Sheepmen in Dire Situation

Earlier I had written in this blog about the beginnings of 1921 wool prices and range conditions.  My last blog was the “spoof” method of counting sheep.  But there really wasn’t any good reason to poke fun at the sheep industry. While the first part of 1921 saw the much-needed rains beginning to fall which would be a benefit for livestock, i.e., sheep, research continuing for the first half of 1921, showed that different parts of the state were suffering more from the drought than other parts.

Take for example William Pitts stating in late January that where he oversaw Howard Sheep Company bands near Congress Junction, that the recent rains had made good feed and that the area had greatly improved over the last ten days.  (Congress Junction is northeast of Phoenix toward Wickenburg)

Then there is the statement from Lewis Benedict who had arrived from Phoenix stating that range conditions in the south were serious and he feared for the loss of sheep if the rains did not come soon to provide feed for the animals. George Morse reported on February 18th that the sheep men were feeding corn to their flocks as the range was providing no feed.  The little rain that has fallen has not produced the necessary grasses needed to feed all the herds.  With lambing in progress, it was necessary to feed the corn to keep ewe and lamb healthy.

On the eastern slopes of the San Francisco peaks, Harlow Yaeger and Charlie Woolfolk, both having sheep near or in Canyon Diablo said that though they had not seen rain since last spring, their winter range had splendid feed. The report in the section of the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, January 28, 1921, “Livestock and Ranges in Arizona”, stated that the feed was dry on that side of the mountain but still good for grazing.

The beginning of March saw once again the rains returning but once again they were only favorable to some parts of the state. The slow soaking rain began on a Saturday and continued until Monday helping the ranges in the southern portion of Cochise County but only a small amount of measurable precipitation fell on the northern portion of the county. In Arizona, the northeastern plateau region has seen little measurable rainfall resulting in necessary feeding of livestock. Animals are grazing close to water holes that are slowly drying up. The warmer temperatures had decreased snowpack on the mountains but there is little runoff and thus water holes are not being replenished.

Some sheep men had received appreciable amounts of rain or were in ranges that their sheep were not affected. The Coconino Sun for March 18, reported, Colin Campbell, whose range was near Ash Fork, “came in Tuesday morning to work off some of his happiness over the copious rain that had just fallen in his section of the country.”  Jack LeBarron and others had their winter range in the Prescott National Forest and reported to the newspaper, “conditions were pretty bad with most of the sheepmen, however for himself, John Hennessy, Harry Gray and a few others who wintered high up in the forest did not come out as badly as those who wintered on the desert, where there was neither grass nor water. The growers wintering in the forest were not forced to buy feed, though it was a tight squeeze. Conditions were improved by the recent rain and indications are that the sheep will come back from the Prescott forest in fairly good shape.”

But that would not be the story for most of the sheep men. By late March it was reported that the sheepmen had not seen such drought conditions in twenty years. The article stated, “Central and southern Arizona are undergoing the worst drought in twenty years. No rain has fallen in these sections since October. The desert areas around Phoenix that are usually covered with grass and weeds during the winter and spring months are as dry as a brick yard. Losses in livestock are becoming serious, and unless there is relief soon the death rate will be the highest in years. Sheep are all very thin and the lamb crop may not, according to reports from the ranges, exceed twenty per cent, less even than the ewe losses at the present time. Most of the flocks are being held back in the foot- hills where there is coarse herbage of a kind that sheep will eat under stress of starvation. Corn and cotton seed cake were hauled out in some cases to the herds, but not much relief was thus offered, the sheep being too far out in the hills to be fed regularly in this manner. Approximately 100,000 head have been taken into the Salt River valley pastures, where hay, ensilage and other kinds of roughage are being fed during the lambing season. This means of relief, however, hasn’t been entirely satisfactory for the reason that the ewes do not seem to give milk enough to support the lambs, most of them dying in four or five days.”

