Just Take Them Sheep Right on Outta Here

Texans are resilient. They defeated the Mexicans—twice—took a beating during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and then chased the Comanche clean out of the state and into Oklahoma. All of those events were watershed moments in Texas history.

And so was the day they came.

The Plains Herder, NC Wyeth, 1909

Sheep. Hundreds of thousands of them, munching their way across the land like wooly locusts. The sight of a single woolyback could boil a cattleman’s blood. The critters trampled the range, close-cropped the forage, and left behind an odor neither cattle nor man could abide. They also carried a type of mange called “sheep scab” to which cattle were susceptible.

As if all of that weren’t enough, pastores herded on foot, not horseback. Horses were a status symbol in the Old West. Cowboys figuratively and literally “looked down on” mutton-punchers.

Sheep are not native to Texas, although they’ve been in the state since padres brought Spanish transplants with them in the 1700s. Since the animals provided both food and clothing, no mission was without a flock.

In 1800, 5,000 head of sheep lived in far south Texas, along the Rio Grande. By 1870, 700,000 woolies had moved in, primarily with Germans and other Europeans who immigrated to central and western Texas. By 1890, the state was home to 3.5 million of the critters. Of the 30 million sheep in the U.S. in the middle of the twentieth century, one-third were in Texas. At that time, the state produced 95 percent of the country’s Merino wool.

Due to market fluctuations, drought, and some disastrous government programs, in 2012 the entire ovine population of the U.S. stood at only 5.345 million; 650,000 of those, still the largest bunch by more than 100,000 animals, were in Texas. To this day, mutton, lamb, and wool make a significant contribution to Texas’s economy.

Sheep Raid (Harper’s Weekly, Oct. 1877)

Ranchers in the mid- to late-1800s never would have believed such a thing possible. In fact, they went to great lengths to prevent the possibility. The notorious clashes between sheepmen and cattlemen that scarred the entire West began on the Charles Goodnight range in Texas. Between 1875 and 1920, one hundred twenty serious confrontations occurred in Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, and Colorado. Across the four states, at least fifty-four men died and 100,000 sheep were slaughtered.

Real and imagined problems led to the sheep wars. Texas cattlemen already were becoming testy with one another over grazing and water rights. Add sheep—which, as a means of finding other flock members, scent the ground with a noxious substance excreted by a gland above their hooves—and the range got a little smaller. Add sheep “drifters,” who grazed their flocks on other folks’ land or public property because they owned no territory of their own, and the situation became volatile. Add barbed-wire fence…and everything exploded.

The Texas legislature outlawed grazing sheep on private range without permission and on public land at all. Cattle and horses faced no such restrictions. Consequently, sheepmen were among the first to throw up fences in order to keep their flocks in and other animals out. Sheep fences lit one of the first matches in what became the Texas Fence-Cutter War, which erupted across more than half the state for about a decade starting in the 1870s. The cattlemen erected their own fences, and soon everyone was at someone else’s throat. The fence war died down, for the most part, when the state legislature criminalized fence-cutting in 1884.

Texas Merino Sheep, courtesy Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

Not long thereafter, most Texas cattlemen were shocked—and somewhat relieved—to discover good fences make good neighbors. They also discovered mutton and wool sold even when a mysterious disease known as Texas Fever made driving cattle to the railheads in other states well-nigh impossible.

Today, many Texas ranchers run sheep and goats right along with their cattle, and all the critters get along just fine on the same property.

Of course, had stubborn Texans on both sides of the fence paid attention to the native Indians who’d run cattle and sheep together for a hundred years before the trouble started, they might have spared themselves considerable aggravation.

In my debut novel Prodigal Gun, sheep and a barbed-wire fence touch off a war in the Texas Hill Country, bringing an infamous gunman home for the first time since he left to fight for the Confederacy. The book releases tomorrow in both paperback and digital versions, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and .

There’s an autographed print copy up for grabs! I’ll let Random.org draw a winner from among those who are kind enough to comment today. Please leave me a way to get in touch.

PGCover_v3A dangerous man. A desperate woman. A love no war could kill.

Widowed rancher Jessie Caine buried her heart with the childhood sweetheart Yankees killed on a distant battlefield. Sixteen years later, as a Texas range war looms and hired guns arrive to pursue a wealthy carpetbagger’s agenda, Jessie discovers the only man she ever loved isn’t dead.

At least not yet.

Embittered by a brother’s betrayal, notorious gunman Calhoun is a dangerous man, come home to do an unsavory job. A bushwhacker’s bullet nearly takes his life on Jessie’s land, trapping him in a standoff between the past he tried to bury and the infamy he never will. One taste of the only woman he ever loved puts more than his life and her ranch in the crossfire.

With a price on his head, a debt to a wealthy employer around his neck, and a defiant woman tugging at his heart, Calhoun’s guns may not be enough to keep him from the grave. Caught between his enemies and hers, Jessie faces an agonizing choice: Which of her dreams will die?

