Former Craig resident defends Peroulis family, employee allegations
May 2, 2001
To the Editor;
One of my old Craig friends faxed me the Associated Press story on the Peroulis sheep herding settlement. I had already read the story that appeared in the Denver duo newspapers recently. I’ve been intrigued with the story since it broke last Fall.
I spent most of my youth living on my parent’s ranch at the Yampa river bridge between Lay and Axial, part of the official designated sheep trail from the winter pasture in Brown’s Park to the summer pasture in the high country of the Routt and White River forests.
Many a Spring morning I would awaken to hear laughing, cussing, and friendly conversation coming from the kitchen. The bands of sheep would start in early spring.
Livestock people, both sheep and cattle have one thing in common, they all rise very early in the morning. The sheepherders would start their herds moving while the cool morning air kept the sheep cool. About this same time of year, the shearing pens South of Lay Creek were busy with crews shearing tons of wool from the warmly laden animals. The cold winter nights and high altitude of Moffat County made the Craig wool warehouse the number one wool shipping site in America. Corky Smith and Al Martin shipped hundreds of rail cars of wool to the East coast mills from Craig.
The Cosgriff Bar was lively with John R. Winder, Gordon Winn, and a slew of sheep men wheeling and dealing with wool buyers from major mills who would make it to Craig’s famed Cosgriff Hotel.
But back to early morning breakfast at the Sweeney ranch during the spring sheep drive to the high country. The sheep would back up at the river bridge and it was always hard for the herders to make them cross the bridge, but cross they did. While the sheep trailed up the long fenced land the sheep owners visited our house for breakfast and coffee.
Bren Sullivan, Louis Visintainer, Paul Jensen, Jim Papulous, Harry Kourlis, were just a few of the names I recall of those who would stop by the ranch for an annual visit, morning, noon or night.
During this spring ritual we would see stray ewes and lambs strangling along for days, lost from their herd to rejoin the next band of sheep or to become dinner for the coyotes. The black sheep were mixed in with the white sheep so herders could easily count the black sheep to see if they still had all of their band. If they were missing a black sheep it meant that they were missing at least a 100 sheep. I didn’t learn all the lingo but there was a lot of chewing tobacco that passed over the bridge.
I never heard of a starving sheepherder who was surrounded by thousands of young tender lambs, flour, a fire and black skillet. It was a lonely type of existence and herders had to adjust to living alone with their horses, dogs and rifle.
The Peroulis family have been pillars of the Craig community during my lifetime. John and Kate couldn’t be finer citizens and the same for the boys. The Greek citizens in Craig have made huge contributions to the success of the Craig community and John and his family have been in the forefront of Moffat County history.
I’m saddened by the misunderstanding with the foreign herders and the modern news media. The age old methods, customs, and traditions of sheep herding, their care and feeding, have apparently changed with the modern ways of America. Most of the sheepherders in Moffat County fended for themselves, they filled their water cans from rivers and streams, they butchered a lamb for fresh meat or maybe shot a buckskin for a little variety in their menu. With a sack of flour, some potatoes, some dried rice and beans a herder could spend days, weeks, or months living in the sheep camp. His job was to protect the herd, keep them from wandering off, and fight off the predators. I don’t think it was ever about the convenience of the sheepherder from day one.
It was common practice to protect the herders when they finally made it to the White Horse Inn and caring stock men sometimes kept their money in safety until the week long drunk was over. Many ranch workers would buy their new leather gloves, Levis and boots knowing that within a few days their winter pay would be spent on one big continuous stroll through Craig’s friendly bars.
I would wager that the Peroulis family treated their herders well enough and expected them to do a little bit of work for themselves. But herders from South America maybe haven’t enjoyed the vastness of the great American West that still exists around Craig.
Sheepherders do suffer from loneliness, boredom, weather, the darkness and maybe the boss and his sons who didn’t come to camp today, or this week. The bread might have molded, the milk soured, the grapefruit turned brown, but I would guess the great problem wasn’t the treatment from the Peroulis family, but the difference in cultures, the vastness of the area, the loneliness of being the only light at night for as far as the eye can see. Very few people live in or have experienced the remoteness of Moffat County livestock country.
I see that the Peroulis family must prepare a handbook on how to treat foreign workers as part of a settlement with the U.S. government.
How I would like to write that book for them.
How about starting the early morning with some Starbuck coffee, eggs benedict at 8 a. m. and maybe some portable television for the morning news. We could airlift some newspapers from the Craig airport by Jerry Thompson and Ross Evans, if they would fly in the same plane together. I wonder if Chuck Cobb is available for golf lessons along the trail? Does Delphi Martinez sell Perrier water by the case? Maybe the herders would have a computer and be on the Internet all the way to Peru, it would be possible you know.
My imagination is running rampant at this point on what we could put in this booklet for the United States government to know about the care and feeding of sheepherders in Northwest Colorado.
I believe that the new booklet should be produced by the Craig Kiwanis Club annual play to really give this book the justice that it truly deserves.
My best wishes to the community, the local sheep industry and when I tire of living in Denver I’m going to apply to Peroulis and Company for a sheep herding position, but only after I write the new book titled, “A Sheepherder’s Manual.”
Most of the early Greek sheepherders now own much of the County where they worked as emigrants. They learned to fond for themselves, worked hard, took care of their livestock, paid their taxes, and raised good families that cared for the land and their livestock. They would expect the same from newcomers to this country. I believe that the allegations against the Peroulis family were largely baloney. If anything, it was a matter of attempting to teach people how to exist and to take care of animals properly.
I’ll work for John and Kate even without the book, you should to!