wool which was the main money-making product of the industry.  Generally, the lambs were loaded up into railroad cars in September of each year and sent off to Omaha, Nebraska to be re-sold to whatever buyer in the midwest expressed interest in the “feeder lambs.”  However, this year the ewe lambs were a bit more valuable than in past years.  The Provo lawyer, like many other sheep owners was expanding their operations.  The lawyer told our Wasatch Range sheepherder that he wished to retain more than the usual amount of the best ewe lambs, so as to start to expand his operations by starting a new 2500 head unit.  The high price of wool was having an effect on everyone’s hopes for the future in wool production.

The trip to the shearing pens was very productive for our Wasatch Range sheep herder.  Not only did he get the sheep in his unit sheared without incident and get them headed out toward the east and away from meadows immediately surrounding the around shearing pens, but he had finalized the deal with the attorney for the purchase of 2,500 ewe lambs in the coming fall.  After having provisioned his supply wagon flour, beans and a great deal of the other material he would need for the coming summer, he had given over most of the rest of his savings to the Provo attorney as a down payment on the deal.  This was his earnest money and down payment on the lambs.  Although the lambs were as yet unborn, the price of $2.75 per lamb was locked in by this down payment.  Another small payment would be made on the lambs when he took possession of them in the coming fall.  However, the Provo attorney had agreed that the balance of the payment due on the lambs could be delayed until the spring of 1898, a year from now, when it was expected that our Wasatch Range sheep herder would be selling his first crop of wool from his own flock.

Our Wasatch Range sheep herder was also purchasing, as a result of this deal, 75 young bucks or rams (male sheep) from the lamb crop expected this fall.  Pursuant to the agreement he would not take possession of these rams until December when the Provo lawyer would have the unit of rams divided up into groups of 75 rams each.  Each group of 75 rams would be merged with one of the units of 2,500 to 3,000 head of ewes on December 1 each year.  This would assure that all the ewes in the flock would be pregnant at roughly the same time.  The timing of the breeding to about December 1 each year would assure that lambing would begin on, or about, April 25 of following year.  The rams would continue to run with the ewes until the shearing time in the following spring.  Once shorn the rams would be segregated again into their own unit, where they would remain until the next December 1.

As he herded the flock of ewes in his unit out toward Wyoming, they left the desert climate behind them.  Our Wasatch Range sheep herder, noticed that the days were continued to be warm but not as warm as the desert behind them.  However, the night time low temperatures changed to a greater degree.  No longer were the nights as cold as they had been in the desert.  Our Wasatch Range sheep herder understood that the cold nights was a feature of the dry air of the Utah desert.  He knew that as he moved up into the mountains to the east the nights would actually become warmer.  Currently in April the mountains would average five (5) degrees warmer at night than the desert where he was currently camping out.  By May the average difference in night time temperatures would be 10 degrees warmer than the desert.  In June the difference between the average nighttime low temperatures of the desert and the mountains would be nearly 15 degrees.  Despite the change in elevation, as he moved up into the mountains, the nights would actually become warmer.  Ordinarily, higher elevations resulted in cooler temperatures.  A person entering the Rocky Mountains from the relatively moist air of the Midwest would notice that the night time temperatures would cool as they rose to higher elevations.  However entering the Rockies from the Utah desert the reverse was true.

The flock was headed out for the mountains.  It was a daily goal to make six (6) miles a day with the flock.  It would take about 28 days to reach the mountains.  However, it was late April and it was lambing season.  Extra men were hired on for the lambing season.  Every morning there would be a new set of lambs that had been born in the night and there would be another group of ewes that looked as though they would be giving birth in a few hours.  All of the new mothers and the ewes in labor (perhaps 600 ewes and their lambs) would be separated from the flock and left behind under the care of one or two of the members of the crew.  The next morning the same thing would happen and another 600 or so head of sheep would be left in the second group.  Eventually the 2500 head flock would be spread out in smaller groups all across the “lambing range.”

