For the week of October 7 thru October 13, 1998  

Trailing of the sheep

Express Staff Writer

sheep.jpg (34381 bytes)One hundred years in the making, the newly improved trailing of the sheep festival enlivens the towns of Ketchum and Hailey with a flurry of furry activities encompassing lectures, live animals, cooked animals, Basque dancing, story-telling, and what the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce is calling a "Cultural Sheep Fair."

The whole idea behind the festival, according to the chamber which describes the event as "America’s version of the running of the bulls," is to educate local resident and visitors about the history of the sheep industry in Idaho and the role of the modern sheep rancher and herders.

So, starting on Sunday at noon and running until 4 p.m. at Roberta McKercher Park, residents can take in demonstrations by regional folk artists working with wool – carding, spinning and weaving; shearing sheep and herding sheep with stock dogs, reciting "woolly verse," and making sheepherders bread. The Basque dinner that for the past 48 years has been served at St. Charles Church will happen here, too. As will a booth brought to you by the Idaho Wool Growers with sheepskin items and cookbooks.

This is definitely a case where you can have your sheep and eat them, too.

Celtic and country music comes by way of the Boulder Brothers, and Boise’s Oinkari Basque dancers from Boise will perform traditional dance.

There will be a display of sheep wagons and sheep camps including those owned by St. Charles and local photographer Steve Snyder. Snyder will also give a speech and present an exhibit of his black and white photographs of sheep, herders and herding in the valley.

And if you want more, both the Blaine County Museum in Hailey and the Sun Valley/Ketchum Heritage & Ski museums will open in the afternoons on Sunday and Monday.

Sunday night, the action moves to the Community Library in Ketchum for a 5:30-7 p.m. reception replete with lamb hors d’oeuvres, lecture, historical exhibit and storytelling session on the history and practices of sheep outfits in Blaine County.

Former senator John Peavey of the Flat Top Sheep Company, who runs one of the oldest sheep ranches in the region, will lead the discussion. Longtime local area residents are invited to participate in an open session of story-telling and picture sharing, to share memories of what the area used to be like when it was more of a sheep capital than destination ski resort.

Peavey will chronicle the three generations of his family’s sheep ranching. He’ll talk about the incorporation of the Laidlaw sheep ranch into Flat Top and about Laidlaw, who was one of the early Scots to run sheep in Blaine County. He is credited with developing the Panama sheep breed and bringing Suffolk sheep to Idaho.

After the library program, the community’s invited to take part in a lamb dine-around enjoying special lamb dishes at the Baldy Base Club, Warm Springs Ranch and Felix’s.

All this is just a prologue to the main event – sheep herding on the highway with hundreds of sheep moving down Main Street in Ketchum then south through the valley alongside Highway 75.

Trailing orientation begins Monday at 8 a.m. at Big Wood Bread with the actual march down Main beginning at 9 a.m. from Saddle Road to Serenade Drive. The trailing, which provides an opportunity for residents to talk to herders and sheep ranching families along the way, will occur as it has for nearly 100 years.

On Tuesday, the sheep bands will head south from mid-valley toward Hailey, and local area fourth-graders, who are studying Idaho history, will trail along with the sheep to learn more.

It was Peavey and his wife Diane Josephy Peavey, who is this year’s festival coordinator, who began the Trailing of the Sheep event informally in the early 1990s.

Other events, a gallery walk on Saturday from 6 - 9 p.m. and a special presentation by performing historian Clark Heglar of Bob "Two Gun" Limbert one of Idaho’s most colorful historical characters at the Community Library on Thursday at 7 p.m., are also planned. [See related stories].

For more information on the event, contact the chamber at 726-3423.



A little history


From 1881 to 1917, the sheep ranching industry boomed in Ketchum. Many say it was second only to Sydney, Australia, as the sheep shipping capital of the world. Over the years, several million sheep have trailed through the valley and have been shipped from various points along the railway. The sheep drive way, which parallels the railroad in many places, is still maintained. Sheepherders today still trail their sheep through the Wood River Valley during their annual migrations to and from summer pastures in the northern mountains, and in October 1997 the first annual "Trailing of the Sheep" celebration was held.


The Wood River Valley also saw a new influence of immigrant, the Basque, who tended most sheep in the area. From the area of north central Spain and southwestern France where the Bay of Biscay meets the western range of the Pyrenees mountains, the Basques arrived in southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon in the late 1880s to herd sheep and work in mines and timber. In a few years, many Basques formed their own sheep and cattle businesses while others moved to cities and towns and took up a wide variety of jobs. Basque women and children came to Idaho as soon as the men were well established. Young men continued to come, usually starting their lives in America as herders. The largest concentration of Basque people in the U.S. is in southern Idaho.



 Back to Front Page
Copyright 1998 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.