Sheep stories in the West run from the high country into canyons

Southwest Life

Sheep stories in the West run from the high country into canyons

Originally published in Harper’s Weekly on Oct. 13, 1877, this drawing by Paul Frenzeny illustrates the cattle and sheep wars, with cowboys on a dawn raid to kill sheep, burn sheep camps and bludgeon sheepherders.
The painting “Open Range Encounter,” a 30-by-60-inch oil on canvas by Robert Lougheed (1910-1982), shows tension between a range rider moving his cattle herd and a sheepherder and his dogs, which are escorting a flock of sheep across the same landscape.
This historic photograph depicts the attitude of sheepmen and their herders in the woolly West, particularly Basque and Greek herders, in defending their flocks’ grazing rights on the open range.
The first sheep brought into the American Southwest were Spanish Churro sheep. This historical Churro skull, with its distinctive four horns, is from the collection of the Saguache Museum in Saguache, on the northern edge of the San Luis Valley.
This large stone cairn on the west side of the Lizard Head Wilderness was built by sheepherders. Lone Cone Mountain is in the distance. Thousands of sheep and lambs were shipped out of Southwest Colorado on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad.
In 1932, Colorado sheepmen met in Montrose for their annual July meeting. Without a building large enough to accommodate the sheepmen and their wives, they met downtown for an evening of eating, drinking and dancing.
South of Pagosa Springs, the area in the San Juan National Forest near Buckles Lake features numerous aspen tree carvings because herders had a count corral there. Forest Service rangers insisted on counting the number of sheep headed up on Forest Service lands. This carving with a distinctive handlebar mustache and long eyelashes is by Solomon Trujillo.
On the Mattern Ranch north of Steamboat Springs, Bill and Beth Sagstetter photographed a variety of arborglyphs. The sheepherder artist who impressed them the most was Ben Vigil, who carved this handsome couple. This tree and his other carvings can no longer be found.

Sheep stories in the West run from the high country into canyons

Originally published in Harper’s Weekly on Oct. 13, 1877, this drawing by Paul Frenzeny illustrates the cattle and sheep wars, with cowboys on a dawn raid to kill sheep, burn sheep camps and bludgeon sheepherders.
The painting “Open Range Encounter,” a 30-by-60-inch oil on canvas by Robert Lougheed (1910-1982), shows tension between a range rider moving his cattle herd and a sheepherder and his dogs, which are escorting a flock of sheep across the same landscape.
This historic photograph depicts the attitude of sheepmen and their herders in the woolly West, particularly Basque and Greek herders, in defending their flocks’ grazing rights on the open range.
The first sheep brought into the American Southwest were Spanish Churro sheep. This historical Churro skull, with its distinctive four horns, is from the collection of the Saguache Museum in Saguache, on the northern edge of the San Luis Valley.
This large stone cairn on the west side of the Lizard Head Wilderness was built by sheepherders. Lone Cone Mountain is in the distance. Thousands of sheep and lambs were shipped out of Southwest Colorado on the Rio Grande Southern Railroad.
In 1932, Colorado sheepmen met in Montrose for their annual July meeting. Without a building large enough to accommodate the sheepmen and their wives, they met downtown for an evening of eating, drinking and dancing.
South of Pagosa Springs, the area in the San Juan National Forest near Buckles Lake features numerous aspen tree carvings because herders had a count corral there. Forest Service rangers insisted on counting the number of sheep headed up on Forest Service lands. This carving with a distinctive handlebar mustache and long eyelashes is by Solomon Trujillo.
On the Mattern Ranch north of Steamboat Springs, Bill and Beth Sagstetter photographed a variety of arborglyphs. The sheepherder artist who impressed them the most was Ben Vigil, who carved this handsome couple. This tree and his other carvings can no longer be found.

Sheep stories in the West run from the high country into canyons

Andrew Gulliford, author of “The Woolly West” and a Durango Herald columnist, stands with The Wrangler statue he received at the National Cowboy Museum & Heritage Center at an awards ceremony in April in Oklahoma City. “The Woolly West” won the Wrangler Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Non-Fiction.

Sheep stories in the West run from the high country into canyons

In this original pencil drawing, Luis Montoya broods about all the trouble caused by grazing sheep in the San Juan Mountains. He spent much of his family fortune defending his son, who was accused of murdering an Archuleta County commissioner.

Sheep stories in the West run from the high country into canyons

Religious iconography carved on aspens by sheepherders is rare. This image of a cross with a shadow-box design told other herders that a Penitente herder from a Catholic religious brotherhood in northern New Mexico had been there.

Sheep stories in the West run from the high country into canyons

Sheep camp materials at high elevation have barely changed in the last century. Herders still use canvas tents, cots, sheet-metal stoves for cooking and heating, and wooden boxes for utensils and supplies. This Peruvian herder worked for Ernie Etchart of Montrose and was photographed high above Silverton in McCarty Basin.
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