Idaho History Sept 16, 2018

Idaho Sheep Ranching

Ballantine Wool Wagons in Sweet

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(click on image for larger size)
“Ballantine wool from Ola. Feed store owned by Frank Noland. Frank and James Noland Sr, Sweet, standing on porch.” Photo courtesy Gem County Museum.

Sheep Industry

“Idaho Almanac,” 1977: The sheep boom took place in the 1880’s as the railroads were constructed. The census of 1890 showed 357,712 sheep. . . The sheep industry reached its greatest growth in 1910 when the census counted 2,418,000 head in Idaho. In the 1950’s the sheep industry began a downhill slide . .. Virtually all sheep in Idaho utilize the forage on the federal lands.

Andy Little, a Scotsman who immigrated in 1894 with his sheep dogs, built a sheep empire with over 100,000 sheep, reputed to have been the largest in the United States, headquartered in Emmett. For further reading, see Shaddock’s “Andy Little, Idaho Sheep King.”

source: Copyright © 2008 – Gem County Historical Society – 2017 All Rights Reserved.
[h/t SMc]
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Sheep grazing, Dubois research station, Idaho

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U. S. Dept. of Agriculture
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Cattle Ranchers Demand Limit Law on Sheep Grazing

by Evan Filby South Fork Companion

On December 13, 1872, the Idaho Statesman (Boise) published a letter from pioneer J. H. Whitson, which said in part: “But the people of Ada county, and perhaps other counties need, ask for and demand a relief that is of much more importance than the retrenchment so much talked of. It is a law ‘Restricting the herding of sheep,’ as in Oneida county, passed by the last legislative Assembly.”

Whitson then described the problems created when herders tried to have sheep and cattle share a piece of range: “There is room enough for all. But the range must be divided, and the rancher has a right to that nearest him; for no man in this country is ignorant of the fact that sheep will drive all other stock away.”

The state did finally pass the desired law three years later. The Act prohibited the grazing of sheep within two miles of a homestead (“possessory claim”) not belonging to the grazer. That first law applied only to Ada, Alturas, and Boise counties. In time, the legislature expanded the scope to more counties, and finally passed a statewide law in 1887.

The later statutes – typically called “two mile limit” laws – became even more specific in that they excluded sheep from “any range usually occupied by any cattle grower, either as a spring, summer, or winter range for his cattle.”

The legal application turned on that word “usually.” Idaho courts generally accepted even one season of cattle grazing as defining the area as strictly cattle range. To give an appearance of fairness, judged did apply the same criteria to “customary” sheep range, but in most cases the cattlemen had arrived first anyway. Challenges to the constitutionality of these laws – in the Supreme Courts of Idaho and then the United States – repeatedly failed.

Eventually, the limit laws became moot. By around 1890, most of the available rangeland was claimed and market factors began to favor sheep products – wool plus meat – over cattle. Thus, many stockmen began raising sheep along with cattle, or abandoned cattle altogether.

But market forces continued to favor sheep raising. Thus, the U. S. Agricultural Censuses for 1900 and 1910 recorded over 3 million sheep in Idaho, versus less than a half million cattle. At that time, Idaho ranked sixth in U. S. wool production, despite being 44th in population.

But animosities developed over two decades die hard. Probably some, perhaps many, incidents went unreported, but in the Nineties, threats escalated to outright violence. In 1894, sheepman Hugh Fleming was found shot to death near American Falls [blog, April 2]. Two years after that, sheepmen John Wilson and Daniel Cummings were shot and killed on the range south of Rock Creek [blog, February 16 and others].

But market forces continued to favor sheep raising. Thus, the U. S. Agricultural Censuses for 1900 and 1910 recorded over 3 million sheep in Idaho, versus less than a half million cattle. At that time, Idaho ranked sixth in U. S. wool production, despite being 44th in population.

Ironically, modern husbandry has shown that mixed cattle and sheep grazing can actually be more productive. This arises from the fact that the species prefer different forage plants: Cattle heavily favor grasses, while sheep are more likely to include broad-leaf non-grasses, called “forbs,” in their diet.

Today, it is not uncommon to find sheep or goats grazing alongside cattle. Pasturage is used more effectively and the ranch can diversify its markets. On the downside, more fencing may be required and the rancher must have the appropriate animal husbandry skills.

source: South Form Companion
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Western sheep herding

SheepHerding-a
Library of Congress
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Sheepman Hugh Fleming Found Dead. Killed by Cattlemen?

by Evan Filby South Fork Companion

On April 2, 1894, riders on the range near American Falls, Idaho discovered the body of sheepman Hugh Fleming. The unarmed herder had been shot four times. Suspicion instantly fell on local cattlemen, who had threatened Hugh and his brother John on numerous occasions.

