Sheep to Shawl

Soft as a pillow.

Frontier Homestead State Park invites you to our first big event of 2017. Join us Saturday, March 18 for a trip back in time as we explore wool, from Sheep to Shawl. Frontier Homestead State park in partnership with the Sagebrush Fiber Artisans will allow participants to journey through the step-by-step process of taking wool from the sheep’s back to yours. Join us from 10:00-2:00 to have fun with the whole family.

Sheep will be attending as well to give visitors the opportunity to touch and feel before and after their annual haircut. Shearing demonstrations will be given hourly starting and 10:30am and run until 1:30pm.

Spot before her haircut.

 

 

Spot during her haircut.

Dyeing wool

Demonstrations include shearing, washing, carding, spinning and dyeing wool. Knitting and weaving will be available to participate in. Come enjoy the activities and visit with our talented craftspeople. Cost is $2.00 per person or $5.00 per family. Friend’s Group members are free with membership card.

 

Spinners at the walking wheel

This living history experience is hosted at the Frontier Homestead State Park Museum located at 635 North Main Street in Cedar City. Call 435-586-9290 for more information.

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Early Iron County Sheep Stories

In going along with recent posts, we thought we would share some interesting tales taken  from the 1940’s radio addresses of William R. Palmer. The following excerpts were compiled  from a 1974 Utah Historical Quarterly article. If you want to read the entire article, it can be found here: Utah Historical Quarterly Spring 1972 Spelling and pronunciation have been left as Palmer intended. Enjoy.

Most of our early pioneers came from the shops and factories of foreign lands. The Americans among them were but little better prepared for pioneering. All of them knew little or nothing about sheep, and no one was available to advise them of the range conditions that their animals must face. So, in trying to build up their cherished flocks and herds, they did many things that seem humorous to the experienced growers of today.

Sheep on the summer range.

Sheep on the summer range.

Sheep were first brought to the Cedar City area in November 1862 by the Willden family, who later moved to Beaver. They had ten head. As fast as others could get hold of them, every family acquired one or more to produce the wool that was needed to spin the family clothing. They were valued as high as thirty dollars a head. To avoid loss they were kept in a pen at home and fed by hand like pigs.

As the years went by, the sheep increased until the families were supplied with the wool they needed. The animals by now were becoming troublesome to care for, and ways were sought to get them away from home where they could pick their own living. At first they were driven out in the morning and brought back at night. Then neighbors put their flocks together and took turns in herding them. Finally a community herd developed and they were brought home only once a year to be shorn.

Sheep in their pens.

Sheep in their pens.

To breed up the quality of their sheep, the company brought in a few head of purebred merinos. They were run on the best ranges and given every advantage that they might increase more rapidly. Everyone thought they were wonderful sheep until shearing time came. The natives had light, fluffy fleeces and sheared only three or four pounds each. Shearers were paid five cents per head and with the crude appointments they had, men sheared only from fifty to seventy head per day. The merinos were wrinkly bodied, tight, greasy-wooled fellows that almost defied the shear blades. The coming in of the merino herd was always occasion for groans and profanity on the part of the crew.

Early shearers.

Early shearers.

It was the manager’s custom to call the men together for prayers every night and morning. And always a blessing was invoked upon “our flocks and herds.” There was a newcomer from England in the crew one spring, and he could not get the knack of using the shears. He snipped and snipped all day. If he was lucky enough to get a good run of bare-bellied natives he sometimes got up to fifteen or twenty head in a hard day. When the merinos came in his count dropped to a third of that number. After wrestling with the merinos one hard, hot day the manager called upon Dick to lead in prayer. He made a good and fervent start but when he came to the blessing of the flocks and herds he truly told the Lord how he felt about the matter. He said, “Lord bless all our flocks and ‘erds, but this ‘ere bloody, greasy ‘erd we don’t care whether Thee blesses urn or not.” It was a long time before proper reverence and decorum could be restored at prayer time.

In those days the housewives carded and spun the wool, and wove the cloth and knitted the stockings for the needs of their families. So the first market to be supplied was the townspeople. The sheep company declared a wool dividend every year, and the women brought their sacks to the Tithing Office to receive it. The women came generally because they knew wool better than the men, and they wanted to select their own for they would have to work it up. If the family needed more than twenty, thirty, or fifty pounds of dividend wool that was theirs, or if they were not stockholders, they bought it from the company or from a shareholder who had more wool than he needed. After the town was supplied, the balance was sacked up and hauled to Provo or Salt Lake and traded to ZCMI for groceries and hardware. These goods were brought home to Cedar City and sold over the counters of the Co-op Store. ZCMI found a market for most of that wool among the women of Salt Lake City who still were carding and spinning and weaving their own cloth.

