Blog Archives

The Visionary

Some of my fondest memories are of riding my horse through the sagebrush on our family ranch, which sat between Shoshone and Richfield. Recently, when I went back to visit our ranch, I flashed on images of my father walking down a dirt path next to the Little Wood River wearing a white shirt, straw cowboy hat, and a shovel perched on his right shoulder. Continue reading

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Ewe and I

Here’s an image of the upper sheep pasture of our property near Challis. When I drove there on a recent evening to feed our Pyrenees guard dogs, Benny and Bobby, I discovered a ewe off by herself suffering from mastitis. Continue reading

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The Water Thief

I’ll wager few things were or are more important to Idaho farmers and ranchers than their water rights. Cattle might be stolen, or money, even wives or lady friends, but water theft has often carried dire consequences, including death. Following is a case in point from my own family history.

My father grew up in Lund. Although he moved to Utah, started a business in Salt Lake City, and raised his family there, he often said, “You can take a kid out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the kid.” He dreamed of moving back to Idaho one day and buying a farm or small ranch. After almost twenty-six years in Utah, he enlisted the help of my mother’s uncle, who was then living in Hagerman, to locate and purchase a small ranch on the bank of the Snake River west of Wendell. Continue reading

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Those Bleeping Sheep

Shortly after World War II, strange things began happening in the northern Idaho woods where I was raised. Each spring, bands of sheep began showing up in our logging community of Headquarters, deep in the Clearwater National Forest.

They temporarily blocked traffic on the roads and we occasionally ran into flocks in the mountain meadows while riding our horses. We grumbled, “Who in bleep would bring all those sheep out in the woods and turn ‘em loose with all our wild animals? Why, they’ll just eat up all the grass, and our deer and elk won’t have anything left to eat. They’ll bleep in our cricks, kill all the fish and besides that, they stink!”

Backwoods sentiment on the subject ran rampant. Of course, as a young buck I got sucked into the local opinion against the sheep. At the time, we had no idea that permission had been granted by the Clearwater Timber Protective Association in Orofino to bring in the flocks for summer grazing.

One day, while riding through the woods on my horse Ribbons, I came upon a meadow full of sheep. The sheepherder was congenial and invited me to sit and talk awhile. He explained how he and the dogs took care of the sheep out in the woods. Years later, I learned these particular sheep belonged to Hi Hood, a rancher who had shipped bands of sheep on the Camas Prairie Railroad up through Orofino Creek to the Hollywood Stock Pens near Pierce. There, they were divided into smaller bands and driven with the aid of sheep dogs into the surrounding meadows. The sheep were kept moving so as to not strip all the vegetation and were kept away from the streams except to drink. Continue reading

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Tribute to the Sheepmen

June 29 was one of the hottest days this year, but that didn’t deter more than four hundred people from gathering in the shade of trees to witness the dedication of a monument commemorating pioneers who brought the sheep industry to the Hagerman Valley.

From their rows of folding chairs, the audience had a clear view of a triangular- shaped piece of park next to Highway 30 that had been freshly landscaped to include a new mound, upon which bronze figures were assembled. The sun cast shadows at the feet of a tall shepherd leading his saddled horse, while a small dog crouched alongside, guarding a string of eight well-fed sheep.

The Hagerman Sheep Monument, created by renowned Idaho sculptor Danny Edwards, had been donated to the town’s historical society by J.W. “Bill” Jones, Jr. and his wife Deloris, to honor the pioneers and the lifetime achievements of Bill’s parents, prominent sheep ranchers Johnny and Ethel Jones.

The story behind this gift to the community goes back to the arrival in the Hagerman area of Johnny Jones in 1904. He had come from Wales, where he and his sister lived with their mother, who was separated from their father. As soon as he “could hold a pitchfork, he became a stable boy and a carriage boy to a lawyer, who was his mother’s employer,” according to a biography prepared by the Hagerman Historical Society. When Johnny was only twelve, he went to live with a relative in London, where he delivered eggs and milk for only twenty-five cents a day. Continue reading

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Chasing the Calf

On a beautiful Idaho spring day on the white sands of the St. Anthony Sand Dunes, we were trailing four hundred head of Black Angus cows and baby calves to their spring range just north St. Anthony.

It was crisp that morning and dry. The snowfall hadn’t amounted to much that winter and the spring’s rains were late. The dust billowed up behind the herd and the absent wind let it settle in our eyes.

We were running about a hundred head of first-calf heifers along with our seasoned cows. The heifers were wild and full of energy, and had no idea where their calves were. After gathering all the bewildered heifers and their bawling calves, we headed for an area called the Junipers, the first leg of our two-day drive. Most of the cows had found the open gate a few days earlier and, with their calves, had started on their own. Continue reading

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Pariah

In 2005 I married into a family of hillbillies, cowboys, and ranchers whose earlier generations began somewhere in Arkansas. In Idaho, they make their living raising cattle. They consist of five or six families living in the middle of nowhere, amid rugged mountaintops or in the wide-open desert. These communities are sometimes so small and so isolated that the bar is in the back of the convenience store and the bartender is also the Sunday school teacher. Some of the family, though—like my in-laws (thankfully)—live in a more pleasant manner, in manufactured homes perched on hundreds of acres. These homes are surrounded by flat brown plains, horse corrals, and looming haystacks. At times, the smell of manure and rotting carcasses fills the air—a smell that I have yet to grow comfortable with. Continue reading

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On the Cattle Drive

Burdened with Greenhorns, Cowboys Take a Herd to Pasture

By Gloria Jackson

We saw Indians on the hills during the day, so Vike instructs the men to circle the wagons and corral our horses inside the circle after they’ve been given time to drink from the river.

I begin boiling river water for coffee and cooking what little food we have left. The cowboys will hunt tomorrow, the Indians permitting. Eating slows conversation, and we remain alert while one of the cowboys stands guard. They will spell each other during the night with guard duty. Pete, one of the younger cowboys, helps me clean up and put things back in the supply wagon, so the four-footed scavengers won’t think they’ve found an open buffet.

“Okay, but we won’t have any wild Indians on this drive, will we?” I ask groggily as I crawl out of bed. Continue reading

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