Within each individual sub group of 600 sheep, the crew was kept very busy.  Our Wasatch Range sheep herder had paused with the first sub group of ewes to observe the birthing of the rest of the lambs within the first sub group.  It was only if he noticed that a ewe had been in labor for more than a couple of hours that our Wasatch Range sheep herder felt compelled to approach the ewe and try to assist delivery.  Most times the assistance was provided by tying a cord around the head and slipping the front of the noose into the mouth of the lamb being born ( in order to prevent strangling the lamb with the noose) and then slipping another noose around the front feet of the lamb being born. In this way steady pulling could be applied when the ewe went into the next contraction.  Separate nooses for the feet and the head could help our Wasatch Range sheep herder more easily determine whether one lamb was being delivered or whether the head was from one lamb and the feet were from another lamb of a set of twins trying to be born at the same time.  In the case, that two lambs were attempting to be born at the same time, our Wasatch Range sheep herder would have to make sure to tie the feet of one lamb together with one noose and then use two other nooses for the head and front feet of the other lamb.  Then he would have to push the second lamb back into the womb and pull on the front feet and the head of the first lamb so that the lambs might be born one at a time.  The use of a noose on the feet of the lamb to be born second was only a way of keeping track of the second lamb as the first one was being born.

Our Wasatch Range sheep herder had become quite adept at “rearranging” the lambs in the womb so that there would be a healthy birth no matter how the lamb originally “presented” itself at the time of birth.  The worst situation was when the lamb presented a side toward the birth canal.  At this stage is was easier to try to reach into the womb and get the two hind legs in the noose and help the lamb come out in the “breached” rear position.   When born in the breached position the lamb would have to be gotten out as soon as possible because as the umbilical cord was pinched off the lamb will start to breath through his nose.  In the breached position, the lamb’s head would still be inside the womb where he would not be able to breath until the lamb’s head and nose were out in the air.

Fortunately, most of the births required no assistance at all and our Wasatch Ranch sheep herder was pleased to see that a great number of twins were born to the ewes of the flock.  If he were able to include a great number of these particular lambs in among the 2,500 that he purchased this coming autumn, “twining” would be a strong genetic trait in his new flock.  Although young ewe lambs could be bred as early as six months age and although the ewe lambs would be eight months old as of December 1 (the time that the rams were usually introduced to the flock, our Wasatch Range sheep herder thought it best to wait another year until December 1, 1898 before breeding the young ewes.  At that time the ewes would be one year and eight months old and would be more mature and, would, he felt, be better mothers.  Thus, when he took possession of the 75 rams this coming fall, he would have to hire another sheep herder to travel and watch over the rams in a flock that would be separated from the ewes.

Successful delivery of the lambs did not solve all the problems incident with the lambing season.  Once born, there was the usual occasional problems with mothers and lambs that did not accept each other.  This problem was usually solved through one of various methods of “forcing acceptance’ of the lamb by the mother.  Sometimes the lambs coat would be smeared with molasses, to encourage the mother to lick the lamb.  Our Wasatch Range sheepherder knew that ewes would need molasses soon after giving birth to help get their energy back.  So he always had a substantial supply of molasses in the supply wagon.  Sometimes, the mother’s sense of smell could be masked by a strong smelling potion which would be smeared over the nose of the mother and on the body of the lamb.  The supply wagon also carried quantities of potions like this also.  Sometimes when none of the easier methods seemed to work, our Wasatch Range sheep herder would have to tie up the mother to a wheel of the wagon and tie her legs together temporarily to allow the lamb to nurse.  All of these methods were also used to get an orphan lamb accepted by a replacement mother.  However, the best results with these methods were always obtained in the period of time immediately following birth.

Whatever, the problem, it was important that each newborn lamb get some of the first milk from the udder.  The first milk from the mother’s udder is called “colostrum.”  This milk, which is produced by the ewe mother during the first day or two after birth, is rich in anti-bodies and nutrients needed by the lamb for early life and survival.  However, if the ewes udder was not milked out in a timely fashion, the ewe might develop a yeast or fungal infection called “mastitis.”

