Churro Sheep

When I visited the ranch in southern Arizona several weeks ago, they had a herd of about 300 churro sheep of which only some of them I photographed. Many of their sheep were down the road on another part of the ranch. These pictures are in another post and in the media section of this page. I will write more about them later. Today’s post is on the sheep at the Hubbell Trading Post.

My husband and I ventured to Ganado to see the sale of the Navajo-Churro Sheep. We also wanted to know more about the trading post and who ran it, Mr. Hubbell.  I have posted some information on this in earlier posts. After a stop at the National Park Visitor Center, we went to see the sheep.  One was the flock that remained on or near the trading post for visitors to see up close. The second grouping was those that were brought in that morning we visited to either sell or trade with other breeders. The sale was conducted by the Navajo Sheep Project who is responsible for preserving the breed and revitalizing the flocks found on the reservation.

The Navajo-Churro sheep are descendants of the Churra, an ancient breed originating from Spain and Portugal.  The first sheep came into the United States in 1598 with Juan de Oñate, a Spaniard who explored New Mexico. They are a hardy breed of sheep and survived very well in the environment of what would become the Navajo Reservation. The sheep were used for their wool to provide clothing and their meat for food by the early Spanish settlers.  These sheep became the central “focus of the Navajo economy, culture and arts” (blankets and rugs).

From a pamphlet at the Hubbell Trading Post visitor center run by the National Park Service comes the following information:

“Navajo-Churro sheep have coarse, long wool, including an outer coat and a soft inner coat. Their colors are varied in shades of white, tan, brown, black, and grey. They also have patterns of color. The sheep have long, wool-less legs and narrow bodies. (See picture below that was a model of the sheep found in the visitor center) Their bellies have little or no wool. Some rams have four fully developed horns, a trait shared by few other breeds in the world.


Navajo-Churro sheep are highly adaptable to extremes of climate and resistant to disease. They breed easily and twins or triplets are not uncommon. The meat of the sheep is flavorful and has a low fat content. (A very good reason to eat sheep meat!)

The wool of the Navajo-Churro sheep is highly valued by hand spinners for the open locks and wide range of colors”.

The following pictures were taken the day of the sale. Notice the horns.  It is common for them to have four, even six. It was interesting to watch the woman pick out the sheep that they wanted.  They also knew what price they were willing to pay for them.

Hubbell Trading Post

Southwestern United States ancestral people have practiced trading for a long time. They traded long distances as evidence found in archaeological digs. Shells would come from as far away as the Pacific Ocean. Presumably there was an exchange of ideas too. Starting in the mid 1800s traders from the east came in wagons which carried a variety of goods that they hoped to trade for commodities of the local people. With the establishment of the Navajo Reservation in 1868, the Federal government made rules on trade with the native peoples. The government encouraged traders to have licenses and open permanent trading posts. One man to do so was Hubbell. He was first located two miles from Ganado and then he purchased William Leonard’s business in 1876. Thus, the birth of the Hubbell Trading Post which was in business until the 1960s by a Hubbell.  More information will be coming in the next post on the years Hubbell spent here.

Natives did not have currency and credit was extended to them with their promise to pay for any goods that they purchased at the trading post when they sold piñon nuts that they gathered, wool from their Churro sheep (it was reported that Hubbell shipped 100,000 pounds of wool to Gallup, but it is unknown was this in one year or over several years), firewood that they either gathered or cut, sheep and goats. Hubbell reportedly bought up to 10,000 lambs and goats each fall, corralled them until it was time to herd them to the railroad station in either Chambers, AZ or Gallup, NM. The animals would be loaded on rail cars to be shipped eastward. Later, the trading posts would accept handmade rugs and blankets, jewelry, carvings and baskets in exchange for the goods that the natives needed. Hubbell would bring in his goods to the trading post through his own freight business and take them to the other trading posts that he ran. He transported goods out of the reservation through his freight business.

Sheep kept at the Hubbell Trading Post as was the tradition when Hubbell owned and operated the post.

Hubbell Trading Post

The next few posts will be on the Hubbell Trading Post.  Today, just an introduction to the post with a few pictures from the National Park center. There is much to learn about Hubbell and his family as he was a friend to the Navajo and his biography is an interesting history of both him, his family and the Navajo or Dine people. J. L. Hubbell was born November 27, 1853 in New Mexico. He was self-educated and learned about the Navajo way of life, their culture and language while he was working for the U.S. Military.  He began to trade in Ganado in 1876.  He built a home for his wife, two sons and two daughters. His sons, Lorenzo, Jr. and Roman helped him run the trading post and continued upon their father’s death on November 12, 1930.  Hubbell was instrumental in getting the Navajo to weave rugs for sale at his trading post.

