Sunday, January 06, 2008
A Sunday book review....
Do you like to browse the shelves of your library, pretending to be shopping in a book store? I do. Book stores are a good two hours away from me, although there is now a new used book store only an hour and 20 minutes away now. I'll have to go sometime. Well......upon "shopping" in my local library one day, my hands ran across this little gem, Golden Fleece by Hughie Call.
Hughie Call was born and raised a city girl in Texas and married a western Montana sheep rancher back in the 1920's. The story begins when Hughie, a new bride, arrives in the Madison River Valley of Montana to her new home. There she finds no running water, no electricity, wood heat and and she's a long, long way from civilization as she once knew it. She knew absolutely nothing of ranching, but she just plunged in, willing to learn.
Hughie beautifully and articulately walks us through a life that very few people know anything about these days. Life on a sheep ranch has not changed too very much today and so her knowledge of it seems just as pertinent today as it was back then. Sheep are sheep and they still need to be fed, watered, sheared, bred and lambed, however back 70 years or so ago, it was a little bit different when sheep herders lived alone with their dogs and were housed in sheep wagons with wood heat and enough groceries to last out the week. A herder's only job was to herd the sheep, in this case, approximately 1500 ewes per man. His job was to keep the sheep moving to fresh pastures and water, to keep a watchful eye over them, protecting them from coyotes, bear and even magpies. He had to pay attention to the weather to prevent the sheep from drifting off in high winds or snow when they might pile up and die.
Sheep wagon, a compact house on wheels, 1952. A good sheep herder moved his flock to new grazing every four to six weeks. One herder with a good dog could handle 2,500 sheep.
Hughie learned how to live as a ranch wife -- hiring cooks to keep her hired men well-fed and contented; driving supply trucks out to the herders; she learned to lamb the ewes; to tent a nervous, young ewe and her lamb to keep them together; she used a party-line telephone, listening in when necessary; she was a supportive wife to her husband amidst sickness, falling sheep prices and a depression; she brought a little class to a rough lifestyle by planting a lawn and flowers and by encouraging her neighbors to do the same (to many a husband's dismay); she learned to ride horseback despite her bouncing technique; she raised a family where schools were distant, roads were rutted and the weather so unpredictable that she had to take on the job of "teacher" herself for several years. She learned to truly love the life of a wool grower.
If you have any desire to learn about the way of life on a large sheep ranch, you will glean aplenty with Hughie's book, Golden Fleece, in hand. As a transplant into a sheep and cattle ranch myself, I could relate completely and sympathetically with Hughie and felt a deep kindred spirit with her. Just a note.....her books are hard to find.