The Wool Raisers of 1898

I have spent the last several months browsing the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, for 1898, for as mention of the sheep men and their activities. The following is a summary of my findings for the year.

One sheep raiser that appeared to do well in selling his wool clip was Thomas Sayer. In Boston he was able to sell his 1896 wool clip for 12 cents per pound. That would equate to be $3.76 today. He had held his 1896 wool clip as the price that year was 3 cents per pound, or $0.93 today. Mr. Sayer still had his 1897 wool clip and his 1898 wool clip to sell. It was hoped that better days were ahead for the sheep raisers with the increase in wool prices.

Another sheep raiser was James A. May.  May had recently married at his father’s home in South Carolina and he and his new bride had just arrived in Flagstaff, January. A great deal of information is learned in this little article about Mr. May. He was called “a sheep king of Arizona.” The article stated that May had amassed a fortune and was thinking of retiring from working on the range and putting his money into the mines of Arizona. He had previously lived in Denver and was connected “with one of the local railway offices, but was swept to Leadville by the carbonate excitement, finally winding up a contractor of the Santa Fe and South Pacific, after which he drifted into sheep raising. (The Coconino Sun, January 29, 1898).

Two sheep raisers, Jerry Woodbridge and Harry Fulton, had reported after arriving in town the week of February 5th, that snow was plentiful in their areas. Both were expecting plenty of water and grass for the upcoming grazing season. This weather information gives us a picture into range conditions and what was foreseen for the future months ahead.

While the snow would result in tanks full of melting snow water and help the grass to grow, conditions were not favorable where the men were shearing their sheep. Many had commented in early March that if the winter rains did not come, they would be forced to move their flocks northward earlier than normal. This would also mean that shearing would not be taking place in the Salt River Valley and the wool clip would be shipped from other locations than Phoenix. A contradiction was made in mid-April about the weather which has not been resolved. By mid-April the sheepmen reported the weather was now favorable for lambing and the ranges were in excellent conditions. More on this in my next blog.

Sheep raisers were involved in many political offices of their respected counties. Some were recorded as being on juries such as Mr. John Noble.  The county treasurer, D. M. Francis, was spending time in the Salt River Valley the first part of February to look after his bands of sheep that will be sheared in the next few weeks. C. H. Schulz was able to return to his sheep camp with the adjournment of the board of supervisors.

In the Coconino Sun and other earlier newspapers, little tidbits of information about people can be found by searching the headline “Personal.” This is a great place to find information about the sheep men and to confirm that someone was in the sheep raising business.  Seven such mentions were for C. E. Howard, J. W. Cart, H.C. Locket, H. D. Yeager, D. M. Francis, Frank Hart, and Manchester Maxwell.  Howard was the manager of the Howard Sheep Company based in Williams. Cart spent his winters in Phoenix but his headquarters was in the Winslow area. Lockett had been in Phoenix and now was heading northward as were his sheep on the move to the north. Yeager came north from Phoenix to look after his sheep interest. Mr. Francis had purchased fifty head of Lincolnshire bucks from a dealer in Salt Lake, Utah. With the price of the sheep and the cost of transportation, he paid $25 per head. Today, that would be $784.30 per sheep! We learned that Frank Hart, a prominent wool grower from Navajo County visited Flagstaff. Then there was Manchester Maxwell.  The newspaper reported that he had a “bunch of sheep northeast of Flagstaff”, was an old Tennessean and fought in the Civil War with General Forrest.  It is interesting to get a little more information about some of these sheep raisers than just they were in town!

A sadder note was the death announcement for Lucien Greathouse Smith who had died at his mother’s residence in Flagstaff. Lucien was from Greenville, Ill., and his body had been shipped there for interment. Lucien was only 30 years old at the time of his death. He had been engaged in the sheep business in Coconino County for several years and had his headquarters at Seligman.

Another sad note found was about the fifty-nine head of sheep that were lost due to being struck by lightning.  The sheep had gathered under a tree during a thunderstorm when lightning struck the tree.

Probably the saddest note for the year was the death of D. J. Porter. Porter had been reported to have made a fortune in the sheep business in Apache County and selling it for $10,000. He then moved to Gallup, NM, where he bought a saloon and with wine and women, he was soon broke. He returned to the sheep business in 1897. But something went terribly wrong for him and he committed suicide by taking strychnine.  Today, that $10,000 would be worth $313,590.36, a nice retirement amount if invested and used wisely. Obviously, the women and wine were too much for Porter and there may have been mismanagement of his business. That is only speculation on my part.

As reported earlier, in January 1898, Mr. May was in the sheep business but was thinking of getting out of it and concentrating on mining. Obviously, he was still in the business as late as September when he reported thievery of 600 head of his sheep, or 10 percent of his flock.

Other less interesting comments had to deal with the sheep raisers being in town from their headquarters, the number of sheep in the county and/or selling or shipping their sheep to market. The end of August, Coconino County Assessor’s office reported that there was an increase in the number of sheep in the county for the year. In 1898, 183,750 roamed the county and were valued at $259,088.50.  The increase between 1897 and 1898 was only 33,203 head of sheep, or about 15 percent.  Mr. J. M. Kilgour sold 999 head of sheep for $4.70, or $147.45 today. The sheep averaged a little over 107 pounds and had been straight grass feed. It was said that the price received was the highest ever paid for straight grass feed sheep from Arizona.

As will be reported in my next blog, Arizona’s weather was an important factor as California sheep men were bringing their sheep by the train load to graze on the grasses of northern Arizona with the drought conditions in California making it impossible for them to keep their flocks alive. 

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