Subtopic : Pre-Industrial Period: 1870-1910: Sheep Ranching
Themes: People and the Environment, Transportation
In the wake of the cattle came the sheep. The Baldwin Ranch on Hay Creek ran 50,000 sheep at its peak in the 1880s, and the wool clip reached 500,000 pounds. Sheep herders summered their stock in the higher elevations of the Cascades then bought them down to lower elevations when the weather deteriorated. Alberta McCabe described the bands of sheep coming through Sisters in September of 1912: “the sheep have been coming through from the forest reserve by the thousands every day, and the dust was pretty bad. The herders go by on horse with half a dozen other horses with large packs on their backs following.”
Shipping wool and lambs was difficult without rail transportation, and this did not reach the upper Deschutes country until 1911. The best rail connection after 1901 was Shaniko, a community built on the Deschutes Plateau at the end of the Columbia Southern Railroad. Freight wagons brought the wool clip from the scattered ranches, and herders drove the lambs to be loaded onto double-decked livestock cars. Sheep ranching reached its highest point when World War I raised the prices for wool and mutton.
The total number of sheep on the central Oregon ranges during the heyday of the sheep ranching period is difficult to estimate. Ranches from much of eastern Oregon drove their flocks to the mountain pastures of the Cascades and the Blue Mountains during the grazing season. California sheepmen shipped their flocks up to Klamath Marsh and the Cascades by rail after the Southern Pacific was completed to Kirk in 1910. Writing in 1906, A.S. Ireland–who was a newly appointed Forest Service official–estimated that 340,000 sheep and 50,000 cattle and horses grazed in the Ochoco and Maury mountains that summer. The open ranges were definitely crowded.
© Ward Tonsfeldt & Paul G. Claeyssens, 2004.
Themes: People and the Environment,Transportation
Regions: Central Oregon
Author: Ward Tonsfeldt & Paul G. Claeyssens
Rail transportation enabled sheep ranchers to ship their lambs and wool outside the region.