City of Rocks
Historic Resources Study
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As a boy in the middle eighties I can well remember the heavy stands of grasses on the ranges . . . and on these lands my father grazed stock which I helped to handle, and I have run stock on some of these lands ever since.

In afew years I watched these same ranges being fast depleted . . . Even under these conditions the stockmen did not seem to realize that the ranges would be completely ruined but kept them way over stocked with sheep, cattle, and horses.... The higher mountain areas . . . [were] practically the only watering places left open by the dry farmers and was little more than complete dust beds. About this time we heard the Government was establishing Forest Reserves and [was] going to regulate and control the grazing on these summer ranges, and this was done, but there was still too many stock for the range, and it took quite a few years to reduce the number where the range had a chance to improve. . . . Where thousands of cattle and sheep were grazed in the early range days, and beef and mutton finished on the range, a small number now exists through a short summer period, must be placed in pasture in the early fall, and finished in feed yards for the market. [192]

The City of Rocks' most consistent and economically successful usage has been as range land. In 1880, residents of the Marsh Basin (Albion), Elba, and Almo enumeration districts described themselves most often as ranchers. The economic success and the subsistence of these communities was in large part dependent upon cattle and sheep run on public land; agricultural endeavors were designed primarily to provide a family's subsistence and to sustain their herds during the winter months.

The droughts and winters of the 1880s and 1890s and the arrival of homesteaders within the watered valleys had ended the open-range cattle industry; neither, however, had dramatically affected stockmen's summer use of the non-cultivable, unsettled, high-elevation summer range, of which the City of Rocks was a part: "The range was considered free, with the only means of control by ownership or occupancy of the watering places." [193] Until the articulation and implementation of a national range conservation program, Snake River basin ranchers continued to overstock and overgraze this range, with little respect for growing seasons or carrying capacity. The circa 1890 arrival in force of sheepmen (many of them Mormon) to the basin heightened the conflict over increasingly rare and increasingly valuable range resources.

Range Wars

Sheep first challenged the supremacy of cattle in the City of Rocks region in the 1870s, when they were trailed in large numbers east from California, depleting the feed in a wide swath running through the Raft River Valley. Their numbers increased significantly in response to the winters of 1885 and 1889 — when cattlemen found that they could more cheaply restock with sheep — and as a result of Mormon settlement. Approximately 60 wool growers operated out of Oakley by 1882. By the late 1880s, sheep were rapidly replacing cattle in Cassia County, and by 1900 two million sheep grazed the Idaho range.

By 1905, 150,000 sheep grazed on land later defined as the Minidoka National Forest, most of these in the Cassia East Division surrounding Oakley, Idaho, just west of the City of Rocks; many of these bands used the City of Rocks region as late summer feed when the range within and west of the Goose Creek Valley had been exhausted. [194]

In the early '90's the sheepmen began to gain a foothold on the ranges, especially in the northwestern states... many long-headed cowmen in sheer self-defense turned their cattle into sheep...the sheepman was much more able to cope with the elements than was the cattleman. He had his herd under his eye at all times, and could move it to better feed before the animals became too weak to travel. He also found out much earlier than did the cattleman that buying feed against a hard winter was money well invested. . . . In many ways the sheepmen profited by the bitter experience of the cattlemen.

Bitter range wars followed. All over the Rocky Mountain region the conflicts between the two interests have cost many lives, both human and animal.. .. Dead-lines were drawn by the cattlemen. . . . The sheepmen in turn swept across the ranges occupied by cattle, leaving a wide swath as clean of vegetation as if a fire had passed over it...

The sheep industry has gone on almost without a pause, until today it is too firmly entrenched in the West to be disturbed.

[Will C. Barnes, Western Grazing Grounds and Forest Ranges (Chicago: Breeders and Gazette, 1913), pp. 26-29.]

