Charlene Raddon: Sheep and Cattle Wars

The Fillies welcome the return of Charlene Raddon. Her series are much in demand for their unusual storylines. She’s giving away two copies of CONNOR so leave a comment to be entered. 


Cattle ranchers are notorious for hating sheep. The hero in my new book, Connor, Cupids & Cowboys Book 12, is no exception but doesn’t believe violence is the answer, and so, Connor sets about finding a solution.

There were many armed battles in western states, particularly Arizona, Wyoming, and Colorado, between cattlemen and sheepmen over grazing rights. Cattlemen saw the sheepherders as invaders who destroyed the public grazing lands, which they had to share on a first-come, first-served basis. Between 1870 and 1920, approximately 120 engagements occurred in eight different states or territories, resulting in the deaths of over 50 men and the slaughter of 50,000 to over 100,000 sheep.


One of the most famous cattlemen/sheepmen battles occurred in Pleasant Valley, Arizona, resulting in the near annihilation of the men of three families. In 1884, angry Arizona cattlemen rounded up wild horses, strapped cowbells to their necks, rawhide to their tails, and drove them into a series of sheep herds numbering more than 25,000, yelling and firing guns in the process. The sheep scattered in all directions, many killed or wounded. That same year, cowboys drove over 4,000 sheep into the Little Colorado River, many of which died in quicksand.


The sheep wars in Wyoming and Colorado were exceptionally violent and lasted well into the 1900s. Wyoming saw about twenty-four attacks and at least six deaths between 1879 and 1909. In Garfield County, Colorado, 3,800 sheep were driven over cliffs into Parachute Creek. About 1,500 more sheep were massacred there in the same year. In November 1899, forty masked men attacked a sheep camp located on the lower Snake River. Over 3,000 sheep were “clubbed and scattered,” the shepherds robbed, and their wagon burned.

In Wyoming, 1896, about 12,000 sheep were slaughtered in a single night by being driven off a cliff near North Rock Springs. In 1905, ten masked men attacked a sheep camp on Shell Creek in the Big Horn Basin. The cowboys clubbed about 4,000 sheep and burned the wagons with two live sheepdogs tied to the wheels. The owner of the flock lost about $40,000. Similar events took place up until about 1912.

Near Ten Sleep, Wyoming, three sheepherders were killed, along with many of their sheep and dogs. No one expected anything to come of it, but seven men were arrested, five of them sent to prison, and cattlemen became reluctant to attack sheepmen.

In Montana, where my story, Connor, Cupids & Cowboys Book 12, is set, similar proceedings took place, few as severe and deadly as those in other states.

According to Robert Elman, author of Badmen of the West, the sheep wars ended because of the decline of open rangeland and changes in ranching practices, which removed the causes for hostilities.

How did Connor resolve the cattle/sheep war in my story? Here’s an excerpt:

“Folks,” Connor began (addressing the members of the Cutthroat, Montana Stockgrowers Association), “this is Mr. Dean Rivers. He has a ranch near Hawksville where he raises cattle and sheep and kindly consented to tell us of his experiences. I hope you’ll do him the courtesy of listening as you would with any other speaker.”

Rivers cleared his throat. “As Connor said, I have a ranch about forty miles east of here. I know how you feel. That’s how I saw the matter at first. Never intended to raise sheep. It was my wife who went out and bought fifty of ’em and herded them home.” He chuckled. “We had quite a row about it, I can tell you. Before coming here tonight at Connor’s request, I sat down and calculated the monetary differences between raising sheep and cattle. The results surprised even me. I think they’ll come as a bit of a shock to you.”

Before continuing, he laid his hat on his chair and moved behind the podium. “Hope you don’t mind if I rest my weary bones on this here Bible stand.”

A few in the audience chuckled. The others sat stone-faced, determined not to listen.

“Now, these figures are only as accurate as my mathematics, which my old schoolteacher will tell you ain’t much.”

