Baxter Black: On the Edge of Common Sense 10-3-11
For those of you to whom the word “sheep camp” conjures up a pastoral, nostalgic, even romantic vision of shepherds watching over their flocks by night, I suspect you’ve never slept in one!
Sheep camp, in the real world of shepherding, is the wagon where you sleep, live and eat. It looks like a small covered wagon. A round top on a box. There is a built-in-bed with storage underneath. There is a small stove-heater propane unit and a drop-down kitchen cabinet behind. A lantern provides light. The roof could be canvas or sometimes fitted tin. The wagon has four tires and a tongue and is usually hauled or pulled to the grazing area. In it’s heyday, the mid 1900s, sheep camps were as common and handy as Airstream motor homes! It was the best of years for the sheep business.
I worked in the ION country (southern Idaho, western Oregon, northern Nevada) in the 70s near the end of good times for sheep business. I worked for an outfit that ran 20,000 sheep on the high desert sagebrush. In the summer the herd would be divided into bands of 2,000-3,000. One man with his sheep camp, dogs and a saddle mule or horse would watch over his band. He would keep moving them to good forage and try to protect them from predators. When it was needed, he would hook up his horse and drag his camp to a new location. The boss would drive in with the supplies, including water, at least once a week, maybe more. These were self-sufficient, hard-working immigrants, often Basques from Spain. Over the years I watched the Basque improve their lot and be replaced by South Americans. In Wyoming, I have known of white American sheepherders, but that was uncommon. So, suffice it to say the kind of person who is fit to that life and can do it well, has to be a no-frills kind of person.
Fast-forward to the sheep business in the U.S. today. We import our lamb from Australia, we no longer subsidize the eco-friendly natural resource wool, and we have posted a mountain of regulations protecting predators, wildlife, grazing land and the New Zealand sheepherders.
Now this year the Department of Labor has taken it upon itself to write an official sheepherder job description and other requirements, with the object of restricting the hiring of “foreign shepherds.” These regulations assure that hiring foreign workers won’t deprive any of the 14 million unemployed able-bodied Americans, of a job.
My question is, what able-bodied, evicted, food-stamped, credit-revoked, receiving government checks, American standing in the unemployment line today, is going to apply for an outdoor job on Blizzard Mountain, Idaho, where you are on call 24 hours a day, know how to bed down 1,800 sheep, can identify Halogeton, and castrate lambs with his (or her) teeth? Maybe before we pile any more regulations on the overburdened handful of sheep men left, the Secretary of Labor should spend a night on Blizzard Mountain in a sheep camp with a box of matches, a roll of Downy and a shaker of louse powder. I think he would be assured there is no real danger of foreign workers depriving our “nanny state” privileged citizens of proper employment.
Beside any Americans that would make good sheepherders are already at work on the Great Northern Gas Fields, Iraqi pipelines, and Afghanistan security patrols. Like I said, it takes a no-frills kind of person. v
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This the first in a six-part series of articles covering basic water law in the United States, predominately in the western part of the country, and how it affects this finite resource.