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.


Good rains reported for mid 1901 ensures good grazing range for all livestock!

Reading weather reports as they appear in the early newspapers help to tell the history of the livestock industry in Arizona. When the snows had been good, it meant reservoirs were filled and much of the water then goes into the rivers and ends up in the Salt River Valley.  Summer rains are also important to both cattle and sheep and when the rains slack off, the sheepmen and cattlemen become concerned about the forage for their animals and where they will obtain water for them.  With a heavy snow fall in the winter of 1901, it appeared that the land was drying out and the livestock men were becoming concerned for their livestock and livelihood.  But at the end of July a very heavy downpour of rain northwest of Williams made at least the sheepmen feel jubilant, especially James Walsh who had come into town and reported the good news. All reservoirs were filled and running over by the heavy fall of rain.

The next week another article in the Williams News appeared stating that the rains had been heavy over the northern portion of Arizona every day for the past two weeks. No data was given for the amount of rainfall, but it was reported that all dams and reservoirs were full and in fact they were overflowing. The newspaper assumed that the ranges were assured for a year at least.

At the end of October another interesting article appeared concerning permitting the grazing of sheep on the forest reserves of Arizona.  But it seemed that the Department of the Interior so no reason to bar the sheep. The Snips and St. Johns Herald newspaper reported that keeping the sheep off the reserves was really only a fight between the sheep and cattle men. Drought had hit the state and the cattle men were using their influence to convince the residents in the Salt River Valley and especially the farmers that the sheep were denuding the forests and causing the drought. The newspaper went on: “If our friends in Phoenix would learn the real fact in the case they would know that we have not lessened the water supply. We are just as much in favor of water storage as they are. The more water is stored the more rains we will have. The more rains we have the better the range, and the better our crops, though few they be”. As was reported in the Williams News, the Snips and St. Johns Herald continued “But fortunately we have had a good season and there is plenty of water and plenty of grass. Facts are stubborn things, and this one gives the lie to the hatched up theory of those who claimed that the sheep were causing the drouths. But we truly hope the strife has ended and that henceforth we know no north nor south, but only Arizona, a unit.”

In November the forest reserve question is raised again as how best to allow all livestock to graze on the reserves. I will post this in my next blog.

Duckworth American Wool


Duckworth Sheep

Today, I am deviating from posting about families in the Arizona sheep industry to promote a company located in Montana that prides itself on being the only source-verified, 100% Made-in-the-USA Merino wool clothing company.  You can read more about their story on  For those of you who do not wish to visit another website, I will post some of their information here.

In Dillon, Montana, a sheep ranch by the name of Helle raises sheep, and then they “carefully manage every part of the production process from raw fiber to finished garment. The ranch in Dillon sits one mile above sea level.  As the valley starts to warm in early summer, the sheep begin their 40-mile journey to graze in the high mountain pastures above 9,000′ in the Gravelly Mountains.  The extreme changes in altitude and temperature give the Helle Rambouillet Merino a longer staple length, more crimp and grater curvature.  The 4th generation ranchers have fine tuned this process creating a soft yet extremely durable wool for Duckworth garments.”  Their sheep have just recently come back down the mountain. As they wrote in their email “The young lambs shave grown larger and stronger, and were able to make the long journey home with ease.”  (Our two trails in Arizona are longer than 40 miles but the ewes and lambs only travel northward via the trails and are trucked back to the valley each fall).

The email continued, “After the spring shearing, each fleece is tested and given a grade to determine its end use.  The wool then travels to the Carolina’s where it is spun, knit, and dyed.  The garments are cut and sewn in three different US states, and shipped back to Montana for warehousing.

In addition to making great wool, the Duckworth Sheep to Shelf process removes thousands of miles from the traditional supply chain, resulting in a significantly smaller carbon footprint.”

Most of this information is quoted off of an email that I received from them last week.  I asked for permission to use it here as I truly believe it is important for the American consumer to think about the clothes they wear and where they are made and that includes where the fabric comes from – wool from American sheep and then processed here in the United States!  If you want to reduce the carbon footprint, what a great way to do it by buying American made products.  It keeps our sheep industry healthy, provides jobs for those raising the sheep, then all the people involved in shearing, sorting the fleeces, the transporting of the fleeces to a mill, and all those employees, etc., etc., etc.  Think of the jobs that are created in this process.  We use to have many woolen mills in this country especially when we had 55 million plus sheep across the country.  Today, there may be 6 million sheep, mostly found in the western states where there is land for the sheep to graze.  Sheep help keep our forest healthy by eating the undergrowth; that is when and where they are allowed to graze.  For helping to keep the forest healthy, sheep owners pay the forest service to graze their sheep for a few months each year and the sheep owners are told when and where and for how long the sheep can be on the land.  Forest fires have increased over the years as there have been a reduction in the number of sheep grazing.  But, this is a topic for another day.