I haven’t finished the story of the Moroney’s, a relatively newcomer to the sheep industry and Thude’s, who were sheep ranchers in the early to mid part of the 1900s.  Their stories will follow over the next few weeks.

Southern Arizona Sheep Ranch

Just a few pictures from my trip to southern Arizona and a sheep ranch.  Dennis and Deb, the ranchers, were very hospitable.  We learned a great deal about their ranching lives and I will write more on it when I get it approved by them to ensure accuracy.  I don’t want to misquote anyone.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the pictures from their ranch.  They also have other animals, but never photographed them. These are churros.  Deb also processes the wool into beautiful yarn.

Mr. Pinchot outlines nine points for best management of grazing lands.

At the turn of the 1900s the controversy about who had the right to use the federal reserve land and cattle men making accusations that it was sheep who were doing all the damage to the forest was mentioned weekly in the newspapers especially in Williams and Flagstaff where many of the livestock men grazed their animals in the summer and Phoenix, an area that was used by both sheep and cattle men for their winter grazing area. Unfortunately, the letter mentioned in the newspaper that the secretary of the National Live Stock Association wrote to Pinchot was not printed in the paper, or at least it has not been found at this time in my research. As more of the concerns about the use of the federal reserves is found in the early newspapers, I will include them here. I have included the exact article written in the Williams News, November 9, 1901.

“Pinchot made suggestions as to a plan to which all trouble regarding grazing on the reserves can be resolved for all livestock in the western territories to the secretary of the National Live Stock Association. The secretary of the association wrote a letter in September and Pinchot responded to that letter. He was concerned with the cooperation between those grazing on public lands and the government. He wanted to insure the best management and condition of the range be maintained. He outlined nine points.

1. Consultation between the forest reserve officers and those who graze will decide on the number of livestock to be grazed on each reserve and to establish boundaries between cattle range and sheep range.

2. Local associations will assign ranges to each livestock person, but this is subject to approval.

3. Those grazing on the reserves along with the local associations will be responsible for adherence to the terms of the permit and prevention of fire and over-grazing. (how is this processed – herders having camp fires, number of days on each section, number of sheep?)

4. Sheep owners will have exclusive rights to the grazing area assigned and this will also apply to the cattle owners.

5. These permits will run for five years.

6. State residents will have rights over those trespassing and out-of-state owners of sheep.

7. Any questions arising during process will be decided locally and on their own merits in each separate case.

8. These grazing permits are generally summer assignments and provisions will be made for transit routes.

9. The emphasis of the government policy will be on regulation rather than prohibition except for the interest of over-grazing from all populations. Pinchot thought that these suggestions needed no further comments as it was to be to the best interest of all parties. These regulations would accomplish several things – 1. No monopolies; 2. Allow for new men to take up the livestock interest and not be shut out of the reserves; and 3. Each man would want to keep his range in good condition since he had it for five years and could probably renewal it.

FYI – Pinchot was the first chief of the United States Forest Service from 1905 to 1910.


Over one hundred years ago – sheep in Tucson area.

Last night I was presenting “History of Arizona Sheep Industry Since Territorial Days” to Tucson’s Corral of the Westerners and one of the gentleman, James Klein, came in with pictures of sheep taken in the Tucson area in 1917 and early 1918.  I love when I am able to get these historical pictures.  Southern Arizona wasn’t a big area for sheep.  Research has shown that many thousands of sheep were trailed across the southern portion of the state to California in the 1860s and 1870s, maybe the 1850s, but that date has not been documented, just suggested since we know sheep were taken to the miners in California after the gold rush began. One of the pictures was also of a large herd of cattle, but it was very grainy and very hard to see the cattle so I decided not to include.

I would love to know more of the family who took the pictures and if they knew anything else about the sheep.  The family was here as one daughter had tuberculosis and was being treated.  They were here for a very short period of time as she died in Feb. 1918.  The scrap book had other pictures and early postcards of their visiting various places around Tucson.  There were some early postcards of San Xavier del Bac and downtown Tucson.