The article continued stating that the poor range conditions had delayed and disorganized the shearing for the season too. The ewes were too weak after delivering their young to move to the shearing sheds that area usually set up in specific locations and that the price for the shearer was more than the sheep men could afford to pay. Some of the sheep were going to be sheared at small portable shearing stations near where the flock was located. Any shearing that was undertaken was being done by non-union local shearers who demanded less money and would not need boarding during the shearing season. Some of the sheep men were even considering shearing their flocks once they moved them back to summer grazing. But that was another problem in and of itself. With weak animals, to trail them over the rugged land with no prospect of food would further reduce their flocks. To take the animals by train was an option, but a costly one. Freight rates were high, but there were negotiations underway at the time to have reduced rates for the spring shipping season to help the sheep men in their most dire needed time.

With the poor economic conditions for the sheep men, it was no wonder that the men of the National Wool Growers’ Association were asking for federal aid for the industry. Stay tuned for that story next.

Counting Sheep Nonsense

Once in a while it is fun to just include nonsense about the sheep industry. In The Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, March 11, 1921, “Under Cheerful Chirps (by “Del”) even states that “mostly nonsense,(that is the tidbits within this section of the newspaper) except in those rare intervals when a real idea comes along and is grabbed off”, the following appeared:   “Paul S. Coffin, out on Harlow Yaeger’s sheep ranch a few months ago, was asked by the latter to estimate how many sheep there were in a certain band. Paul looked carefully at the sheep, then replied: ‘Just 622.’  He had the number exactly right. Counting sheep in a band is very difficult and is to some extent quess work, so Harlow was surprised. ‘How did you find out?’ he asked. ‘Why, that was easy,’ said Paul. ‘I counted their feet and divided by four!’”

Earlier that year, in the same section of the paper, there was another similar tidbit, but this time the person said 500 sheep by counting the legs and dividing by 4. It must have been fun in the early part of 1921 to poke fun at the sheep industry. Of course, there wasn’t much else to say about it as it was going through some tough times just as was the cattle industry. Stay tuned for the rest of that story later in the week.

But back to counting the legs of sheep and dividing by four. My husband and I have watched on a few occasions the herders and shearers counting sheep. This particular time we were visiting Joe Manterola and his sheep outfit up near Williams, Arizona. The herders counted sheep for the shearers after they had tagged the sheep. Tagging removes the wool around the ewes eyes and from their bellies for when they give birth, their young can easily milk. Counting the sheep is necessary so the shearers know how many sheep they have tagged for their pay. I can assure you that this counting was not done by counting the legs and dividing by four as Mr. Coffin stated he did. There is definitely too much running, jumping and running in pairs by the sheep as they passed the counter to count legs! I had a difficult time just counting the sheep!

Here are some pictures and a video to show the activity.

Sheep are gathered together.
The herders begin to count.
The actual counting process.

Notice of Establishment of Sheep Trail

In researching documents at the Sharlot Hall Museum Library and Archives Research Center I found the document with the same name as my title. It was drawn up by Young & Wilkins in Dewey, Arizona on April 6, 1916. Whether Young or Wilkins were sheep men has not been ascertained. The 1916 Book of Brands do not list either of them as sheep men but did list a Wilkins, a goat herder in Globe; not close to this area. Further research of other brand books will hopefully help to resolve the occupation of these two men if they were in the livestock business and to which animal that they raised.

The document began with the phrase – “all Sheep and Goat men, and any others who are interested.” The were notified that the undersigned (Young & Wilkins) have under lease sections 1, 12, 13, 24, 25, and 36 in Township 14 North, Range 1 East, as well as other sections in Township 14 and 15.

The men were notifying that they had established a sheep trail for the use of transient bands of sheep and goats, three-quarters of a mile in width. The trail would run in a northerly direction through the mentioned sections. The trail was marked by posts set in the ground.

Young and Wilkins wanted sheep and goats to be driving this marked route and not to trespass upon lands outside of the trail. If necessary to obtain access to this trail, the sheep may pass on lands otherwise declared not for their usage.

