Book review

“The Woolly West: Colorado’s Hidden History of Sheepscapes,” by Andrew Gulliford, Texas A&M University Press, 2018, 420 pages, $40

Settling the West is often associated with cattle and cattlemen. Overlooked is a second, important stock-raising industry: sheepherding.

“The Woolly West: Colorado’s Hidden History of Sheepscapes,” by Andrew Gulliford, fixes that.

The book examines the sheep industry in the West, from its origins in Spanish America through the present. While Gulliford’s focus is Colorado (especially Western Colorado), he also examines other sheep-raising regions of the West: New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Cattle and the cowboy captured the American imagination. Sheep and shepherds usually fell outside Western legend. Gulliford explores the major reasons for that difference. He shows this was partly due to the nature of the two industries. Cattle were kept by men on horseback, who worked in teams to herd cattle. It was a social activity. Sheep were raised by individual shepherds, who used packs of dogs to herd sheep. It was a solitary activity.

Shepherds were generally those willing to undergo long isolation. They kept apart from society. While cowboys were Anglo, part of mainstream, sheep were herded by outsiders: Hispanics and Basque and Greek immigrants.

Gulliford relates the interaction between cattle raising and sheepherding. The two industries were like children on a teeter-totter. When one was up, the other was down. This often led to conflict, including range wars between cowboys and shepherds. Gulliford presents the compromises the two groups eventually reached.

Gulliford also looks at how sheepherding changed the West. It altered the vegetation of the lands grazed by sheep, and even the physical terrain. He also looks at the rise of the environmental movement and its effects on sheep-raising and the shepherds.

Gulliford intersperses each chapter with a “sheepscape” — an intermission in his history where he traces his personal interactions with sheep herders past and present. In them he documents his own research and musings. These include explorations of the traces left by past generations of herders and conversations with current sheep raisers or descendants from sheep-raising families.

“The Woolly West” is a fascinating study about a neglected part of American history. Gulliford captures something forgotten yet important to the heritage of the West.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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