Wyoming Sheep


From Wyoming Tales and Trails

Home Big Horn Basin Black Hills Buffalo Cambria Casper-N. Platte Valley Centennial Cheyenne Chugwater Cody Encampment Evanston Deadwood Stage Douglas Dubois Ft. Bridger Ft. Fetterman Ft. Laramie Ghost Towns Tom Horn Jackson Kemmerer Lander Laramie Lusk Medicine Bow Photos II Photos IV Photos V Rawlins Rock Springs Rudafeha Mine Sheepherding Sheridan Sherman Shoshoni Superior Thermopolis USS Wyoming Yellowstone

Sheepcamp near Douglas, cir. 1900

Although in the popular mind Wyoming is mostly associated with cattle, the cattle count having increased from 8,000 in 1870 to 1,500,000 in 1885, the impact of the "Great Die Off" discussed with regard to Chugwater was an increased emphasis on a change from cattle to sheep. Even the Two Bar made the change. This is not to say, however, that sheep did not have an importance before 1886. The 1880 census reflected a sheep count of over 500,000 and by the mid 1880's there were some 106,000 sheep in Albany County alone. In contrast the 1870 census reflected only 6,409 sheep in the entire territory. The Warren Livestock Company, still in business, was founded by Francis E. Warren in 1874. In 1894 the Company had an inventory of 1,826 horses, 26 mules, 3,220 head of cattle and 63,433 sheep. In addition to Gov. Warren, other governors had an interest in sheep including Eugene Osborne and B. B. Brooks. This is not to say that prior to the winters of 1886 and the winter of 1888-89, that Warren did not have an interest in cattle. Warren at one time had an interest in cattle in the Dakotas and with M. F. Post owned the Spur Ranch at LaBarge in the Green River Valley. Prior to the winter of 1888-89, the Spur Ranch had 15,000 head of cattle. That winter, as in the Winter of 1886, deep snow was followed by a thaw and then a freeze, creating a ice sheet through which the cattle could not graze. The following spring at round-up only 800 cattle were accounted for. Jim Mickelson, foreman of the Spur, noted the effect at his own homestead. He described his being able the following spring to step from frozen carcass to frozen carcass. Smaller ranchers suffered the same losses. Ed Steele lost all but 8 of his 87 head.

Along Nowood Creek, August, 1916

Note sheep wagon at right side of photo. Only 7 years before the above photo, on April 2, 1909, the last armed conflict between cattlemen and sheep growers occured in the Nowood Valley at Spring Creek, 7 miles southeast of Ten Sleep. In the "Spring Creek Raid," seven masked riders raided Joe Allemand's sheep camp, killing Allemand, his nephew Joe Lazier and Jules Emge and burning their two sheep wagons. The raid was supposedly motivated by Allemand's bringing his herd of 5,000 sheep into the Nowood Valley which cattle interests had declared off limits to sheep. (Webmaster's note: The usual rule is, "Fence sheep in, fence cattle out.") In November 1909, Herbert Brink, Tommy Dixon, Milton Alexander, George Henry Saban, and Ed Eaton, local cowboys, were brought to trial in Basin for participation in the killings. Two others, Charles Ferris and Albert Keyes turned state's evidence and were not charged. Brink was convicted of first degree murder. Alexander and Saban were convicted of second degree murder. Dixon and Eaton each plead guilty to arson. Eaton died in state custody. Saban escaped in 1913 and was never recaptured. Dixon was paroled in 1912. Brink and Alexander were paroled in 1914. The public reaction to the raid resulted in the ending of such violence on the open range. An historical monument now marks the site of the raid.

The Spring Creek raid was, however, not the only incident of such violence, it was merely the last. "Sheep dead lines," such as that in the Nowood Valley, were proclaimed by other cattlemen. The Spur Ranch declared a dead line across the Little Colorado Desert from the mouth of Fontenelle Creek to Farson, north of which no sheep were permitted. In southwest Wyoming along the Green River a "sheep war" raged at the turn of the century. Ultimately, however, with the decline of cattle and the rise of the sheep industry, even the Spur switched to sheep.

12-horse hitch, Nowood.

Note the sheep wagon in the background. Sheep wagons were supposedly invented by Rawlins blacksmith James Candlish in 1884. Around 1900, Schulte Hardware Company of Casper standardized the wagon as 11 feet long and 6 1/2 feet wide, canvas top and stove. By 1904, sheep wagons were being manufactured in the Big Horn Basin by D. V. Bayne of Thermopolis. The wagons later could be purchased from, among others the Studebaker Brothers of Southbend, Indiana. Some are still in use in the Big Horn Basin.

Sheep Shearing, 1892

The sheep industry started in southern Wyoming in the 1870's along the UPRR. The coming of the railroad also led to large sheep drives from Oregon to the Wyoming along the old Oregon Trail. On some drives in the 1880's as many as 20,000 sheep would be trailed to Rawlins. Even after the construction of the Oregon Short Line, discussed with regard to Kemmerer, sheep would be trailed from Oregon rather than be entrained. Even within the state trailing sheep remained the general means of transport. In 1928, as an example, a herd of 1500 sheep purchased from the Yellowstone Sheep Company was trailed from Hudson to Douglas even though the railroad was available. The reason was simple, as depicted in photos on the next page, one sheepherder with a dog and a sheepwagon, could herd as many as two thousand sheep. By 1910 there were over 5 1/2 million sheep in the state. With the growth of the wool industry new methods were introduced. As pictured below, In approximately 1917, John B. Okie, owner of the Big Horn Sheep company of Lost Cabin, introduced the "Australian system" of sheep shearing into the state.

Sheep shed, Big Horn Sheep Company, Lost Cabin

Under the Australian system, shearing is done in a sheep shed rather than in an open corral as depicted above. As illustrated in the next photo, sheep are placed in one room and put into a pen with five sheep each. There, the sheep are mechanically sheared and shoved out a door at the end of the pen to be inspected and let go to pasture.

Interior sheep shed, Big Horn Sheep Company

Sheepherding continued on next page.