Going With The Sheep
The sheep camp was hitched to the back of the pickup, the sheep were in the holding pen. I sat astride “Old Zeke” eagerly awaiting to hit the trail. He was a tired old black with bony hips, a sway back and ribs wrinkling his hide, but he was a good kid pony.
One of my childhood memories from the 1940s is going with Dad on the “sheep drives.” Before he sold his livestock and concentrated on raising just field crops, he had a small flock of sheep consisting of about 100 head. He had two drives every year—spring and fall. I never did know for sure why he had these drives. I suspect it was because his flock was too small to afford a full time herder on the summer range, so he made arrangements with ranchers who had full bands (1000 head) to run his sheep with their herds during the summer. It was his responsibility, however, to get his little flock to the summer range where they would join up with the bigger bands. I usually went on the spring drive because school would be out by the time sheep were allowed on the summer range. When they came off in the fall, school had taken up again, so I wasn’t able to go.
These drives usually lasted two or three days. Our little crew consisted of four people and a sheep dog. Dad and I, one other hand, and the sheep dog borrowed from one of the ranchers drove the sheep. The other hired hand followed along pulling the sheep camp behind the pickup. Sheep camps were pretty close quartered, with not much room for more than a couple of people. A double bed, a little fold down table, the little camp cook stove, and a tiny cabinet took up most of the room. Dad and I slept in the sheep camp; the hired hands slept out under the stars in their bedrolls.
There are two incidents that occurred on these drives that stick out in my mind; my experience with the wood tick, and the salted coffee. After being on the trail all day, one of the nighttime rituals before going to bed was the examination for ticks. Dad had me strip to my birthday suit for this, and sure enough, one night we found one of the buggers, his head buried in one of the soft skin parts of my anatomy (I’ll not elaborate exactly where, but I bet you can guess) and by the time we discovered him, he was pretty swelled up from extracting what must have been a large quantity of blood from my small seven year old body.
My first inclination was to get that ugly thing off my person as quickly as possible, and I started to do just that. Luckily, Dad grabbed my hand in time to stop me before I had done something foolish. “When a tick is embedded that deep,” he told me, “you don’t just grab a hold and pick him off. If you do,” he said, “you’ll likely leave his stinger behind, and that could cause you to become very ill.” The malady feared in those days was Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I don’t think we had even heard of Lime Disease at that time.
My mother, in her good wisdom, sent a couple of her sewing needles with Dad for just such an occasion. He heated it in the stove until it was good and hot and jammed it into the head of the tick, which luckily for me, made it let go. Dad was able to remove it intact. I’m also told that saturating them with turpentine works well too. That was the one and only time in my life I’ve ever found a tick stuck to my body.
Now, the salted coffee caper. If you who have ever drunk “Sheepherder Coffee,” or “Cowboy Coffee,” as it’s sometimes called, you know that it is noted for being quite stout, but not so stout as to overcome the rigors of salt. We were sitting around the campfire one evening eating our supper when it was noted we’d forgot to bring the sugar out from the sheep camp. Dad sent me to fetch it. He told me it was in a coffee can. I found the can, opened it, saw the white stuff inside and assumed I had the right can. He hadn’t told me that he had packed both sugar and salt in coffee cans, so it never entered my mind to taste it. I took it back outside and we all proceeded to doctor our coffee with the white granules. It didn’t take but a few seconds before coffee was being spewed on the ground. I doubt I have to describe the expressions on everyones’ faces when they tasted their coffee. I think you get the picture.
If you enjoy nostalgia, why not click on the free download button at upper right of this page and get your free copy(while they last) of the prologue and first three chapters of Buddy…His Trials and Treasures.