Sheep to Shawl 2016

Join us Saturday, March 19 for a trip back in time as we explore wool, from Sheep to Shawl. Frontier Homestead State park in partnership with the Sagebrush Fiber Artisans will allow participants to journey through the step-by-step process of taking wool from the sheep’s back to yours. From 10:00-2:00 have fun with the whole family as you explore how pioneers made clothes. Sheep will be attending as well to give visitors the opportunity to touch and feel before and after their annual haircut.

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A young knitter practices his skills.

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Spinners creating yarn.

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A freshly shorn Spots.

Demonstrations include washing, carding, spinning and dyeing wool. Knitting, crocheting and weaving will be available to participate in. Come enjoy the activities and visit with our talented craftspeople. Cost is $1.50 per person or $5.00 per family. Friend’s Group members are free with membership card.

Moving the sheep

The herder's home away from home.

The herder’s home away from home.

Sheep ranching in Iron County is often a transhumant operation. This means that the sheep are moved seasonally to different locations. The summer finds them on the mountain while the winter range is the desert.  The sheep are rotated between different pastures in an effort to maintain effective feed. While on government land, a sheepherder is required to be with the sheep to keep them from overgrazing an area, wandering into dangerous and protected areas, and privately owned land. Sheep ranchers are assigned an allotment of land that is used solely for their flock.

Sheep were first taken to the Cedar Mountain in 1870. Local historian William R. Palmer recorded that two men were sent with the herd. They had strict instructions to keep the sheep out of the timber. The owners were afraid that the sheep would get lost, wander away, or get eaten by a predator. One hot summer day, the sheep were determined to get into the shade, where they would have lain all day until evening when they could be driven at will. However, remembering their instructions, the two sheepherders spent the day battling the sheep to keep them away from the shade. Finally, the herd scattered and ran for the timber. One of the men quickly rode to town to report the disaster. A number of residents return to help gather the flock. Palmer states; “Riding and yelling through the forest like madmen they rounded up the wayward woolies and forced them back to the naked sunburned hillside. Then with many admonitions to the careless herdsmen they returned to town feeling they had done a good and heroic days work.”  Fortunately, sheep ranchers today have a much better understanding of the nature of sheep.

Sheep head for greener pastures on the mountain

Sheep head for greener pastures on the mountain

The Ted Nelson family has been sheep ranching in Iron County for over six generations. Their ranch is centrally located between winter and summer range. Each season the sheep are driven to their ground on the mountain, then back to the ranch, then to the desert, and finally back to the ranch for lambing. The sheep move along trails created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.  All local commercial sheep operations work their herds in this manner. Moving the sheep is essential for the survival of the herd, the financial success of a sheep ranch, and the ecological health of the rangeland.

The winter range west of Cedar City

 

Next Time- Shearing

Beginning with Sheep

Welcome to the first edition of the Homestead Telegraph.  Through this blog we will keep you up to date on current happenings at Frontier Homestead, provide you with a look into our collection, and provide a look into the history of our area. Please feel free to comment on our posts and don’t forget to share them with your friends. Now, let’s talk about sheep.

The mining of iron ore drove the settlement of Southwestern Utah. From 1851 to 1857 settlers operated a productive iron foundry. Due to difficult times, poor technology, and some circumstances beyond their control, production ceased in 1858. The population of the area dropped from over one thousand to 301.  A majority of these early residents came from industrial centers of Europe and knew little or nothing about sheep. However, the sheep industry became a focal point for community survival until the mines reopened in the early 1920’s. The Willden family first brought sheep into the area in 1852. The Willdens brought ten head and soon many other locals sought to own sheep to produce wool for spinning and weaving family clothing. The sheep were valued at thirty dollars a head and most were kept in pens at home and fed by hand, much like pigs.

The flocks in Cedar City began to grow and soon the sheep population became a burden to care for on the small lots most residents owned. Many families began to drive their flocks out in the morning and then back home in the evening. The sheep could then pick out their own living off the land. Eventually, a community herd developed and a local co-op organization was created. The sheep would only be brought into town once a year to be shorn and the excess wool would be sold. The individuals who owned sheep in the co-op would be distributed the profits in the form of merchandise from the “sheep store.” These herds grew into a strong business concern, which paid dividends that ranged from twenty-five to sixty percent.

An old photo from the Branch Agricultural College.

An old photo from the Branch Agricultural College.

The Cedar City Cooperative Sheep Company dissolved in 1917. As the local community began to establish itself as a destination for miners, tourists, and Hollywood, sheep ranching no longer served as the business of the community at large, but continued with a few families, some which still carry on the “saving grace” of sheep ranching. Next Time: Moving the Sheep

Sheep grazing on Cedar Mountain in the fall.

Sheep grazing on Cedar Mountain in the fall.