The dispute centered largely on the use of the public lands in Idaho, as it did in other Western states. Sheep came early to Idaho, arriving in 1860 with the first Mormon colonies along the southeastern border. These small flocks generally produced meat and wool only for local consumption, as did the cattle operations that followed the gold discoveries of 1861-1863.

However, with vast amounts of open range, cattlemen soon looked further afield. By the early- to mid-1870s, Idaho stockmen were trailing many thousands of cattle to railway terminals in Nevada and Wyoming. Sheep bands had also expanded, although not nearly so much as cattle herds. Even so, sheep holdings had become large enough to gain the attention, and ire, of resident cattlemen.

Thus, in 1875, the state passed the first regional “Two Mile Limit” laws, prohibiting the grazing of sheep on range “traditionally” used for cattle [blog, Dec 13.] By 1887, the law had expanded from an initial three counties to the entire state.

Challenges all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the law, as long as the restriction followed a “first-come, first served” rule for cattle or sheep or, oddly enough, horses. Equitable in theory, the law favored cattle in practice. Until the railroad arrived, large-scale sheep raising was impractical. Long-distance wagon shipment of wool cost too much, and sheep cannot “walk to market” as easily as cattle.

Then the railroad arrived, and sheep flocks grew (as did cattle herds), and crowded the range. Stockmen even pushed into forested lands. Idaho had no widespread range wars, but isolated shootings of sheepmen, and of cowboys, did happen. Back-and-forth slaughters of cattle and sheep were much more common.

The Fleming brothers had brought sheep to the American Falls range before 1884, and by then they had five thousand head. Despite death threats and harassment of their stock, they had hung on … and now, ten years later, one brother was dead. With plenty of known suspects, the Idaho Statesman confidently reported (April 3, 1894), “It is only a question of a short time when they will be placed under arrest.”

Law officers promised quick results, and soon had four cattlemen in jail. However, in those days before scientific criminology, officials had no way – other than some muddled tracks and, apparently, vague rumors – to connect the suspects to the crime. A week later, the newspaper reported that the men had been released for lack of evidence.

Although the Governor offered a $500 reward for information on the murder (Idaho Statesman, April 21, 1894), nothing further was learned until an unrelated court appearance took a bizarre twist. During a trial for cattle rustling, the defendant claimed (Statesman, January 31, 1895) that he had witnessed the murder. He testified that three of the four men arrested and released earlier had indeed done the shooting. However, later investigation proved that the claimant was in McCammon, fifty miles away, on the actual day of the murder.

No one was ever convicted for the murder of Hugh Fleming.

source: South Fork companion
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Sheep Grazing

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Library of Congress
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Emma Russell Yearian: Wife, Mother, and “Sheep Queen of Idaho”

by Evan Filby South Fork Companion

Emma Russell, “Sheep Queen of Idaho,” was born February 21, 1866 in Leavenworth, Kansas. Her father had been born in Illinois and served in an Illinois regiment in the Civil War. By 1870, the family was back in Illinois, living near Chester, about 35 miles west and a bit north of Carbondale. After completing high school, Emma attended Southern Illinois Normal College (now Southern Illinois University) in Carbondale. She received her teaching certificate in 1883 and immediately came west to Idaho in search of a position.

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Emma Yearian

She began as a tutor and governess for a family living 5-6 miles north of Salmon. She then spent the next two years teaching at tiny schools in the Lemhi Valley. Having been trained on the piano, she was also in demand to play at country dances around the area. At one of those dances, in 1887, she met Thomas Hodge Yearian, a young cattle rancher who played the fiddle at those dances.

Coincidentally, Thomas was born in DuQuoin, Illinois, a small town about 32 miles east Chester. However, the family moved west the same year Emma was born. They lived near Bannack, Montana (15-20 miles west of Dillon) for awhile before purchasing a ranch 25-30 miles up the Lemhi River from Salmon.

Thomas and Emma married in April 1889. Soon, the couple moved into a log cabin on what came to be called Yearian Creek. Between then and 1902, they had six children, one of whom died as a pre-teen.

About that time, Emma decided to go into the sheep business. Her decision was not a popular one, because the Lemhi and Salmon river valleys had always been viewed as cattle country. Thus, Emma had repeated problems with Idaho’s “Two Mile Limit” law, which prohibited the grazing of sheep anywhere within two miles of a cattle property. In reality, however, she and Thomas were ahead of their time, as more and more stockmen began raising both or switched entirely to sheep.

In any case, the “experiment” was a success. In 1910, the family moved from their old log cabin to a fine six-bedroom stone house, equipped with electric lights and indoor plumbing. Despite bouts of severe weather and down markets for wool and lamb, she persevered. It’s unclear exactly when she acquired the “Sheep Queen of Idaho” sobriquet, but it was well deserved and “stuck.”