Once all the lambs had been born, the entire sub group was driven forward to the east until it was merged with the second sub group of about 600 head.  The next day these two sub groups were driven forward to where the third sub group was waiting.  This process continued until all the sub groups that had been separated were brought back together again.  Then all the extra employees were released and total care for the whole flock fell back on our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother.  It was good to see the young lambs jumping and running around together as the flock was herded toward the summer ranges.  Our Wasatch Range sheep herder felt even better when, after about a month on the range, he saw the young lambs begin to nibble at some of the tender green sprouts of grass on the ground.  This was evidence that their rumens (stomachs) were developing properly.  At about a month and a half of age the lambs mother began to refuse them nursing milk.  At this stage the lambs were weaned to a diet entirely made up of grasses and plant life.  It was about July 1, when they crossed over into Wyoming.

The lambs were about 2 months old now and they had surmounted a great deal of shock already in their young lives.  Now, as they moved up into the mountains, however, a different danger presented itself to the young lambs in the form of predators.  Early in the spring, there were bears just emerging from their long winter’s hibernation.  Waking up from hibernation, the bears were hungry and ill-tempered.  They would definitely be interested in a young lamb to eat.  However, the real danger that bears presented was, however, limited to only the early spring as they emerged from hibernation.  Later in the spring and summer they would present less of a threat.  A more important threat in summer was the mountain lion (or puma or cougar as they were also known).  Unlike other predators mountain lions hunted during the day light hours—especially about dawn or dusk.  Timber wolves tended to be the most threatening predator to the sheep.  Wolves attacked in packs of six to ten animals.  The State of Wyoming had, just two years earlier in 1895, introduced a system of bounties that would be paid to people who would help exterminate all the main predators of the State.  All they had to do was to bring hides or various other body parts form the animal they had skilled to their local county land office.  The possessor of the body parts would show the parts to the appropriate county official and collect the bounty.  Already this year Wyoming was well on the way toward paying out $5,613.50 in bounties on various dead predators reported to the state and county officials.  Our Wasatch Range sheep herder wanted to do his part in this worthy endeavor.  However, he had for the State of Wyoming s sThis  be paisThe body parts would be the proof that the y  oie fl se  and bring the s d orn sLuckily, ohe

To be sure, our Wasatch Range sheep herder was well armed—he carried his faithful old 45 caliber Model 1886 Winchester lever-action repeating rifle and his smaller Winchester rifle and to be sure, he also had a ready and ample supply of ammunition for these rifles.  However, the rifles were not his prime weapon used against the predators.  The rifles were used more likely to be used to shoot any stray game—deer, elk or even rabbits that he might stubble onto throughout the summer.  These game animals provided a nice diversion from the usual mutton that formed the major part of his diet.

His main weapon used against predators of all kinds was strychnine.  He would like to have been able to take advantage of the bounty that Wyoming offered to for the predators, but he and his brother were so busy with the flock that they could not take the time to track down predators for the bounty that they might receive.  However, in the two summers that the bounties had been awarded, our Wasatch Range sheep herder had noticed that predators now presented less of a problem to their flocks.  Once into the high country of Wyoming, our Wasatch Range sheep herder moved the flock to a new grazing location every five days.  He felt that the predators would, most likely, pick up the smell of the flock after they had passed though an area.  Thus, the predators would most likely come upon the flock from behind.  He knew that predators would always scavenge any dead animals that were handy.  This little meal would hold a surprise for them.   Leaving the poisoned carcass behind as they left was about all that he and his brother could do to promote the Wyoming’s fight to exterminate predators on the open range.

