Old as the Old West

Craig's annual Sheep Wagon Days a blast from the past

Sheep wagons are as old as the Old West itself, and just as rugged.

Small as a tool shed, sporting a wood-burning stove and a bunk, these herding tools bring the very basics of civilization to the endless hills of sheep herding.

In 1884, a blacksmith named James Candlish set out to fashion a transportable living space for a sheep farmer. The end result hasn't changed much since.

Sheep wagons once again took prominent stage Thursday in Craig during the first day of the annual Sheep Wagon Days celebration.

For one local family, the Villards of Craig, the history with sheep wagons runs deep.

Not long after the sheep wagon was invented, a Frenchman named Felix Villard traveled to Utah and began herding.

Felix took sheep as pay, and in 1928, he moved just north of Craig near Black Mountain and began a ranch of his own.

Two generations later, his grandson, Albert Villard, began helping on the ranch in high school and eventually bought half of the ranch in 1992. Eight years later, when his father retired, Albert Villard took full control of the ranch.

Albert, with the help of a Peruvian herder, who lives out of a sheep wagon for three years at a time, manages more than 14,000 acres.

Albert said without the help of the hired hand, there would be no way to raise a family.

Albert makes a trip out to the wagon and herd every three days to replenish supplies and take a new list back to the market.

For a herder living out of a wagon, life is all about staying on the move.

"With sheep, you don't graze them in the same spot," Albert Villard said. "You continually move."

This summer, because of the dry conditions, he said a herd of about 750 mothers and lambs grazed 1,200 acres in five weeks, a job that usually takes two months.

Holding down the fort at home is Albert's wife, Melody Villard, who runs the Villard Bertique, a craft store on 2435 E. Victory Way.

The store doubles as the location of this year's Sheep Wagon Days. The wooly celebration offers several authentic sheep wagons, plenty of animals and vendors for visitors to see.

"It's good for the kids to come out and learn a little history, where stuff comes from," Albert said.

Sheep Wagon Days continues today and Saturday, with a special visit by long-time sheep rancher Clair Villard.

John Henry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or jhenry@craigdailypress.com.

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