By Harold Fuller
The sheep industry was flourishing in this area during the late 1800 and early 1900 hundreds. Sheepherders ran their bands on the excellent summer grazing range of mountains which included Mt. Brawley at 9,557 foot elevation, Mt. Beauty – 8,977, Mt. Hicks – 9,373, Corey Peak – 10,520 and Mt. Grant with an elevation of 11,303 feet.
Hawthorne proved to be an economic plus for the sheep men when they brought their sheep here and the roachers cut the fleece and shipped it out to market via the Carson Colorado Railroad to San Francisco or the eastern markets. They generally processed about 25,000 head of sheep annually. There was also a demand for mutton in the interior mining camps of the state. As an example, lambs might be shipped to Luning on the railroad and then hauled by wagons to Grantsville or Ione in order to grace a miners table. Citizens of Candelaria, Belleville, Sodaville and Columbus were pretty steady consumers of mutton as well.
The sheep sheds in Hawthorne were located just northwest of the old Courthouse and on occasion the sheep roachers were strongly “requested” to stop squatting on county property. Seems that occasionally one had to compete with part of the herd to get into the courthouse.
It might be noted that a good roacher of the period, using the old type hand shears, was expected to do 100 sheep per day at generally a nickel a head, if he drew too much blood he had to quickly improve or seek another line of work. After the sheep were shorn they were dipped and branded. The dipping was just that, total immersion into a brew of sulfur, tobacco, assorted herbs and medication calculated to primarily to kill ticks, lice and parasites and treat skin disorders. The dipping vat was a long, narrow trough, about four foot deep and 20 foot long with a cleated ramp at each end and it was filled with this concoction and they were forced to take a reluctant bath. After being allowed to dry then they were branded, in a way much less harsh than cattle, they were dobbed with paint, a different color for each year, which would last until the next shearing, unless they found their way to the dinner table first.
It might also be noted that the sheep crews faced two more spring chores, which were generally preformed before reaching Hawthorne and this was called docking. For sanitary and reproductive reasons lambs were relieved of all but one or two inches of their tails when about ten days old, and this was followed up by the final operation, also called docking, which entailed converting most of the male lambs into wethers by castrating them.
This was done for two reasons, to produce better mutton and to improve the breed by insuring that the ewes were bred with the best rams.
The most practical method for removing a lamb’s testicles called for the herder to extract them with his teeth. Though seemingly bizarre, the method was, more precise than a single swipe of a knife and insured the withdraw of connecting cords. This was an old world practice and the skill was looked upon as a proof of professionalism.