Once in the mountains, the camp wagon was parked in a location which was to serve as the camp site for a full week.  From now on, for the rest of the summer, the flock would be allowed to graze a particular piece of ground for five (5) days before they would have to move again.  It was a relief to not have to pack every thing up travel every day.  Every campsite was carefully chosen so as to be close to a mountain stream.  On average, an individual sheep needs in excess of a gallon of water every day.  The Rambouillet breed of sheep is a bigger breed of sheep than other breeds—with rams weighing from 250 to 300 pounds and ewes weighing from 150 to 200 pounds.  Thus the /rambouillets needed more water than the average sized sheep.  Furthermore , nursing ewes needed even more water, reaching approximately 2 ½ gallons of water per day.  Ideally, the best camp location was near a part of the stream, where the stream leveled out or where there was a beaver dam that obstructed the flow of the stream.  This would allow the water in the stream to warm up sufficiently to an optimum 64 degrees.  Sheep did not like the really cold water that may flow down a typical mountain stream.  Thus, with the campsite located near a desireable portion of a typical mountain stream, our Wasatch Range sheep herder could be assured that the sheep would not range too far from the campsite.  In addition, the Rambouillet breed had inherited characteristics which helped the sheep herder keep track of all the individual sheep in the flock.  Rambouillet sheep are excellent foragers and can thrive on a variety of plant life.  However, they have a strong herding instinct.  Consequently, they may spread out to graze far and wide during the daylight hours, but they always tended to flock together at night.  This characteristic was another reason why the Rambouillet sheep were so populous on the western range.

Summers on the open range in Wyoming was the part of the annual grazing schedule that our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother loved the best.  The Wyoming Rockies were majestic and served as beautiful backdrop against which a person could live and work contently.  They slept contentedly also.  All night the flowing water in the mountain stream near the campsite induced sleep.   up the campsite with a camp fire that would burn down to coals each night.  These coals were hot enough in the morning that he and his brother only needed to add a little firewood and the fire would soon be hot enough to boil water in the coffee pot.  Sitting on a rock near the fire, the water in the coffee pot would actually boil at a lower temperature than it did at a lower elevation.  However, the ground coffee may take longer to blend with the water because of the slightly lower boiling temperature.  The smell of coffee would permeate the morning air of the camp site.  It signaled the start of another glorious day in the mountains.

With the more relaxed schedule of moving only every five days or so, our Wasatch Range sheep herder had time to invest in other pursuits.  He unpacked his little case of books that he had brought with him and started to read them during restful times in the afternoon.  He was aware that he was not the only sheep herder that enjoyed the solitary time the job afforded in order to read.  As a rule, the sheep herding occupation drew to it persons that were more educated and literary than one might suspect.  The isolation of the job also attracted persons who could not adjust to a settled life around many people.  This included some people who were alcoholics.  These people, who could not avoid the temptation to drink when living in a settled community where alcoholic drink was available, sometimes proved to be very diligent workers when the temptation to drink was removed through the isolation imposed by the occupation of sheep herding.

Isolation was a desirable feature of the job for our Wasatch Range sheep herder.  He enjoyed being out in nature on his own.  On occasion the isolation for his brother and or himself was interrupted when one of them had to saddle up one of the younger horses and head off to the nearest town or settlement to get necessary supplies.  Riding alone, horse and rider could make good time.  They might cover the 50 miles in a single day and head back to camp the next day.  Since both he and his brother read, a recent newspaper was always added to the list supplies that were needed from town.  They always wanted to know what was going on in the world.  First, in importance was the latest news about the price of wool and what was happening in Congress regarding the new tariff legislation.  This information was watched much more carefully than in past years for obvious reasons.   Our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother had bound themselves to a contract with some major obligations.  If things worked out as expected they would be independent sheep owners with a better financial situation.  They would be also on their way to meeting the dream of buying their own land.  However, if events did not work out as expected they would be left with some major financial obligations and very little hope of realizing their dreams for the future.  However, what they did hear on these brief trips back to civilization, was good news.  Wool prices remained high—46.7 cents a pound throughout the months of May, June and July 1897.  Furthermore, in July, 1897, the Dingley Tariff was passed and signed into law.  The Dingley Tariff restored the high tariff duities on imported wool.  Indeed the tariff levels for wool were even higher than they had been under the old McKinley Tariff Act of 1890.  With this news, the two brothers passed the summer of 1897 in splendid isolation high up in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming filled with hopes for their own future.  By mid August, it was already time to start down to lower attitudes. As usual, coming down out of the mountains went much faster then going up into the mountain range.  What took 28 days going up now only took 15 days coming down.  Once in the low hands the obtained another bit of news.  As a result of the passage of the Dingley Tariff Act the price of wool rose to unheard of levels–51.1 cents a pound in August as a monthly average.  The two brothers realized that they would not be reaping any benefit from this high price, but they hoped that this was the start of a trend that would last until they had their own wool to sell.