She even found time to contributed to the literature of her industry. In 1920, the American Sheep Breeder and Wool Grower journal published Emma’s article about her experience in breeding range sheep. She had wondered if she could somehow avoid bringing in fresh “blooded” rams every year or two. (As a given ram’s progeny spread through a flock, the quality deteriorated due to in-breeding.) The first generation from her trial resulted in “splendid bunch of grade rams.” But the second generation was disastrous. Unfortunately, she wrote, “Instead of reproducing the good qualities of both sire and dam, they seemed to emphasize their poorer ones.”

By the 1930s, the sheep operation had spread over 2,500 acres of range, with around 5,000 sheep.

Emma’s forceful personality and staunch Republican feelings led her into politics in 1930. She ran for the Idaho House of Representatives and became the first woman to represent Lemhi County in that body. (Some accounts describe her as the first ever woman Representative in Idaho, but that is not correct. The first three women were elected to the House in 1898.) Her re-election bid was swamped by the Democratic landslide in the next election cycle.

Emma continued her operation until very late in her life, despite a steady decline in U. S. demand for wool and lamb. She passed away on Christmas Day in 1951.

source: South Fork Companion
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Sheep in the Forest

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U. S. Forest Service
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Sheep Grazing on the South Fork Salmon River

Sheep Herding

1910 First Official Sheep Permit Granted On The District

1931 Range Allotment Analysis Shows Range Use Beyond Carrying Capacity

The first grazing permit on the district was in 1910. Up until the 1920’s grazing was pretty much on a small scale such as Deadshot Reed’s 100 sheep allotment in Nasty Creek. With the railroad into Long Valley to facilitate shipping and with the deterioration of the range in the more accessible areas, the sheepmen began to push into the South Fork. Most were driven over the Van Wyck driveway on West Mountain, across Long Valley, over the Buckhorn and Blackmare Trails and into the South Fork.

By 1920 there were over 114,000 sheep on the forest. About 25,000 of these grazed on what is now the Krassel District. Andrew Little, L. E. Wilson, and P. J. Connolly were the biggest permittees. There were also some C&H (cattle and horse) permits given to homesteaders on the district like Reed, Parks and Rebillet.

It was the job of Ranger Lee Kessler in the early twenties and later W. H. Boles to try and maintain some sort of control over this activity. First priority was to set up allotments of land for each permittee and thus eliminate common use of the same area. This made control of numbers easier and as certain areas became denuded, responsibility could be fixed and the permittee encouraged to avoid continued use until the area recovered.

Early maps and written descriptions tell of erosion problems along the sheep driveways in Buckhorn, Four Mile, and Blackmare Creeks. Areas in upper Buckhorn Creek and Cougar Creek were overgrazed and closed to sheep. The wintering of cattle and horses on the river became common practice among the residents and claim holders. Buckhorn Bar was described as a “dustbowl” by Ranger Johnny Wick.

The great depression and low profits brought voluntary reductions to many herds. Then the higher cost of labor during the 1940’s and poorer grazing opportunities on the district made further reductions possible, especially through the efforts of Ranger Johnny Wick during the early 40’s and Yale Mitchell afterwards.

From the 1930’s on, range allotment analysis had shown low carrying capacities and poor range conditions.

In 1953, Ranger Finlay McNaughton summarized the general conditions in the following letter to the Forest Supervisor:

“The Problem:

Basically, our problem is securing management in the public interest on extremely steep slopes and on the immature, easily disturbed granitic soil type. The west slopes of the South Fork of the Salmon River from North Buckhorn Creek south to and including Blackmare Creek have been grazed with sheep since about 1910.

Permitted use on this range has been periodically reduced from about 5700 head and 11,400 animal months to the present obligation of 1988 head for 6627 animal months.

Approximately 84% of the 61,250 acres in this range is made up of inaccessible, unusable and used – but should-not-be-used range. Of the remaining 16%, all of it is in the conditional use class and generally poor condition. This 16% of conditional use range is made up of small meadow stringers and related areas, severely used in the past and extremely limited as to accessibility. The forage that is produced on these restricted areas is harvestable only at the price of extreme soil disturbance on all adjoining slopes.

It is generally recognized within the Service that we do not have forage to sell on this range and that grazing should be eliminated.”

By the late 1950’s the grazing pressure had been significantly reduced and by the 1970’s only one allotment remained on the District in Lick Creek.

source: “Bury My Soul at Krassel Hole” by Tom Ortman 1975
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See also: William Lee “Dead Shot” Reed

See also: Willey Ranch – Rebillet Ranch
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page updated July 1, 2020