Monday, October 31, 2011

Baxter Black: Shepherding rough, thankless career

For those of you to whom the phrase “sheep camp” conjures up a pastoral, nostalgic, even romantic vision of shepherds watching over their flocks, I suspect you’ve never slept in one. Sheep camp, in the real world of shepherding, is the wagon where you sleep, live and eat. It looks like a small covered wagon. There is a built-in bed with storage underneath, a small stove-heater propane unit and a drop-down kitchen cabinet behind. A lantern provides light. The roof could be canvas or fitted tin. The wagon has four tires and a tongue and is usually hauled or pulled to the grazing area. In its heyday, the mid-1900s, sheep camps were as common and handy as Airstream motor homes. I worked in the ION country (southern Idaho, western Oregon, northern Nevada) in the ’70s near the end of good times for the sheep business. I worked for an outfit that ran 20,000 sheep on the high desert sagebrush. In the summer, the herd would be divided into bands of 2,000 to 3,000. One man with his sheep camp, dogs and a saddle mule or horse would keep moving them to good forage and try to protect them from predators. When it was needed, he would hook up his horse and drag his camp to a new location. The boss would drive in with the supplies at least once a week. These were self-sufficient, hardworking immigrants, often Basques from Spain. Over the years I watched the Basque improve their lot and be replaced by South Americans...more

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