Texans are resilient. They defeated the Mexicans—twice—took a beating during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and then chased the Comanche clean out of the state and into Oklahoma. All of those events were watershed moments in Texas history.
|Sheep Raid in Colorado (Harper’s Weekly, Oct. 1877)|
As if all of that weren’t enough, pastores herded on foot, not horseback. Horses were a status symbol in the Old West. Cowboys figuratively and literally “looked down on” mutton-punchers.
Sheep are not native to Texas, although they’ve been in the state since padres brought Spanish transplants with them in the 1700s. The animals provided both food and clothing, so no mission was without a flock.
|The Plains Herder, NC Wyeth, 1909|
Due to market fluctuations, drought, and some disastrous government programs, in 2012 the entire ovine population of the U.S. stood at only 5.345 million; 650,000 of those, still the largest bunch by more than 100,000 animals, were in Texas. To this day, mutton, lamb, and wool make a significant contribution to Texas’s economy.
Real and imagined problems led to the sheep wars. Texas cattlemen already were becoming testy with one another over grazing and water rights. Add sheep—which, as a means of finding other flock members, spray the ground with a noxious scent excreted by a gland above their hooves—and the range got a little smaller. Add sheep drifters who grazed their flocks on other folks’ land or public property because they owned no territory of their own, and the situation became volatile. Add barbed-wire fence…and everything exploded.
|Texas Merino Sheep, courtesy Fir0002/Flagstaffotos|
Soon thereafter, cattlemen were shocked—and somewhat relieved—to discover good fences make good neighbors. They also discovered mutton and wool sold even when a mysterious disease known as Texas Fever made driving cattle to the railheads in other states well-nigh impossible.
Today, many Texas ranches run sheep right along with their cattle, and all the critters get along just fine on the same range.
Of course, had stubborn Texans on both sides of the fence paid attention to the native Indians who’d been running cattle and sheep together for a hundred years before the trouble started, they might have spared themselves considerable aggravation.
A Texan to the bone, Kathleen Rice Adams spends her days chasing news stories and her nights and weekends shooting it out with Wild West desperados. Leave the upstanding, law-abiding heroes to other folks. In Kathleen’s stories, even the good guys wear black hats.
Visit her home on the range at KathleenRiceAdams.com.