Local sheep industry has had brutal and bloody confrontations
By the 1890s, sheepmen from Utah and Wyoming were beginning to see that Northwest Colorado could be a profitable place for their flocks.
The summers offered lush grasses and browse with plenty of room for the thousands of woolies to feed and grow.
But, as the pressure from sheep grew, many of the cattlemen in the area began to resent the intrusions on land that they considered theirs to use exclusively. They tried to set boundaries to keep the “mountain maggots” from their grazing lands, and sometimes the confrontations became brutal and bloody.
Most of the flocks wintered in Wyoming or Utah, and as they trailed through Northwest Colorado, they were not a popular site.
By 1915, the Forest Service had intervened to settle most of the disputes between the cattlemen and sheep producers.
Large permanent flocks began to come into the region and it soon was discovered that lambs raised on the excellent feeds of Northwest Colorado “attained a high reputation, making 15 to 20 pounds more weight at weaning than in nearby Wyoming and Utah. One of their leading producers, Moroni Smith, made a booster’s trademark for Routt and Moffat counties from the soot which accumulated on the fleeces while the lambs were traversing the Moffat Tunnel en route to market.” (America’s Sheep Trails, Edward Norris Wentworth, 1948).
The government’s help made a difference, but it didn’t stop the hostilities totally.
In winter 1915, George Woolley, of Craig, left his flock of 120 ewes in the care of his hired boy when he went to Denver on the new Moffat Road railroad.
One night during his absence, several men came to the corrals where the sheep were bedded down and clubbed them to death. The only survivor of the massacre was the Woolleys’ daughter’s pet lamb.
Despite the threats and violence, several of the largest producers in the region made their way to Moffat County from Utah.
The Winder family became one of those sheep outfits, moving a permanent base to the Yampa Valley.
During the year that the Winders made their transition to Colorado in 1920, the destruction of flocks had reached a point that Colorado Governor Shoup sent in the militia to protect the sheepmen and their animals as they trailed to summer pasture around Morapos Creek.
“Also that spring cattlemen attacked a sheep camp on Blue Mountain and drove (1,200) head over a cliff, killing both owner and herder. At that time the Winders were driving (2,200) head into the district from Price, Utah. A telegram sent to their Salt Lake City office threatened similar rim-rocking if they persisted in advancing.
“Seven well-known cattle operators signed the message – one of them a leading horse breeder and another, later, a prominent federal official. Although the Winders passed the carcasses of the ‘rim rocked’ flock, their advance guard was watchful, and they reached the new range safely.” (Ibid)
The Winder family members were early Utah pioneers who were well known as some of the first sheep producers in that state. Their operations spread to Idaho and Nevada. Their Utah-Colorado Land and Livestock Co. was composed of R.H. Winder and his sons G. Norman and Leo.
“These three men continued the corporation, and in the spring of 1920, extended their operations into Colorado, purchasing the John Kitchings ranch north of Hayden and running sheep on their new holdings.” (Craig Empire-Courier, Dec. 31, 1947)
In 1924, the Winders expanded their Colorado lands when they bought the extensive Two Bar Cattle Co., which had holdings on Snake River and in Routt County. In 1938, their original corporation was dissolved and they re-formed under two new companies.
” One of these partnerships consists of G. N(orman) Winder and his sister, Mrs. Florence Cassidy, while the other is that of his mother, Mrs. R. H. Winder and his brother, Leo Winder. Mr. Winder (Norman) and Mrs. Cassidy are now among the largest wool growers in the state.” (Craig Empire-Courier, ibid)
As the years progressed, some of the next generation of Winders joined in the ranch operation and cattle were added.
They also became involved in oil production.
They were well known in national sheep, wool and other agricultural organizations and were also active members of the Craig and Hayden communities. Norman was instrumental in the formation of a corporation of area woolgrowers who built the Craig Wool Warehouse that can store as much as 2 million pounds of wool next to the rail spur built especially for that warehouse.
As so often happens in family businesses, the time came when the younger generations had interests other than sheep ranching.
Norman Winder left Northwest Colorado in the mid-1950s and his son, John R., took over his ranching operations around the Two Bar Ranch until his death on his birthday in 1977. Leo was killed when his automobile was struck by a train in 1940. His son, Richard, operated the ranch until 1972 when he sold his property to Vail Associates.
The sheep industry continues to flourish in Northwest Colorado today as thousands of sheep are birthed, shorn, pastured in and shipped from the vast expanses of our region.
Shannan Koucherik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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