To the south and west of the City of Rocks, sheep competed directly with cattle for available forage; their arrival did not go unchallenged. Oakley cattleman A. J. Tolman remembered that "everything was prosperous peaceful until the sheepmen began encroaching upon the grazing land in the mountains surrounding the valley." [195] Using their substantial political clout, cattlemen pushed passage of the "Two Mile Act" (1874), making it illegal, in specified counties, for sheep to be grazed or herded on the "possessory claims" of others or to be grazed within 2 miles of any dwelling. In 1883, the Idaho legislature — at the behest of both cattle barons and homesteaders — strengthened the 1874 act with passage of the Priority Rights Law, making it illegal to range sheep where cattle had been grazed. [196]

Where these restrictions failed, violence often prevailed. Cattlemen defined a "deadline," south of Oakley and west of the City of Rocks at Lyman Pass. Oakley pioneer Newell Dayley remembered that

Any sheep or herder caught south of that line was treated quite rough.... Herders were whipped and beat shamefully. Camps were moved by a rope tied to the tongue of the wagon and dragged for some distance where they were tipped over and all contents destroyed. [197]

Circa 1885, Mormon wool grower John Lind and his family constructed a home in Junction Valley, south of the Lyman Pass deadline. As Lind's family gathered for their evening meal the home burst into flames and was destroyed in a matter of minutes, leaving the family with their lives, a few belongings, and little shelter from the approaching winter. The family averred that the arsonist had been "paid by the cattlemen to commit this terrible crime to try and discourage the family's staying." [198]

In 1886, Oakley cattleman Frank Bedke killed sheepherder Gabo Fango in a clash over the Two Mile Law; it took two trials, in front of all-white, mostly Mormon juries, to acquit the Gentile of murdering a black man. And, in one of the most dramatic battles in southern Idaho's range war, Oakley sheepmen (and Mormon brothers) John C. Wilson and Daniel C. Cummings were killed in 1896 on the cattlemen's side of a "deadline" running down a Cassia Range ridge (Figure 16). Jack Diamondfield Davis, hired by the Sparks-Harrell Cattle Company to patrol the line, was charged with their murders. After a 13-day trial held at the Cassia County Courthouse in Albion, a mostly Mormon jury found Davis guilty. The judge sentenced him to death by hanging. In 1902, after two stays of execution and six years in jail, Sparks-Harrell employees James Bower and Jeff Gray confessed to the murders and Davis was pardoned.

Figure 16. Deadline (David Grover, Diamondfield Jack, A Study in Frontier Justice, (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1968), p. 14). (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The Fango/Wilson/Cummings murders were isolated rangeland shootings in an age and place where such shootings were not uncommon. Historian David Grover argues, however, that the ensuing court battles assumed social and religious significance, as the focal point of a battle between the predominantly Mormon sheepmen and the predominantly non-Mormon cattlemen. The communities adjacent to the City of Rocks avoided the violence associated with the range wars — in part because residents were both Mormon and cattlemen (with social and spiritual incentive to keep the peace), and in part because the large-scale cattlemen were most concerned with the Cassia West division, west of Oakley and through which they drew their deadline. However, the cultural consideration — those unveiled undertones of a local Mormon-Gentile war — added an immediacy to the battle that transcended its geographic distance. [199]

The Federal Presence

Unregulated range use came with an ecological as well as a human price; both the violence and the resource depletion inspired (with the rest of the West) a series of public land laws designed to conserve and perpetuate the range while allowing for economic viability: the 1897 creation of National Forest Reserves; the 1905 establishment of the United States Forest Service (USFS); the 1916 passage of the Stockraising Homestead Act; and the 1934 passage of the Taylor Grazing Act, which reversed the 1916 act and effectively ended the "free land" homestead era.

Following the census of 1890, the United States Census Bureau reported the passing of the American Frontier. Between 1860 and 1890, in what many critics called the "Great Barbeque," western lands and their abundant resources had been appropriated by corporate and individual miners, loggers, stockmen, and farmers. The abundant resources and the ample opportunity for a nation's and a man's economic and spiritual rebirth (opportunity so long broadcast by western boosters) was said to remain only in isolated pockets. And these pockets no longer comprised a recognizable frontier, a physical and psychological line distinguishing an exhausted and exploited East from a virgin and bountiful West. America responded, in small part, with the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, an act designed to set apart and reserve forest and grazing lands for the public interest. [200]

