Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sheep losers in battle over grazing land

The Oregon Woolgrowers’ Association came to Pendleton in September 1902 for its annual convention, with 50 members from all sections of the state attending the meeting. Among the attendees was E.F. Day, one of the largest sheep owners in Morrow county, whose story in the Sept. 16 edition of the East Oregonian highlighted the range wars between sheepmen and others needing grazing land for their animals.

Day reported that he had 2,400 yearling ewes on summer range on Greenhorn Mountain near Susanville in August of 1902. Early in the morning of the 27th, a dozen men with their faces blackened came into the camp just before breakfast. Some held the camp tender and shepherd at gunpoint while others started shooting into the herd, killing or wounding 30 ewes. The men then told Day’s employees to move the sheep off the range immediately before disappearing.

As soon as the men were gone, the camp tender rode into Susanville to report the attack to Day by telephone. He noticed several men in town who still had traces of lamp black on their faces.

Day rode to the camp four days later, and minutes after he arrived the herder ran into camp to say a large number of men had surrounded the sheep. Before Day could reach the herd the shooting began, and only when he told the vigilantes he was moving the sheep immediately did they cease firing. At least 300 sheep were killed during the second incident, and many more were wounded and had to be put down.

The sheep grower posited that the guilty parties were miners wanting the grazing land for their pack horses. He added, “As yet, the officers seem to have made little or no effort to apprehend the guilty parties.”

Throughout Eastern Oregon the story was the same for many years, and not just sheep paid with their lives. Shepherds and their dogs also were killed when owners dug in their heels and refused to give way to cattle and other livestock. And sheep required a lot of land — in 1901 nearly 4 million sheep covered the ranges, according to C.J. Millis, general livestock agent of the O.R. & N. Company, which transported local wool and meat to buyers across the U.S.

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