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47 thoughts on “Just Take Them Sheep Right on Outta Here”

  1. I love learning all the ways that the new settlers could have learned from the the Native Americans who were there before them. Would have made our world a different place.

    • Howdy, Connie! If the native peoples and the white settlers had learned to get along, America would have been a much different place, wouldn’t it? I think I understand the issues on both sides, but the American Indians were treated badly in so many ways: Broken treaties, forced relocation, the near-extermination of the buffalo, and incursion on their sacred ancestral lands are but a few. As a nation, we’ve lost so much heritage through what, at the time, must have seemed necessary but in hindsight seems wrong and sad.

      Thanks you for stopping by to comment on my debut post at Petticoats & Pistols! I hope to hear from you often. 🙂

  2. Hello Kathleen. I really enjoyed your post. I have heard many stories about the trouble between the ranchers and sheep herders. But, don’t remember that the Indians had cattle. I tho’t the white men brought them in from somewhere. I love cowboy and Indian stories. Just a country girl. The only time I’ve eaten any mutton, it was a lamb chop and tho I ate it I didn’t like it. I lived in a small KS. town for 14 years. there was a big dip place across the road from our house. It was a big vat in the ground that the cattle driven from Texas had to go through doctored water that killed the ticks before they were loaded on the train at Elgin, KS. It was a big place way back then. I would love to win your book.
    Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

    • Hi, Maxie! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The Mexicans and the Indians kept cattle long before white men arrived in Texas. The Spaniards who colonized Mexico brought cattle with them as early as the 1500s. The animals escaped or were turned loose, eventually becoming the feral longhorns upon which many Texas fortunes were built.

      I’ve never eaten mutton (which is meat from adult sheep), mostly because my parents, both of whom were children of the Depression, hated the stuff. They remembered eating too much of it in their childhoods.

      Sheep dipping also was invented in Texas, I believe, out of necessity.

      I’ve got your name on the list to win the book! Good luck! 🙂

  3. Aw, the old cattle versus sheep problem. It seems to have bred some dangerous “negotiations” all over the West. Of course, ranchers up here will reluctantly, with enough threats and pleading, admit that they’ve run sheep and cattle together for over a hundred years. The saying being: “sheep for money, cattle for prestige.”

    (No need to put my name in the hat, I already have the book set to upload just as soon as it hits the virtual shelf)

    • Well howdy there, Rustler. You’re up early this morning. WYO was the site of some of the worst violence, but you already know that. 😉

      I’ve never heard that saying, but I’ll be Texas ranchers said something similar. Cattlemen are the same all over. 😀

      Thank you for getting a copy of the book! I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Home Fires. You write some powerful love stories.

  4. Thanks for sharing a fascinating glimpse into the the West’s past. I’d love to win an autographed hard copy of The Prodigal Son, and look forward to more of your posts.

  5. I knew there were range wars, between cattle and sheep ranchers in Montana, Colorado and Nevada. I had no idea they were raising sheep in Texas.

    Your book sounds exciting with notorious, Calhoun returning from the Civil War and getting mixed up with both a range war and a feisty woman rancher, Jessie. Sounds like he has his hands full of trouble!

    I do like second chance romances.

    Thanks for the introduction to your work Kathleen.

    johns lake at usa dot com

    • Laurie, you’re not alone in not realizing sheep were and are all over Texas. The state is much more famous for the iconic cowboy, vaqueros, and massive cattle drives that pushed thousands of head northward to the railheads.

      Calhoun definitely has his hands full, and Jessie’s the biggest part of his trouble — but she’s also the cause of his redemption. I like second-chance romances, too. 😉

      I’m so glad you stopped by today, and I’ve got your name on the list for the drawing. 🙂

  6. Good morning Kathleen! I am looking forward to reading your debut novel. And very interesting post. Best line – “had stubborn Texans on both sides of the fence paid attention to the native Indians who’d run cattle and sheep together for a hundred years before the trouble started, they might have spared themselves considerable aggravation.” Isn’t that so much like us, stubborn.

    Blessings for your day!


    • Good morning, Kathy! Yep, we Texans are nothing if not stubborn. That’s both good and bad, but without our legendary stubbornness Texas wouldn’t exist. So, I guess we should keep the trait. Texans also are legendarily friendly. I guess we should keep both traits. 😀

      Blessings for your day, too, sweetheart. I’ve got your name on the list to win the book!

  7. Sheep wars!! Who would have thought. Those crazy Texans. 😉 Good fences DO make good neighbors. Great post! Learned something new.
    lattebooks at hotmail dot com

  8. Sheep are also stupid. Cows aren’t brilliant, but sheep are worse. Maybe even dumber than those folks who thought fence-cutting was a good idea.

    Great post, Kathleen! I loved the history behind your book and can’t wait to read it!