In November of 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the executive order creating the Raft River Forest Reserve; the western outskirts of the City of Rocks, and the forested slopes of Cache Peak and Mount Independence were included within this reserve and its successor, the Minidoka National Forest. Rangers of the Albion Mountain Division [201] of the forest (one of five divisions) were responsible not only for conservation of range and timber resources but also for inspiring a community of trust between the federal government and local residents, and for walking a fine line between the long-term needs of the community and the long term needs of the resource. This community was composed primarily of Albion, Almo, and Elba users; those from Moulton "did not use the forest" and those from Oakley ran their stock on the Cassia East and Cassia West divisions. [202]

Forest rangers reported that the immediate range needs in the first years of federal management were simple: reduce the length of the grazing season and the number of stock on the forest. And, from approximately 1905 until the height of the dry farm boom, pressure on area ranchers to reduce the size of their herds came from sources other than federal rangers: the rapid irrigation and settlement of the Snake River Basin — irrigation and settlement made possible by the completion of the federal Minidoka and Goose Creek reclamation projects — removed over 200,000 acres from use as winter range. The carrying capacity of this winter range determined the size of a viable herd; animal units carried by the summer range dropped accordingly, only to rise again with the arrival of the dry land farmers. These farmers settled, fenced, and plowed foothill land previously used as open range. They also solicited grazing land from the National Forest for their "few stock." In 1917, at the height of the dryland boom, grazing permits for the Albion Mountain Division had been issued to 145 local ranchers — 37 from Albion, 14 from Burley, 50 from Elba, 19 from Almo, 3 from Conant, and 21 from Oakley. Rangers noted with satisfaction that these ranchers were local and the stock run on the forest owned by "bona fide settlers" rather than transient corporate cattle interests. [203]

In 1923, the Albion Mountain Division ranger reported that while his unit had been carrying too many stock "in years past," the forest service had recently enjoyed success in negotiating and enforcing range protection reductions. Permits were issued for five years, and were reissued if all terms of range use had been met consistently. In a testimony to the stability of the community, "the turn over in permits [was] limited to . . . about 4-1/2 percent per year." [204] Stock grazed on the national forest accounted for 70 percent of the cattle and 75 percent of the sheep run in the Almo-Elba, Albion, and Basin units; the forest lease permits were clearly essential to local ranching operations. The remaining animals were run on "outside range," primarily located in Junction Valley to the west and Middle Mountain to the east. [205]

By the mid-1920s, residual conflict between sheep and cattle men was in part alleviated by reserving 37 percent of the division as cattle range. The remaining 63 percent remained in "common use." The topography of the Albion Mountain Division formed the "natural" units of Albion, Elba-Basin, and Almo. Rangers opened the range to cattle from May 1 to October 31 and to sheep from June 16 to October 31. During the early spring, rangers most carefully walked the "fine line" between the needs of the community and the needs of the range:

The establishment of a opening date which corresponds to the date the range is ready for grazing is complicated by the question of facilities for holding the cattle outside. Permittees, especially in Oakley and the Basin have extremely limited outside rage and must get the cattle off their farms in order to start cultivation . . . [Yet] owners are poorly fixed to take care of their stock for an extra period off the forest. . . . Until such time as the stock men are capable of carrying a heavier load, the imposing of longer feeding periods or expense for range improve ments by stockmen is neither practical or [sic] desirable.

It seems to resolve itself into playing a waiting game, and making for the present at least, the good of the range subordinate to the good of the industry. [206]

Rangers attempted to cultivate trust through creation of stock associations by which rangers and users worked together to establish salt plans, distribute stock, adjust the length of the grazing season and the number of permitted animals; by hiring rangers from the local communities; by giving lease priority to local residents and long-time users; by facilitating frequent contact between rangers and users; and by demonstrating, through careful recultivation of the range, that USFS policies were in the best long-term interests of the user. By 1929, the supervisor of the Minidoka National Forest was able to report "less grazing trespass, slightly fewer permittees, but with better dispositions and much less wrangling with forest officers." [207]

The Stockraising Homestead and Taylor Grazing Acts

As the upper elevation range improved, the middle ground between the irrigable valleys and the forest boundaries remained vulnerable to overuse and grass depletion. Dryland farmers plowed the native sod and cultivated crops until forced by drought to abandon their claims; they left not only abandoned buildings and fence lines, but eroded land virtually void of the sage and native grasses that had once sustained area herds.

