Wool and Sheep Industry Navajo County

The June 19, 1897 issue of The Argus, Holbrook stated that one of their permanent sources of wealth was the sheep and wool industry.  It went on to state that everyone showed an interest in being owners of sheep. Quoting, the newspaper stated, “It has been found to be a safe investment and exceedingly profitable. It beats stock speculations, gift-edge securities, money lending, bond purchasing or any other branch of business venture.” The newspaper further stated that a person could purchase sheep with a small investment and if was careful in their attention to the sheep business especially in husbandry they would reap benefits to the tune of being “comparatively  well-to-do and enjoying a liberal yearly income.”

The newspaper continued, “Nature has lavishly fitted this section for the successful operation of this industry. The vast regions covered with nutritive grasses added to the varied altitudes in different localities, so that the flocks can be moved slowly from one place to another and obviate the extremes of the climate of one altitude, renders it a veritable paradise to the sheepman.”  Sheep found shelter into the deep canyons and lower valleys of the county during the winter extremes. In summer when the heat began to be felt in these deep canyons and the lower valleys, the sheep could be moved to the slopes of the mountains where they would have “cool nights, the pure mountain water and the abundance of rich grass.”

With following the sheep industry over the last few years and what was reported in the newspaper, it can best be described in what Carmen Auza called “The yearly Cycle in Sheep Ranching.” There are two differences from this chart to that as reported in the 1897 newspaper, and they are, the sheep were not moved long distances between summer and winter grazing land as they are today and mostly by truck,  and lambing took place prior to shearing, not afterwards as in 1897.

The shearing season brings men work as the woolies all needed sheared. Shearing camps would be a frenzy of activity as fences were built, the shearing shed assembled and the sheep were brought in to be sheared. It was reported that over 100,000 were ranging in the county in 1897. More men could find jobs in the hauling of the wool clip to Holbrook for shipping. These activities took place from late March into May. Wool bags weighing upwards of 400 pounds were loaded on trains heading east. The Eastern wool buyers had already purchased the clip at the shearing camps. It was reported that in 1897, over a million pounds of wool was shipped from Holbrook. There was also additional wool that was on consignment from Winslow.

The newspaper went on, “During the last four years, while wool was on the free list, the sheep and wool industry languished. The Australian and European wool poured in and flooded our markets making the wool industry in the far West unprofitable through the lack of the cheap transportation by water which Europe and Australia enjoyed. Since the change of administration, with a reasonable prospect for the tariff upon wool to  restored, the price of wool has been more than doubled, and the price of sheep has jumped from $1.25 per head to $2.75 and $3.00 per head. It is estimated that the wool sales in Navajo county last spring were $60,000 more than the year preceding, and the mutton sales will exceed last year by another $60,000. These excesses can be reckoned as clear profit to the sheep and wool growers of Navajo county, in addition to the increased value of their herds, due to the rise in the price of sheep. The sheepmen are jubilant and feel that the next four years to come will continue to be a season of golden harvests.”

During the 1897 season lambing season was in May. Most sheep owners had reported a 100 per cent increase in their herds so they were quite happy with their herds. Once lambing is over the flocks are slowly moved to their summer grazing areas in the cool pines of the mountains.  

The newspaper reported that the sheep had no diseases. Sheep were dipped because of scab and sheep with scab were not allowed to be used for sacrifice as described in Leviticus 22:22. The disease may not have hit the area during this time but was definitely a problem in the west during the early 1900s. Dipping stations were established along the trails for the eradication of the disease in a flock and its spreading.

The  newspaper also reported that there was greater profitability for the sheep owners if a scouring plant could be built in the area. Clean wool would ship at a lower cost than the unscoured and save the sheep owners money in freight cost. As the newspaper stated, “Dirt is cheap to pack up and ship to Boston at about three cents per pound. In the second place the wool would sell for vastly enhanced prices, enhancing the profits of wool-raising in addition to fostering a home enterprise giving employment to the laboring element in our midst. Then on the heels of this should follow a woolen mill. Few places on the face of the earth offer such unusual facilities for the profitable operation of a woolen mill. In numberless places along the Little Colorado, and on Silver Creek, and Show Low plenty of waterpower can be obtained at very little expense, and the raw material right at their door. These enterprises should be investigated and pushed to completion at once by our citizens. They are paying propositions and confer incalculable benefits upon this section.”  The newspaper had high ambitions for the sheep industry in their county.

And that is a look at the sheep industry in 1897 as reported by The Argus, Holbrook and me, the jolly sheep lady.

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