Was the document drawn up as sheep and goats were not following any prescribed trail and thus Young and Wilkins were tired of the flocks invading their areas that they used for grazing of their own livestock? In 1916, many sheep men were in business after suffering earlier losses due to decline in the market from lifting of American tariffs on imports of sheep products – lamb and wool, and economic downturns. The Arizona Republic newspaper, Phoenix, reported in 1916 that there were nearly two million sheep in the state and they were valued at $10,000,000. Arizona never had two million sheep even including those flocks belonging to the Native American, i.e., Navajo and Hopi. The 1910 agricultural census for Arizona states we had 1,226,000 million sheep and that decreased in 1920 to 882,000 sheep. The value of the wool fluctuated across the year with the low price of $0.24 to the high price of $0.28. To equate that to 2021 dollars that would be $5.79 and $6.76 cents, a very good price!

While the document is interesting, it does make one wonder what occupation were Young and Wilkins involved in to need to write such a document? Stay tuned as research continues on the “Notice of Establishment of Sheep Trail.”

Wool

Just a short post today. The past week was spent getting my taxes done; not a fun job. But now it is back to sheep and their wool!

My last post showed two videos of the shearing process. Beto was the main shearer in the videos. In just a couple of hours he had told me that he had sheared 150 sheep! So wonder he had the brace on, but then the floor of the shearing shed does get slippery with the lanolin. The wool is collected after each sheep is sheared and tossed on a platform next to the shearing shed. On this raised platform is a machine that will compact the wool into bags. Each bag weighs between 400 and 500 pounds! A sheep that has a black face will have wool that is black underneath and this wool is separated in the shearing shed. Most of these sheep are pulled aside and will be sheared at one time. Sometimes one will get through but the men running the sheep through the chute try to keep them separated. But sheep will be sheep and get away.

Here is the machine that will compact the wool.

Before the wool is put into the compacting machine, a bag is added and clamped into place, the sides raised and wool is slowly added. The above video shows what is happening with getting the bag in the machine before adding the wool. The machine does all the hard work that use to belong to the sheep ranchers children. In the past before the machine, the children would be put in the bag and the it was their job to stomp the wool down so more wool could be added. That must have been a fun but dirty job with the wool flying all around them and the dirt and lanolin that would be on the fleece!

The bag is continuously changed as it can not hold anymore. The bag may sit on the platform until the space is needed for the next full bag. It is then pushed onto the ground as was seen in the above video.

The four to five hundred pound wool bags.

The bags are then rolled by two men to a trailer.

How would you like to roll and push that wool bag weighing four to five hundred pounds up that ramp?

My next post will present information about what happens to the sheared sheep! Hope you enjoy.

The Shearers

Imagine having to spend most of your workday bent over a ewe or ram holding the animal between your legs or putting pressure with one foot on her stomach so you can spend three minutes shearing her.  It is backbreaking work but the men that I met this morning had been doing the work for many years as they traveled the west going from one rancher’s flock to another to shear the wool, a renewable product!  Shearing takes place mostly in February in Arizona, although it can be earlier or later depending on the schedule of the shearers. There are no shearing outfits in Arizona. However, that does not mean there are no shearers; these men and maybe women, shear small flocks near them.  They are willing to shear these small flocks as they may have sheep of their own and need to stay near their homes.  The shearers today came from California. They had already sheared sheep this week so their tents had been set up in the field as they had planned to shear in the same location for a few days.  They will move their operation at least once before they will move onto another state and begin the process all over again. 

When they arrive, the rancher and family along with his herders will have the fences set up to drive the sheep through a maze into the shearing pen. Some of the sheep are brought into the pens the night before to be the first to begin getting their wool cut.  More sheep will be brought in by the herders throughout the day. The shearers will set up their electric shearers and about 9 a.m. will begin the process that lasts for about three hours with only short breaks to stand up tall stretching their backs, move the wool from the sheep they had just sheared and then, it is back to grabbing the next ewe or ram to shear. Rams are sheared but there was none this day while I was watching. Some of this was shown in pictures on yesterday’s post.

Sometimes a small sheep herder in the area will bring their sheep to be sheared as it is too expensive of an operation for them to have the shearers come to them. 