The ranch is ... strung out in shoe-string form. The lower level land of the ... valley is irrigated... the main crop of the cattle ranch is hay. The crop second in importance is grain. ... All the hay and straw and a part of the grain are fed to the cattle [an average of 1 ton of hay, per cow, for three months]. The long, narrow, fenced ranch, by enclosing the stream and stock water, controls the use of the adjoining open sage brush and foot hill range... The grazing permits on the National Forest assure good summer range.

[United States Forest Service, "Range Appraisal Report, Albion Mountain Division, Minidoka National Forest, 1923," p. 16.]

The Stockraising Homestead Act of 1916 was championed in part to correct this abuse. Its sponsor, Harvey B. Fergusson, condemned the "plowing up and destruction of the valuable native grasses" and advocated 640-acre units as an aid to "landless and homeless citizens" and as a means of "restor[ing] and promot[ing] the live-stock and meat-producing capacity of the semi-arid States." [208]

Only land "chiefly valuable for grazing and raising forage crops," could be claimed under the Stockraising Homestead Act. Yet by 1916 this classification applied to very little of the public domain: most had been claimed by land agents and dryland farmers. Will Barnes of the United States Forest Service, a vocal critic of the Stockraising Homestead Act, argued that what remained was "only suitable for grazing and producing nothing but Russian thistles and black alkali." [209]

Thomas Shomaker and Ernest Sparks patented the only Stockraising Homesteads within the City of Rocks, as adjuncts to previous homestead claims. Shomaker's discouraged testimony to General Land Office agents echoed Barnes' warning: "[the land] is rocky, brushy, gravelly, rough, mountainous [with] a few clumps of very small scrubby trees." The 595 acres not planted to forage crops supported a maximum herd of 30 cattle. [210]

Taylor Grazing Act

"Typical Western Ranch"

In the Valley is the Farm, With Its Alfalfa Fields and the Homes. The Foothills Above Furnish Water and Early Spring Range. The Summer Range is Found Higher Up in the Mountains."

[Barnes, Western Grazing Grounds and Forest Ranges, p. 83.]

By the 1930s, 50 million acres of western range land had been patented under the Enlarged Homestead and the Stockraising Homestead acts. Thirty-six million of these acres were ultimately abandoned, eleven million "acutely" depleted of grass and fertile soil. [211] The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 reversed the Stockraising Homestead Act and effectively ended the homestead era by placing all remaining public land under the control of the United States Grazing Service (renamed the Bureau of Land Management [BLM] in 1946). The grazing service, working with those local users assigned to management committees, initiated a program remarkably similar to that initiated by the Forest Service almost thirty years earlier: they restricted public access of the land, controlled the number of cattle and sheep units allowed per acre, and monitored the opening and closing dates of the range. Circa 1950, the BLM also initiated a program to reseed the range with crested wheatgrass. This reseeding program provided "early spring and early summer forage . . . reduced grazing on ranges that have suffered from improper seasonal intensity of use . . . [and] shortened the period of winter feeding." It also underscored the extent to which native vegetation encountered by the American Indians and the first cattle ranchers had been altered by grazing, and the dryland farmers' plow. [212]

While the local range has recovered substantially, the impact of the Taylor Grazing Act upon the agricultural community has been mixed:

. . . when the Taylor Grazing come in, why then you was limited to the amount of property that you owned, then you couldn't go out any further on the range and get anything like that, only just what your property there. Well there's nothing for them to go get. They stopped the homesteading so consequently, what could they do? Go in to town and go to work. [213]

It [protected some of the range] but in other ways it didn't do so good because the young fellow today without even a range right has no way of starting. In my time you buy a cow, you could turn on the range . . . I've been disgruntled about it a lot of times, but it does eliminate might over right... [214]

Growing Beef and Raising Wool

Range improvements on land adjacent to and within the City of Rocks generally included branding, counting, and separating corrals (located near springs or pasturage), developed springs/stock ponds, trails, salt grounds, range fence, and wild horse catch corrals. [215]