They herded the sheep to west and back into Utah.  Once again all the units of sheep owned by the Provo attorney were to meet in the area around the shearing pens near the Union Pacific tracks during the month of September.  It was time to split the lambs off from the rest of the flock.  In usual years, this was the time that the lambs would be loaded up into rail road cars and shipped east to Omaha.   This year, however, fewer lambs were leaving for market on board the trains as many of the sheep owners were expanding their herds or selling ewe lambs to other aspiring sheep owners, who were anxious to get into the wool business.  The relative scarcity of the lambs coming to market meant caused the price of sheep to rise—reaching $5.00 per market lamb.  These were the highest prices since 1893.  Suddenly, our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother were faced with a puzzling situation.  Pursuant their agreement with the Provo attorney they were now taking possession of 2,500 at the price of $4.00 per head.  Currently, the livestock railroad cars were in Provo ready to take any lambs to Omaha.  By merely agreeing to sell the 2,500 lambs and having them loaded up into the railroad cars, our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother could immediately pay off the balance of what they owed the Provo lawyer and pocket a quick profit of nearly $2,500 profit.  It was a tempting thought, but the brothers resisted the temptation.  It was especially tempting because as of December 1, 1897 they were going to have to hire on and outfit a completely outfit a couple of new sheep herders to graze the rams on ranges separate from the ewe lambs.  This would be more money going out and they would not have any money coming in from their sheep until shearing time next April.

However, they chose to keep their ewe lambs.  They shared the general optimism that permiated the wool industry and the entire nation at the time.  They were betting that they would make even more money on wool crops in the future years than they would by taking this immediate profit.  So they kept their newly purchased flock and continued their commitment to their newly hired sheep herders who were herding the rams.  However, wool prices continued to encourage their aspirations.  The price climbed to 53.3 cents a pound for the month of September; 58.7 cents per pound for the month of October and finally 60.9 cents per pound for the month of November.  In 1898 the price of wool rose even more, to 63.0 cents as an average for February and March of 1898.  As they hitched up the wagons and sent Queenie and Rexie out to round up the sheep, to start on their way to the shearing pens near Provo in the Spring of 1898, our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother were extremely apprehensive that the flood of wool coming into the market from all the new flocks and the flocks that had been expanded would cause a decline in the price of wool and rob them of their expected profit—their chance at an independent future.  Thus, when they arrived at the shearing pens, they were greatly relieved and indeed pleasantly surprised to find that the price of wool for the entire month of April remained at 63.0 cents.  Even in the month of May as more wool flooded the market from the spring shearing declined only to 60.9 a pound.  With the money they recieved from their first crop of wool from their sheep, they happily paid off the rest of what they owed to Provo lawyer for the 2500 ewes and the 75 rams.  They paid off the debts that they had incurred outfitting the two sheep herders they had hired.  They even had a bit of money to put away in the in Provo.  This was the first small step toward their dream of getting some land of their own.

It was not the only step.  Years went by in a regular routine of Wyoming in the summer and wintering on the Wasatch Range.  Protected by the continuing the high rates of the Dingley Tariff, wool prices during the shearing season month of April never again dipped below 54.0 cents as a monthly average.  Indeed for most of the next 11 years, the April monthly average price hovered around 70 cents a pound.  Just as the high price of wool had gotten him a flock of his own, he now looked to the continued high price of wool to help him achieve his dream of a ranch of his own in Wyoming.

(In the next article we will see how our Wasatch Range sheep herder faired in the pursuit of his dream.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *