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For the week of October 11 through 17, 2000

Local history’s sheep link

By Greg Stahl
Express Staff Writer

Photo by Willy Cook

It’s been over 100 years since sheep ranchers first brought the wool-laden critters to the Wood River Valley, but sheep ranching is a way of life that continues here to this day.

This weekend, from Friday through Sunday, the Wood River Valley will celebrate its woolly heritage in the fourth annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival, culminating on Sunday when a moving carpet of wool will embark on its journey southward via Ketchum’s Main Street.

The weekend, according to the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce, which is organizing the event, is designed to "highlight the unique sheep ranching heritage and history of the Wood River Valley."

John Hailey brought the first sheep to the Wood River Valley in the late 1860s. At that time, Idaho had a sheep population of 14,000. As the mines dried up in the Wood River Valley, the sheep industry helped to fill the economic void that was left.

By 1890, there were 614,000 sheep in Idaho. In 1918 that number totaled close to 2.65 million, almost six times the state’s human population.

During the early 1900s, thousands of lambs were shipped by railroad from Picabo, Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum to markets around the West. The area was a major sheep center worldwide, second only to Sydney, Australia.

When the Sun Valley resort opened its doors in December 1936, Ketchum sheepherder Jack Lane’s mercantile business on the corner of Sun Valley Road and Main Street served as a sheep center, where ranchers congregated and swapped stories about prices and the weather. The building still stands in the center of Ketchum’s (though it’s now a Starbucks), and should be an excellent viewing spot when sheep trail through town Sunday.

As they have since the early part of the century, sheep still migrate north each spring from the Snake River plain of southern Idaho, traveling in bands of close to 1,500, through the Wood River Valley to high mountain, summer pastures.

The traditional route takes the sheep up Highway 75 through newly populated, residential areas and the towns of Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum. Some continue their journey over Galena Summit into the Sawtooth Valley.

In the fall, the animals retrace the trail south to desert pastures, and it is that return migration the valley celebrates as the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.

In 1997, the Wood River Valley began the tradition of honoring the history and heritage of sheep ranching in the region through the festival that will culminate in this year’s celebration, the fourth annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival.

Sheep calendar

Friday, Oct. 13

Sheep Poetry Readings
The Lane Mercantile Building (a.k.a. Starbucks) at the corner of Sun Valley Road and Main Street in Ketchum at 7:30 p.m.

Festival Gallery Walk
Open receptions at Sun Valley and Ketchum area galleries from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 14

Sheep Folklife Fair
Roberta McKercher Park in Hailey from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The fair will include: sheep wagon displays, sheep shearing, sheep herding, spinning and weaving demonstrations, Oinkari Basque dancers, Gaupasa Basque folk musicians, Boise Highlanders (bagpipers and drummers), Boulder Brothers Celtic and country music, Peruvian musicians, traditional Basque games, St. Charles Basque lamb barbecue, Idaho Wool Growers wool shop, Basque games, Sheep wagon photography display and children’s activities.

Sheep Tales Gathering
The Community Library on Spruce Ave. in Ketchum.

Two sessions featuring stories and memories of sheep history in the Wood River Valley. The public is invited to bring sheep photos and stories to share.


Sheepherders’ Ball
American Legion Hall on Cottonwood Street in Ketchum at 9 p.m.

In the Basque tradition, enjoy music, dancing, friends and refreshments.

Sunday, Oct. 15

Trailing of the Sheep Parade
Main Street, Ketchum, at noon.

Trail the sheep down Ketchum’s Main Street with sheep ranching family members and herders. The parade includes Oinkari Basque dancers, the Boise Highlanders and historic sheep wagons (no dogs, please.).

Sheepherder Hike
North of Ketchum in Neal Canyon from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

A guided walk to view original sheepherder tree carvings.


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