The pole catch corrals, one of which was located near Stable Rock within the City of Rocks, were constructed to catch the "ancient" wild horse bands that roamed through the City of Rocks: heirs of Bannock, Shoshone, and Emigrant stock. Bred with quarter horses, these animals "made real good cowboy horses." They also depleted valuable forage resources. Throughout the 1920s, Albion Mountain Division rangers reported "considerable trouble . . . with wild and practically worthless range horses." In the fall of 1928, the United States Forest Service and permittees removed over 3000 wild horses from the forest and surrounding foothills. [216]

Almo and Elba residents running cattle on the Minidoka National Forest between 1907 and 1918 included Henry Belnap; Chris Hansen; T. C. King; George Durfee; L. Hansen; A. & H. Jones; and William Tracy. In 1930-31, nine of the 23 men listed in the Almo Business Directory (Henry Belnap, J. J. Bruesch, E. D. Jones, J. D. Jones, William Jones, H. E. King, H. H. Taylor, John Ward, and Wallace Ward) identified themselves as "stockmen." Three men were dairy farmers, one a turkey farmer, and nine were employed in service industries. Only T. B. Ward professed a primary reliance upon sheep raising. Wool growers in the Elba vicinity were limited to the Ward Brothers, suggesting that raising cattle had retained its historic role as the area's economic mainstay. [217]

Commercial Hereford herds dominated the region until at least the 1950s, when "some" began to experiment with new mixed breeds and when the raising of purebred registered stock gained momentum. Upon releasing their cattle to the unfenced forest allotments, cattlemen were required to "do a certain amount of riding to secure proper distribution of cattle" and, during the spring, to steer the animals away from the poisonous and prevalent larkspur attractive to cattle in its tender spring phase. Melbert Taylor, who worked on the King and Eames ranch from the mid 1920s until 1940, remembered that he had to ride to the City of Rocks allotment at least once a week, to "push the cattle back" to their proper grazing grounds. Due to the rocky surface and steep slopes of much of the City of Rocks region, this riding was "difficult." Members of the local stock associations shared salting tasks and participated in the spring branding roundup. Despite this communal effort, ranching was hard work, year round. The winter of 1996, long-time rancher Jim Sheridan, age 78, recalled that his son "still lets me help out on the ranch; I still start each day with a flashlight and come in as it gets dark." [218]

By the 1990s, 20 local permittees grazed an estimated 504 animal units on 6,122 acres of public land within the boundaries of the City of Rocks National Reserve. Livestock also grazed on 6,791 acres of privately owned land incorporated within the Reserve. Cattle drives were kept to a minimum: ranches were located close to the forest and "stock are turned out and drift pretty much to the forest.... Stock come home in the fall and stockmen need ride only as is necessary to pick up stragglers." Within the immediate City of Rocks, cattle trails extended from Bread Loaf and Bathtub Rocks up the canyons, to the higher elevation fall range, and down to the home ranches that bordered the forest. Calves and "old cows" past their breeding years were trailed or trucked to local markets, or, beginning ca. 1960, sold to area feed lots. Breeding stock remained in the harvested pastures, where they were fed on that summer's hay crop. [219]

Between 1910 and 1918, sheepmen from the City of Rocks region included Thomas King, W. B. Ward, W. M. Ward, J.C. Ward, A. C. and David Hubbard, James Durfee, Lorenzo Durfee, R. J. Eames, Chris Hanson, John C. Richards, C. A. Sheridan, Mary Stephens, Jas. Taylor, S. E. Taylor, and Wells Hadfield. [220] These numbers had dropped substantially by the 1930s, when only the Wards identified themselves primarily as wool growers. Summer sheep trailing generally involved a two-person crew per band of 2000: one to herd, one to tend camp and travel between town and camp with supplies. Those who could afford to hired Basque or Chinese herders who spent the summers trailing the bands to forage, living in canvas-topped sheepwagons. For others, the job was a family affair, fulfilled by sons and inherited by daughters during the haying season when the men were occupied elsewhere. Sheepherders Peter and Dora Lind Johnston remembered that "they had no permanent home... Dora spent much of this time in the sheep camp, helping Pete with the sheep" and moving to town only when her three daughters reached school age. [221]