There is some redundancy in the two videos. The last shows the line of the sheep as they wait for shearing and what happens as the shearers grab one of them. Both videos shows the activity that goes on within the shearing pen – the shearing, the grabbing of the wool and getting it out of the way for the next shearing job, and the men as they continuously work. Notice that the floor is a piece of plywood that can get slippery from the lanolin found in the wool.

Tomorrow we will look at what happens to all that wool that has been sheared. Each sheep gives 10 to 12 pounds of wool.

Arizona Sheep Shearing

The Auza sheep are being sheared this week and it will continue into the next few days. Over the weekend, I traveled to Casa Grande to catch up with the Auza family and the crew who would be shearing for them. I also needed my “fix” on seeing sheep as it had been since last May that I had been able to spend any time with the sheep, the herders and the Auza family. I will be posting the activities of Saturday over the next few days as there are lots of pictures and a few videos that capture the activity that occurs during the sheep shearing. I read on a Facebook page that sheep shearing is actually “spa day” for the sheep! In a way, I guess that is true as they get to shed their long wool coat for the hotter temperatures of the next few months before they are moved to greener pastures and cooler temperatures in the northern part of the state. By then they will have grown some of the wool back on.

The first two videos are as the sheep being brought to the shearing station which for a few days is located where a majority of the ewes having been grazing and caring for their young.

After the ewes and their babies are corralled, the workers begin to corral them into a tighter funnel.

The sheep are now moved into a narrow chute to begin the separation of moms from their babies.
The worker watches for the babies to move them into another pen separate from the line for their moms. He moves the gate to separate the ewes from their lamb.
Just a sheep wondering what the hold up is!.

The video tells you everything. The babies want their mommas!

Tomorrow I will post a video on the shearing from a man who has been in the business some twenty years.

Guest Writer Tony Lucas

Today, we have a guest who wrote a poem about his experiences with his father and the sheep.  “Little Tony” was the name fondly given by the Thude family as his uncle was also called Tony.   Tony’s father, Eliseo Lucas, was the herder for Gunnar Thude for many years. Lucas is an Arizona Livestock inspector today. 

Gunnar Thude and Eliseo Lucas

A SHEEPHERDER AT HEART

FROM THE TIME I COULD REMEMBER I STUCK NEAR MY FATHER, MANY TIMES IN THE WAY BUT TO HIM NEVER A BOTHER.

BEING FOREMAN OF A SHEEP OUTFIT HE MUCH ENJOYED, HE TAUGHT ME HARD WORK NEVER TO AVOID.

IN THE SPRING TRAIL NORTH MOVING CAMP TWICE A DAY, IN A MONTH AND A HALF COOL GREEN MEADOWS WILL BE YOUR PAY.

NEVER GRAZE IN THE SAME PLACE TOO LONG, THAT WAY THE LAND YOU WILL NEVER DO WRONG.

ALWAYS TALK TO THEM SO THEY KNOW WHEN YOU’RE NEAR, THE FLOCK WILL LEARN NOT THE HERDER TO FEAR.

WHEN TURNING THE BAND START AT THE REAR AND STAY WIDE, THAT WILL ENSURE THAT THEY STAY AT EACH OTHERS SIDE.

ALWAYS LISTENING AND WATCHING FOR YOUR HERD MARKS, BELLS, LEADERS, TRAILERS, AND ALL OF THE DARKS.

WHEN YOU HAVE A CUT AT FINDING SIGN BE THE BEST, THOSE STRAYS TRACK AND FOLLOW TILL THEY’RE BACK WITH THE REST.

WHEN YOU COME OFF THE MOUNTAIN AND YOU’RE NOT SHORT A ONE, THAT’S WHEN YOU KNOW THAT THE JOBS BEEN WELL DONE.

WHEN LAMBING HAVE A KEEN EYE AND KNOW YOUR EWES, STOPPING TO FIGURE OUT IS TIME YOU CAN’T LOSE.

AT FIRST LIGHT TILL NEAR DARK STAY IN THE FIELD, AT TAIL DOCKING YOU WILL SEE A GOOD LAMBERS YIELD.