More laughter. Connor glanced around. The ranchers had settled down and appeared to like Dean Rivers. No doubt because of his friendly, down-home looks and manner of speaking.

“For the purposes of this here talk,” Rivers went on, “we’ll say an animal unit is a one-thousand-pound cow with a five-hundred-pound calf pulling on her teat. And we’ll say six sheep equal that cow. Now, my figures can differ somewhat with grass/forb ratios, terrain, and grazing management, but I’d call it whisker close. That cow and calf, or animal unit, should be worth about sixteen dollars. Am I right?”

Several men shouted, “Close.”

“All right. Now, those six sheep, or animal unit, should produce ten lambs worth three dollars and twenty cents apiece. That comes out to thirty-two dollars per animal unit compared to sixteen dollars for the cow and calf. See where I’m going here?”

Heads nodded.

“That’s a fairly noticeable difference,” Rivers said. “Should I lose a cow, I’m out sixteen dollars. If I lose a sheep, I’m out three-fifty. But we’re talking animal units, so losing those six sheep would cost me thirty-two dollars.

“There’re costs to raising these critters, of course.” Rivers continued. “Deworming, de-licing, de-ticking, salt, ear tags if you use ’em, hiring extra hands for roundup and branding. That’s just for cows. To herd a hundred cows, you need at least two hired hands on horseback. Three would be better. To bring in a hundred sheep, you send out a couple of sheepdogs. They don’t ask for wages, just a bone and a pat on the head. Try that with your hired hands.”

Some laughter broke out.

“We never make it through a season of handling cows without our share of physical injuries,” Rivers said. “Stomped-on toes, crushed ribs, broken arms. Had a hand once got his eye poked out by a steer’s horn. Ain’t had no injuries with sheep. Another thing; sheep’ll eat ‘most anything. Weeds, thistles, and plants poisonous to cows. Cows gotta have grass.”

“That’s the trouble,” someone yelled. “The damned sheep don’t leave nothing left for the cows to eat.”

Rivers held up a hand. “Not if you move them often enough. Just takes some monitoring. Plus, you can put your sheep higher up the mountain where not much grass grows, but there’s plenty of weeds. So far, I’ve had no problems with cows refusing to graze where sheep have been.”

“Aw, bull-cracky,” a man spat. “You genuinely expect us to believe that?”

Chatter broke out among the men, and several booed.

Rivers shrugged. “I’m only telling you my experiences, friend. You can believe what you want. When you get right down to the facts—and you can figger ’em yourself from what I’ve told you—three hundred cows will give you a profit of four thousand, eight hundred dollars at the end of the year.”

He waited a moment while murmurs of agreement and approval circulated through the audience.

“The same number of animal units in sheep,” he added with a pause, “will bring you nine-thousand, six hundred.”

A stunned silence followed.

Not all the ranchers were convinced, but enough to defuse the hostilities. The fact that Rosalina Camila Antonella DeLeon, the beautiful owner of the sheep in question, also spoke and won the ranchers’ respect helped. It also worked to move the romance between Connor and Rosalina along, and, after all, that’s what the book is truly about.

If you had been a sheepherder back then, would you have stayed and fought (possibly dying) or packed up and gone someplace else?

Leave a comment to get in the drawing for two copies of CONNOR!

About Charlene:

Charlene Raddon is an Amazon bestselling author with twenty-two western historical romance books to her credit. She never intended to become a writer, however. Charlene was an artist until she discovered romance novels and had a vivid dream that begged to be put into a book. So, she dragged out a typewriter and went to work. She’s been writing ever since. Her other interests are crocheting, genealogy, travel, Ukranian egg dying, and graphic design. Charlene has her own book cover website offering premade covers. She specializes in western historical covers.



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40 thoughts on “Charlene Raddon: Sheep and Cattle Wars”

  1. I probably would have left. I never could understand why so much animosity. But I know that they were worried about the sheep eating and destroying the grasslands. There’s so much tragedy in the world. Why can’t everyone just get along.