A typical 1916 southern Idaho sheep operation was stocked with cross-bred Merino, Lincoln, Cotswolds, Hampshire, or Shropshire sheep bred for maximum production of both mutton and wool. Bands of ewes and their lambs utilized Minidoka and Sawtooth National Forest range from mid-June until mid-September when they were trailed back to the home ranch. Here they were shipped to market or bred with registered rams, moved to "fall range" in the harvested fields, and then (by mid-December) to winter feed yards. By 1916, in contrast to earlier years, "very few" depended on public domain for winter grazing. Ranchers fed their animals until the conclusion of the lambing season, approximately April 15. After lambing, the bands were run on spring range until the May and June shearing season. "Shortly after shearing, the move into the Forest beg[an]." [222]

Shearing Sheep, ca. 1950

Verna Richardson: I wish you'd describe this sheep shearing process from the beginning to the end. What was the process in shearing those sheep? Who was involved?

Bertha McCuistion Kimber: Well, the process was to drive part of the band of sheep into the corral. Then they were separated by chutes, say, maybe thirty. The men would separate thirty sheep and drive them into a chute that was back of the platform where the shearers would shear their sheep.

Between the sheep and the shearers was a fence made of burlap bags. When the shearers had grabbed the sheep in the chute and pulled it out under his shearing machine, he would get the sheep in the position to shear. It was all electric. They used clippers on these sheep. When the sheep was sheared, he was put out toward the fence into a pen in the front of the sheds.

The fellow that was tying the fleeces would come and tie up that fleece into a bundle and take it and give it to the fellow that was loading them into the wool sack. That went on until it was time to eat. They'd have their dinner and go back and shear till night or if it rained they'd have to stop because they can't shear wet sheep.

The owner of the sheep would have his pot of paint. He would brand the sheep after they were sheared before they were turned back into another herd that was sheared. They never mixed the sheared ones with the unsheared ones until they were all sheared off.

The wool was all sacked and stacked in an area until it could be hauled to the freight depot at Lucin to be put on the train.

We'd hire the men, the shearers, the corral men and all the wranglers, as they were called, the fleece tiers, the wool sackers. The sheepmen would have to hire extra herders to herd their sheared bands as well as their unsheared ones. They'd have to do that. We fed them.

When we first started, we didn't have the electricity there to run the plant so they used to have to have an engine generate the power. We'd have to hire that. Usually I think it was Ted Kimber, and he'd rig up an engine on a truck he had. That generated the power to run all these shearers' things with.

[Bertha McCuistion Kimber, interviewed by Verna Richardson, October 5, 1974, pp. 28-29, Utah state Historical society Grouse Creek Oral History Project, Fife Folklore Center, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.]

For all but the smallest operations, the tasks of shearing and of lambing were shared with hired itinerant crews: "the sheep shearing crews [would] . . . start in California. There'd be a bunch of men, probably twenty of them, and then they'd just go from one outfit to another." These crews would have to be fed and housed, generally in sleeping tents. In the early years of the industry, sheep lambed on the open range: the costs of a high lamb mortality rate at least in part balanced by lower operating costs. By the 1910s, lambing crews (generally composed of Basque immigrants who had learned the trade in the sheep regions of their native Spain) operated out of large lambing sheds located on the home ranches. [223]

Oakley sheepman W. E. Johnson reported that wool buyers from the east would travel west to inspect and purchase wool. Cassia County lambs were shipped east "to Omaha, Chicago, St. Joe, Kansas City." [224]

Large range bands roamed the Raft River and Snake River bottoms until the 1950s, when synthetic fabric and changes in Americans' culinary tastes reduced the market for wool and mutton and when an invasion of the Halogeton plant killed large numbers of Raft River sheep. In the immediate City of Rocks vicinity, Bernus Ward of Almo reported that "in the past ten years [ca. 1935] many farmers have purchased small ranch herds, but none [has] gone into the raising of [sheep] extensively." [225] By 1979, "after less than a century of spirited activity," Idaho's range bands had "pretty much returned to the farm flock, except in the very sparsely settled areas." [226]

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Last Updated: 12-Jul-2004