I could’ve been a sheep rancher

When my wife and I moved to Atlanta from North Georgia in 1980, we were having trouble making ends meet. I suggested Montana.

What would I do there, she wondered. I said that I’d hire on at a sheep ranch and/or drive concessionaire busses trucks in Glacier National Park.

She didn’t think either of those jobs sounded like the real me. Plus, she had no intention of living in Montana.

As it turned out, I was writing a book about sheep ranching and had a folder filled with everything one needed to know to get started–or to stay solvent if one had already gotten started. Fortunately, I didn’t become a full-time sheep rancher: the Montana wool business has been in decline for years.

The more one looks into the ranching biz, the more one discovers there’s a lot of down-in-the-muck stuff going on that we never saw on “Fury” or “Bonanza.” I didn’t mention this to my wife.  Plus, Montana’s high range isn’t very hospitable to humans who grew up in the South. My wife already knew this so there was no way I could spin the weather situation.

She didn’t know that ewes, as Bill Stockton tells us, let gravity drop the new-born lambs out on the ground. Or, if that doesn’t work, they spin around and sling them out. This information was not in my wife’s “need to know” classification.

One thing I didn’t know at the beginning was that my wife’s allergic to wool. That much pretty scuttled the sheep rancher “dream.”


Several of my older novels are out of print, but my sheep rancher can still be found in “Mountain Song.” It is the tamest of my sheep books.

Briefly Noted: Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country

Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country, by Marsha L. Weisiger, Foreword by William Cronon, paperback (University of Washington Press, October 25, 2011), 418 pages.

From the Publisher: Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country offers a fresh interpretation of the history of Navajo (Diné) pastoralism. The dramatic reduction of livestock on the Navajo Reservation in the 1930s  –  when hundreds of thousands of sheep, goats, and horses were killed  –  was an ambitious attempt by the federal government to eliminate overgrazing on an arid landscape and to better the lives of the people who lived there. Instead, the policy was a disaster, resulting in the loss of livelihood for Navajos  –  especially women, the primary owners and tenders of the animals  –  without significant improvement of the grazing lands.

Awards: Winner of the Hal K. Rothman Award, the Norris and Carol Hundley Prize, the Caroline Bancroft Honor Prize, and the Gaspar Perez de Villagra Award

From the Reviewers: “While past accounts have either emphasized the view of the New Dealers or the Dine, Marsha Weisiger uses both fresh and refreshed data, adds layers of gender and ecological analyses, and brings a variety of interpretive lenses to this history. . . . Her work is the most comprehensive examination of this episode to date, and her use of interdisciplinary techniques to see an issue from a multitude of perspectives makes this book a new model for environmental history.” – Agricultural History  


FOREWORD: Sheep Are Good to Think With / William Cronon


PROLOGUE:  A View from Sheep Springs

1.  Counting Sheep
2.  Range Wars

3.  With Our Sheep We Were Created
4.  A Woman’s Place

5.  Herding Sheep
6.  Hoofed Locusts

7.  Mourning Livestock
8.  Drawing Lines on a Map
9.  Making Memories

EPILOGUE:  A View from the Defiance Plateau

See Also: Reviews in American Scientist and The American Indian Quarterly

A Journey from Sheep Ranch to Shakespeare