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For the week of Oct. 13, 1999 through Oct. 19, 1999

Trailing of the Sheep Festival keeps valley tradition alive


By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer

o13cov250x168.jpg (19136 bytes)Tradition. That is what Trailing of the Sheep is all about. Record crowds turned out for the weekend celebration of the area's sheep industry and culture. A band of sheep trot down Ketchum's Main Street to the delight of onlookers. ( Express photo by Willy Cook)

Perhaps sensing the inevitability of progress and the loss of tradition that often accompanies it, record crowds lined Ketchum’s Main Street on Sunday to catch a glimpse of history at the Trailing of the Sheep event.

The appearance of a band of sheep on Main Street was the culmination of last weekend’s festival, a celebration of the century-old sheep industry and its culture that has woven itself into the fabric of modern day Wood River Valley.

Festival founder Diane Peavey, who started the event with her husband John in the early 1990s, said that in a time when the valley is experiencing tremendous growth, the running of the sheep is a way to keep people connected with the past and to preserve the valley’s rural history.

"The Trailing of the Sheep Festival is a way for families in the sheep industry to share their experiences with newcomers to the valley so they have a sense of the community they live in," Peavey said in an interview.

In the late 1860s, John Hailey brought the first sheep into the Wood River Valley at a time when there was said to be 14,000 sheep in all of Idaho. As the mining boom faded in the valley, the sheep industry began to play a larger role in the economy of the area.

In 1918, there were as many as 2.6 million sheep statewide. The Wood River Valley was second only to Sidney, Australia as the sheep center capital of the world.

However, over the years, depressed prices, restrictions on grazing lands and the use of synthetic fabrics forced many families out of the sheep industry. Today there are less than 285,000 sheep in Idaho.

The men and women of Faulkner Land and Livestock hosted this year’s Trailing of the Sheep, carrying on a family tradition dating back to 1945 when the Faulkners first shipped lambs out of Ketchum.

The family began moving sheep through the Wood River Valley in 1959. Bands of sheep travel north in the summer to high mountain pastures and return south in the fall to pastures in California and Arizona.

The Trailing of the Sheep Festival also included the voices of third-generation herders and tales of tradition brought to life in storytelling sessions at the Community Library in Ketchum. According to Carrol Waller, Ketchum-Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director, the storytelling event attracted capacity crowds to the library.

"It was so neat to see all these old timers who have been involved in the sheep industry for so many years and the people’s interest in the stories they had to tell," Waller said.

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A sheep rancher demonstrates the art of sheep shearing at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival in Hailey. (Express photo by Willy Cook)

The sheep Folklife Fair at Roberta McKercher Park in Hailey saw a cultural celebration of the ancient nomadic way of life. The fair included a sheep herding display by border collies, sheep shearing demonstrations and history exhibits highlighted by Basque and Peruvian folk musicians and dancers.

According to Waller, this year’s Trailing of the Sheep Festival was a big success with about 2,000 spectators taking part in both the procession down Ketchum’s Main Street and the Folklife Fair in Hailey.

"The fact that sheep are still trailing through a town in today’s modern world makes the Trailing of the Sheep Festival a very unique event in the West," Waller said. "The reason the event was started was to educate people about the rich history and tradition of the Wood River Valley as the community develops and grows."

 

 

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