MOTHER NATURE YOU CANNOT CONTROL, THINK AND WORK TO MINIMIZE HER TOLL.

ADDRESS THEIR NEEDS AND FEED THEM WELL, AT THE TIME OF SHIPPING BIG LAMBS YOU WILL SELL.

FOR MANY YEARS WE WORKED TOGETHER SIDE BY SIDE, WHATEVER WE DID WE DID IT WITH PRIDE.

WE WORKED AS ONE TO TALK WE NEEDED NOT, FOR WE KNEW EXACTLY WHAT EACH OTHER THOUGHT.

IT GOES UNSAID FIRST COMES THE FAMILY THEN THE SHEEP, WHAT YOU GIVE THEM IS WHAT YOU WILL REAP.

WONDERFUL CHILDREN AND A STRONG, LOVING WIFE, THAT’S THE BEST WE CAN STRIVE FOR IN LIFE.

THEY SAY MONEY AND POWER MAKE A MAN SMART, I SAY IT’S THE LOVE AND STRENGTH IN THAT SHEEPHERDERS HEART.

“IN LOVING MEMORY OF ALL THINGS I LEARNED FOR MY FATHER ELISEO LUCAS”

Lambs

January 1921 Wool Prices and Range Conditions

At the start of 1921, the sheep industry and for that matter, the cattle industry, were in bad shape. Both had seen good years during World War I as the government bought the meat and wool was used for making uniforms. It took wool from approximately twenty sheep to make all the needed clothes for one soldier.  But as 1920 ended wool prices were low, the Arizona range was dry, reducing feed for sheep and cattle, and many sheep men were concerned with the future of the industry. By the end of January there was hope that the wool situation had taken a turn for the better. The Salter Brothers, Boston wool brokers, had expressed in letters to M.I. Powers of the Citizens Bank, Flagstaff and Babbitt Brothers that there was considerable improvement in the wool market. The Salter Brothers were offering 30 cents per pound on wool three weeks ago. Two weeks ago, the price from another mill in Boston had offered 32 cents.  Another mill had offered to buy Arizona wool at 35 cents a pound. “Salter Bros. say that they feel once they have sold a block it will ease up the situation considerably and there will be money to loan on the new clip.” (Coconino Sun, Flagstaff, January 28, 1921)

For a perspective on those amounts: 30 cents in 1921 would be worth $4.37 today, 32 cents equivalent to $4.66 and 35 cents would be $5.09.  The sheep industry today would be thrilled to receive that type of money today for a pound of wool!

Range Conditions through most of 1920 were not good. The ranges were dry which reduced feed for livestock in many areas of the state. The outlook for 1921 seemed a little more promising as rains began to fall in the later part of January. Rain fell in the western portion of the state partially filling dry water holes and providing moisture for winter annuals to begin. A good inch of rain fell in Seligman vicinity. Yuma exceeded their monthly total for the month of January. The area received over a half inch. In the northcentral portion of Arizona snow had fallen but it melted without runoff to any stock ponds. The Grand Canyon and Williams areas had three inches of snow still on the ground. Water tanks were frozen though. The Coconino Sun, Flagstaff reported that some snow had been on the ground since winter began and livestock had been able to graze far from established water holes. The eastern and southern portion of the state reported to be in need of precipitation as the range was dry and water scarce. In the Douglas area the stock was in poor shape as water was scarce.

A Flagstaff observer reported, “Recent light snows melt within a few days after falling’ this moistens the ground, and will put it in good condition for farming, but it does not run and makes no stock water. Stock on the lower ranges adjacent to the San Francisco Peaks (the Canyon Diablo country, etc.) is wintering well as the weather has not at any time been severe and there is plenty of dry feed.” 

