Monday, January 30, 2017

Caprock Chronicles: Sheep come to South Plains in 1870s

Immediately after American soldiers defeated Southern Plains Indians in the Red River War of 1874-1875, sheepherders pushed their ovine flocks onto the Llano Estacado. And, perhaps they did it before then, for Antonio Baca claimed to have grazed sheep in the present-day Oklahoma Panhandle prior to the Civil War. After the Red River War, former comancheros, traders from New Mexico, led the way. They knew the Llano and its rich grasslands, its life-sustaining water courses and its sheltering canyons. Many former comancheros remained friends with, or old business partners of, Comanches, Kiowas and Cheyennes. Thus, fear of an Indian attack did not inhibit them in their new pastoral enterprises. The best known of the New Mexico sheepmen, or pastores, as they were called, to climb onto the Texas High Plains was Casimero Romero. In 1876, he led 12 men and their families down the Canadian River from New Mexico’s Mora County to about where Tascosa and modern Boy’s Town in Potter County exist. Romero and the others herded at least 4,500 sheep to the site. In wagons, they brought household supplies and ranching equipment to establish permanent dwellings in the area, and they drove horses and enough cattle to provide beef and milk for the settlers. They built homes of adobe and settled in to graze their sheep on the high lands — the Llano Estacado — above the river valley. Other New Mexicans soon heard of abundant grasslands, clear springs and permanent creeks in the wide valley. They arrived with thousands of additional sheep. Not all who came were Hispanic or Pueblo. Henry Kimball, a blacksmith, moved his sheep to a site along Rita Blanca Creek on the north side of the Canadian River. Englishmen Jim Campbell and A. B. Ledgard establish a sheep ranch northwest of Rita Blanca Creek. Their flock numbered about 25,000 animals. In the Lubbock area, Zachary T. Williams, a 29-year old from Mississippi, grazed his flocks near modern Buffalo Springs Lake. He claimed to have been there as early as 1877. Richard Wilkerson, a 26-year old from Indiana, grazed sheep in Blackwater Draw in the vicinity of present-day Lubbock Country Club. John Coleman ran a very large spread across what is today Mackenzie Park. One of his five herders was Andrew Gonzales, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, and one of the first permanent Mexican-Americans in Lubbock. Grazing circuits extended on the Llano from north of the Canadian River south to Tule and Quitaque canyons and beyond into the upper Brazos River drainage system west of Lubbock. Jesus Perea, for example, herded his flocks of 30,000 sheep to Tahoka Lake, Yellowhouse Canyon and Blanco Canyon. Because of the great amount of grazing land and water needed for so many sheep, Perea scattered his animals widely and took them wherever good grass and water could be found...more

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