Wyoming Sheep


From Wyoming Tales and Trails

Thhis Page: Sheep Herding continued, the Pitchfork, Warren Live Stock Co., the Decline of Sheepherding.

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About This Site

Two Bar Sheep Wagon

In addition to the Warren Livestock Company, some of the great cattle companies turned to sheep. Among them were the Swan Land and Cattle Co., LTD, owner of the Two Bar and the Pitchfork and Z Bar T made famous by Charles Belden's photographs.

A Pitchfork sheepherder in the Absorokas, 1920. Based on a photograph by Charles J. Belen.

For discussion the Pitchfork and and other photographs by C. J. Belden see Belden subsequently on this website. As a result of Belden's photograhs taken between the early 1920's and 1940, The Pitchfork and its sister ranch the Z Bar T located near Meeteetse are in the popular mind associated with cattle and cowboys. The vast majority of Belden's Wyoming photographs are devoted to the romantic theme of cowboys entering the modern era of the 20th Century. The Pitchfork and the Z Bar T and the Pitchfork werey owned by his father-in-law. With the death of Belden's father-in-law ownership fell to Mrs. Belden and her brother. By 1909 the Pitchfork and the Z Bar T were running some 60,000 sheep.

Sheep Camp on the Z Bar T, 1920's, Photo by Charles J. Belden.

Sheep wagon, March 1940, photo by A. Rothstein

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. The Basin is not the only place in the state, however, where sheep wagons were used until comparatively recently. The above scene is on U.S. Highway 30, the Lincoln Highway, in Sweetwater County.

Sheep wagon, March 1940, photo by A. Rothstein

After World War I, The woolgrowing industry in Wyoming began a slow decline. The decline was as a result of several factors including a reduction in protective tariffs and an increase in homesteading. Sheep growing required large areas of free range with as much as ten acres required for each sheep sheared. Homesteading broke up large continquous tracts of free range and, thus, woolgrowers were required to pasture smaller flocks. Larger woolgrowers bought or leased pasturage. Smaller growers were eliminated. Indeed, by 1920 most woolgrowing was eliminated in eastern Wyoming.

Sheep, approx. 1936.

With World War II, due to a shortage of manpower the decline increased. Although Wyoming in 1910 had approximately 5 1/2 million sheep, today it has barely 10% that number, hardly more than the number of people in the state. The Big Horn Sheep Company, the Warren Livestock Company, the Pitchfork, and Swan are now gone.

Sheepwagon, 1960;s.

For the most part, sheep wagons are found in museums. A few sheep wagons remain out on remote pastures or have been converted into curiosities.

Chamber of Commerce Office, Buffalo, undated.

Sheep, U.S. Rte. 30, 1941, photo by J. Baylor Roberts

And yet although the sheepgrowing industry has faded and many of the shearing sheds have fallen into rack and ruin, on short-grass plains traces of the lives of the lonely sheepherder may still be seen. Across Montana, the Dakotas, eastern Oregon, and Wyoming on distant ridges and buttes occasionally will be observed cairns, called by some "rock johnnies." They at first may remind one of cairns seen in northern Scotland. They are sheepherder's monuments constructed by sheepherders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when sheepherding was a major industry. Writers now disagree as to the purpose of the monuments, did they serve as a guide or signpost pointing to water, or were they constructed to relieve lonliness? Both hypothesises have been put forth. Cope in "Sheep-Herder vs. Cow-Puncher":

All over the sheep country in the mountains you may see what are locally known as "herder's monuments"; they are piles of stones which have been slowly gathered by the herders and built into fantastic forms, the attempts of the men to save themselves from the insanity that comes from perfect idleness. Frequently they find the bleached bones of a man on the bench lands, a herder who has yielded; whose mind has given way under the strain of the great wastes and the life with the band; who has shot himself. His band has wandered away, dropped over a precipice, or coalesced with some other band.

Sheepherder's Monument, Sweetwater County.

Sheepherder's Monument, 1942, photo by John Vachon

Similar monuments, called steinvarđa (stone cairns), may be found in Iceland. The use of such cairns in Iceland date back to the 9th and 10th Centuries and were used to mark paths or routes from one place to another.

Icelander vörđur

The Dying Sheepherder

"I builded me a Monument
Last fall when I was herdin' sheep.
Looks like a tepee or a tent--
Find it; then. when I gp to sleep,
Dig my grave there.

"It stands just south of Punkin Butte
'Bout half a mile, or maybe more;
The whistling winds sound like a lute
By angels played. When life is o'ver--
Dig my grave there.

"No, it'll not be lonesome for me;
Flowers will bloom above my head
Each Spring through all Eternity--
Flowers for me; so, when I'm dead,
Dig my grave there.

"And the Kiote will sing his song
Thrilling the air with long-drawn wail.
Lonesome? If you think it, you're wrong!
When my end is come--do not fail--
Dig my grave there."

From Shipp, E. Richard: Inermountain Folk Songs of their Days and Ways;
The Casper Stationary Company, 1922.

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