I will close this blog reminding the consumer that the holidays are approaching and what a great time to purchase American made wool products.  There is wool that can be worn in Arizona in the summer time.  Wool quality has changed over the years.  There used to be shops in Williams that sold woolen undergarments so that would have to be a soft wool. I have talked in earlier blogs of the benefits of wool.  Please think about your next purchase.  And don’t forget to check out Duckworth Wool in beautiful Montana.







The Basque Bota

Just a quick little story about a Basque bota.  A bota is the leather bag used by sheep herders and owners for their wine.  In a story from the Espil family, they wrote me that their grandparent, Pete, would help with the Annual Wool Growers Barbecue that was at the Coconino County Fairgrounds or somewhere else.  He and older sheep men would butcher a dozen lambs and bury them in coals for three days prior to the event to feed the many people who would come for the event.  The one granddaughter of Pete wrote “that many a starched white shirt would be covered in red wine as the bota was passed from one sheep herder to the next.  It had a corked spout.  The bag was filled with wine and by squeezing the bag the wine squirted from the spout to the open mouth…a target harder to hit as the evening wore on.”

Other men also helped prepare the lambs for this event and one was Frank Auza who was involved in the cooking, etc., for many years.  He and Pete Espil probably did it together many a year. And now you have the rest of the story.


On my FaceBook page someone wrote this about a bota: Fort Tuthill was the scene of a lot of these feasts cooked by the Espils and Auza families! Each sheep camp had a Bota and a gallon of red Tavola wine. J. B Etchamendy would point it in the middle of his forehead, run between his eyes down his nose into his mouth and not spill a drop!

J.B. Etchamendy passed away last November so he can neither confirm or deny this story. Maybe his wife will know.



Gunnar Thude and Family

The next week I will be posting the story of Gunnar Thude to this blog.  But in the meantime enjoy a couple of pictures of his family.

503367_6042811b6bf6cwl5240vld_D_96x128[1]A young Gunnar Thudeunknown man

Gunnar Thude in Arizona possibly at a sheep camp or one of his ranches.  As I obtain more information from the family I will update each of the pictures and add others.

Update: the picture above of Gunnar is at his Heber ranch that he bought from Williams Ryan, another sheep man.  Thanks for the information from one of his grandchildren, Gerald Hancock.

I have not collected all the information that I had hoped on the Thude familybut, will be talking to several of them in the next few weeks.  I was told by one of them that the April 1950 issue of the National Geographic followed Gunnar’s sheep up the Heber Reno Driveway.  I wish to share part of that story.  It is worth trying to get a copy of the issue and anyone who follows me and  would like a copy, can contact me and I will send the article to them.  I have all the National Geographic’s on CD from their beginnings until the 1990s.  I need to update my collection.

Francis R. Line wrote 50 years ago of the seasonal migration of man and beast (horse, burros, dogs, sheep and goats) along the Heber Reno driveway.  He stated, “…the annual trek means some 50 days of grueling struggle upward each spring and an equally exhausting journey downward when autumn’s snow drives the from the mountains.” The story details the herder, Rosalio Lucero, and Pablo Chaveez, the camp tender as they trek 1,547 sheep that belonged to the Paradise Sheep Co., which was owned at this time by Gunnar Thude.  As only the National Geographic or Arizona Highways can do, the magnificent photography helps the reader see the difficult terrain, the canyons, the enclosed walls that kept the temperatures hot and allowed very little breeze to give comfort to man or beast.  Each sheep outfit, men and beast, suffered from the long dry days as the sheep would have several days of no water.  Then there was the mad dash to a water hole when it did appear. The photographs also showed the beauty of the land from the mountains, the blooming cactus and flowers and trees.  The Heber Reno driveway was over 200 miles long and through the most difficult part of Arizona.  Its inaccessibility kept the sheep owners from visiting the outfits and bringing much needed supplies except maybe every ten days.  Sheep outfits that used this trail included, but were not limited to, L-4 Ranches, Paradise Sheep Co., Diamond Sheep Co., Kenneth Ellsworth, Frank Erramuzpe, Cliff and Earl Dobson.  Dwayne Dobson used the trail last in 2011.  He sold out that year to Joe Auza, Casa Grande. It is my understanding that this year, 2019, Joseph Auza, Joe’s son, used part of the trail this year and three years ago.  The two pictures are courtesy of Gerald Hancock. The first picture is Gunnar and his foreman, Eliseo Lucas.  The second picture is sheep on the Blue Point Bridge over the Salt River.