    • Thanks, Elisabeth. I hope you enjoy the story. 🙂

      What I wonder about is how the sheep ranchers kept their less-than-brilliant critters from getting tangled in the barbed wire (or “bob wahr” as we say in Texas 😉 ). Just imagine a whole herd of nekkid sheep after some sheepman had to cut them loose! 😀

      Thanks for dropping by today, sweetie! Best wishes for success with A DANGEROUS PASSION, which released yesterday. 🙂

  9. So great to have you in the Filly line-up, Kathleen! I have a novel that features a sheep rancher/British nobleman hero in Menard County, TX. When the heroine first arrives at the ranch, she is appalled to find rancher she hired on with herds sheep not cattle. No true Texan would do such a thing. But then, he’s not a true Texan. He’s a British peer and handsome, honorable, and charming, so of course the sheep fade in importance to her fairly quickly. 🙂

  10. Hello Kathleen… thank you so much for sharing your post with us today! I heard about some of this… nice to learn something more!
    Love the sound of Prodigal Gun!

    • Thanks, Colleen! Two things folks have discovered about me: I love to share historical research, and it’s darn near impossible to shut me up. 😀

      I’m glad you like the sound of Prodigal Gun. I’m hoping lots of folks will. 😉

      Got your name on the list! Good luck in the drawing. 🙂

  11. Hi Kathleen, so happy you joined us. I had a lot of fun writing about cattlemen vs sheepherders in one of my books.
    I love reading about all those Texas wars. Thank you for sharing and Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Margaret, and thanks for the welcome! The sheepmen-cattlemen battles seem to be endlessly fascinating, considering how many western historical romance authors deal with the topic.

      You’re going to have to tell me the name of your book. I’m on a mission to read every romance novel about that epic struggle. 🙂

  12. Hi Kathleen…….With this first blog you are now officially and without doubt a Filly!! Love you blog. The war between ranchers and sheepherders went on for a long time and often got pretty bloody. But those conflicts still provide excellent fodder for writers today. One of the best portrayals of this was in THE OUTSIDER by Penelope Williamson. Great story.

    Congratulation on the new release!! Hope you sell a million copies.

    • The Outsider is one of my favorite novels of any kind, and the Hallmark movie was pretty darn good, too. (Timothy Daly was a hunk in that, wasn’t he?)

      The sheep-cattle conflict always has fascinated me — especially the point where Texas cattlemen made a fairly sudden about-face when they realized sheep might help them survive the Texas Fever quarantine.

      Thanks for the congrats! I hope the book sells a million copies, too — and not for a reason anyone might suspect, at least initially. I’ll decrypt that cryptic comment tomorrow, on Prodigal Gun‘s release day. 🙂

      • Kathleen, I wrote a novella about this conflict in our first anthology, Give Me a Texan. My story had a rancher hero and a shepherdess heroine. She stomps his hat and uses it for her dog dish.

      • Oh my gosh! How could I have forgotten that? “The Love Letter” is the story that made me fall completely in love with your writing. I devoured every single one of those anthologies and then went looking for more by you, Phyliss, and Dewanna. (I already knew Jodi’s work.)

        Didn’t that story include a fun scene when he shears her sheep? Or am I misremembering?

  13. Hi Kathleen, welcome to Wildflower Junction! You’re gonna love it here. I have heard much about the cattle/sheep wars. Thanks for such a concise, well written account! A great first day. Not long ago, I visited the Texas Hill country. Wow, was it lovely!

    • Tanya, I almost missed you up here! Sorry!

      The Texas Hill Country is one of the prettiest places on earth, I think. Your home state of California has some striking scenery, too, but I have to prefer Texas’s, being a Texan and all. 🙂

      Thanks for the welcome! I already love it here. Let’s just…well, for the sake of harmony, let’s keep the sheep out of the corral. 😉

  14. Why can’t everyone just get along lol. I guess things settled down when they weren’t moving the cattle from such distances over open land. People hate change too! Always interesting.

  15. Kathleen! I’m here! LOL better late than never. Crazy day today. Welcome to Wildflower Junction–we’re thrilled to have you with us! Great post–I always learn so much from your blogs, and this was no exception.

    Oh, how I loved The Outsider–what a fantastic book! It’s on my keeper shelf, for sure. Know what else is going on my keeper shelf? PRODIGAL GUN! I absolutely positively loved that story of yours!

    I bet you won’t sleep a wink tonight! Hugs, my friend!

    • I’m glad you made it, Okie! I learn from everyone’s posts here at the Junction, and yours are no exception, dear friend and editor extraordinaire.

      I’m tickled to death Prodigal Gun is going on your keeper shelf! You’re not winning the autographed copy, though. That’ll teach you to be late, you slacker. 😉

      BIG HUGS!!!!

  16. We raised sheep when in Oklahoma! As my husband says… they have the brain the size of a pea. He’s also an Indian and is always saying, that if the white man didn’t kill their buffalo and take their land… blah blah blah… His white wife just walks away laughing.

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