In other sections of the Coconino Sun, Flagstaff for January 28, 1921, we learn more about the condition of the range from sheep men who visited Flagstaff.  Returning from Phoenix, Lewis Benedict told of range conditions in the south as serious and there was a fear of heavy loss of sheep if the rains did not come soon.  In the Congress Junction area, William Pitts, foreman for the Howard Sheep Company, reported that the recent rains in the area had made good feed and the range had greatly improved in the last ten day. Two other sheep men, Harlow Yaeger and Charlie Woolfolk, who had winter sheep ranges in close proximity to one another, said that even with little rainfall in the area since last spring, the feed for their sheep was splendid.

Let us hope that our winter 2021 rains continue for the next several months with rain in the Salt River Valley and snow in the high country.  Slow melting snow in the high country with runoff will fill the stock ponds that both cattle and sheep men rely on and that water makes its way to the Salt River Valley for use by the farmers in the southern portion of the state.

The Thude Family Part 2

Gunnar has now been in the livestock business for nearly 30 years. Carlos Sanudo was hired in 1957 to work in Gunnar’s sheep business. Carlos was 37 years old when he migrated to Arizona. Gunnar’s eldest daughter, Elma, married Carlos Sanudo in 1962.  In 1968, Elma bought a part of Gunnar’s sheep outfit.  She named it the Long Tom Sheep Co. as their sheep ran in Long Tom Canyon.  Previously to buying Gunnar’s sheep, she had many years of experience with the sheep.  She had followed her father’s sheep into the mountains every year as a young woman, starting in 1946, at the age of 20.  In the summer, the sheep were trailed to greener pastures in the Heber area of the White Mountains.  The trailing of the sheep took 30 long days, but she was always at the tail end of the flocks as the sheep would be moved on city roads in Chandler and Mesa to begin the Heber-Reno trail northward.  She would get the herders supplies and keep the books while living in a cabin with no telephone and only kerosene lighting. Her father believed that every child should learn to work and indeed, she worked.  Since she did not like riding a horse for hours on end which was required for taking care of cattle, she was willing to care for the sheep. At times, it was necessary for her to bottle feed the lambs, but she learned early on that even if she grew attached to the lamb, it was to be sold or eaten! 

Elma Thude Sanudo and Francis Line, film maker.

As the sheep were moved from the farm in Chandler, through the town to get to the Heber Reno trail, she delighted in telling complaining motorist and Department of Public Safety officers that livestock and that included sheep, had the right-of-way in Arizona. No matter how many obstacles got in her way, from DPS officers to motorist complaints, or angry people in subdivisions, nothing would keep her from her beloved sheep. Trucking of the sheep was not an option as it was too expensive. Her desire to remain as a shepherdess was dependent upon the hazards of trailing and being able to find winter feed, alfalfa, for the sheep.

In the 1960s Gunnar sold one of his ranches to John Wayne.

In 1977, Gunnar sold his Holbrook ranch and the Paradise Sheep Company to John Frandsen Thude, his nephew. With no sheep or cattle to care for, Gunnar was free to spend his summers in his native Denmark, away from the Arizona heat. He passed away in 1980 only having a short time to enjoy his retirement. He was known for always helping others, either lending money or giving them a helping hand on their ranch.

Elma continued to work the sheep until she sold out in 1999 to the Auza Sheep Company, Casa Grande, Arizona. Elma raised her five sons, Gerald (1947), Mike (1949), James (1950), John Gunnar (1953), and Dennis (1955), while tending her sheep. Raising sheep was a full-time job and she was saddened that none of her children continued in the business she loved. Elma passed away in 2002 and Carlos in 2006. What happened to Gunnar’s nephew still needs to be told and hopefully I can finish researching it soon.

Carlos and his pet sheep, Franco!

The Thude family spent nearly 70 years in the livestock business in Arizona and many of those years was in the sheep raising business. I have been privileged to known some of Gunnar’s and Elma’s children and hearing their stories of early life on the range in Arizona. The Thude Family – Gunnar and Elma – will be inducted into the Arizona Ranching and Farming Hall of Fame in March 2022. They should have been this March but circumstances beyond the control of the Hall of Fame, i.e., pandemic, has postponed most celebrations. More will be posted as it is learned about the family, herder stories are collected, and when the family is finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Gunnar and Eliseo, one of his herders.