  2. Hubs family has raised sheep for several generations but I am not a fan. They have also had cattle here in Indiana!

  3. I tend to side with the cattle ranchers, though I still think if a woman was in charge, they could have worked things out without bloodshed! I always heard the sheep’s sharp hooves tear up the land, and they rip up grass by the roots, destroying it’s ability to come back.

    • Not entirely true, Laura. According to my research, the hooves didn’t tear up the land unless the sheep were left in one spot for too long. That was up to the shepherd and it’s notoriously true that too many of them did leave the sheep too long. Many acres of land were ruined because of it and took years to come back.

  4. Good morning! I’m a child of a cattle cattle broker, feedlot owner so this is a hard scenario for me to take the sheep side of but… I’d have to be stubborn & fight for my rights to graze my sheep on my free land just like anyone else had the right to do what they’d wanted to do on their land. I’d like to think that being a woman I’d gain the cattlemen in questions respect by being a tough, hard-working, go-getter of a woman. . I do understand the cattlemen not wanting sheep grazing in their area because sheep & goats eat a plot of land all the way down to bare dirt. Heck they chee up fence posts & anything remotely edible. lol I hate to think of all that wasted meat in a harsh land that so many people barely got by and could feed themselves. I bet Indians in the area were madden by the waste of the White Man as well!

    • You’re right about the Indians. What saddened and angered them most, though, was the wasteful killing off of the buffalo for the hides. That robbed the tribes of their clothing, food, materials for making tools, tipi covers, almost everything they used in daily life.

  5. I probably would have packed up and left. Some things just isn’t worth fighting for. That would also depend on if I had some other place to go. The world today everyone is fighting over everything and so many just can’t get along. It makes me sad to think about it. I have heard that sheep does destroy the land but they have their purpose also. Sometime you have to take the good with the bad.

    • Hi, Quilt Lady. Always good to hear from you. I think all of us would like to see the fighting end among all the people of the earth. It’s sad and stupid and wasteful. The sheep only destroy the land if allowed to graze too long in one spot, so that’s on the sheepherder’s shoulders.

  6. What a horrible waste of livestock, Charlene!! Ugh. Such a hard time for the sheepherder. Reading your blog brought back memories of the research I did for THE CATTLEMAN’S UNSUITABLE WIFE. My hero was a cattleman and the heroine raised sheep, and it was the violence that brought them together for a happy ending.

    Great blog, my friend! Your excerpt is excellent! So great to have you back at P&P!

    • Thanks, Pam. Always glad to blog at P&P. I can’t believe I’ve missed one of your books, but I’m going to have to read THE CATTLEMAN’S UNSUITABLE WIFE. To me, what the ranchers did to the sheep is a sin. What it did to the owners of the sheep was wrong too. Why can’t everyone just get along?

  7. Didn’t know about these wars. To much violence.
    Love book cover and would love to read & review book in print format. Love books like this
    Hope I Win

    • Hope you win too, Crystal. Yes, too much violence and hatred. It was sad and dangerous time. Love the old west but glad I live now. I wouldn’t mind stepping back in time for just a day, though. Would you?

  8. Wow, so sad and so destructible , I would have stayed and fought for my sheep, and I would make sure that I kept them where they belonged so that they would not be harmed. Thank you for sharing about all this. Have a great weekend and stay safe.

  9. I would likely be concerned about the safety of my family. I think I would look for grazing land that was totally unsuitable for cattle but would support sheep. That would reduce the competition on public lands. I would also look for grazing land that I could purchase. There should be no cause for complaints for what I was doing on my land. Realistically, those working the ranch would be armed and on guard with orders to consider their safety first. I would hate to lose sheep, but a human life is much more important.

    • Sounds very sensible, Patricia. One thing to consider is that you’d have to buy a huge tract of land. Sheep have to be moved a lot to avoid damaging the soil, which is why they tried to settle where there was open range so they could expand their grazing area.

  10. The problem was that the sheepherders were way outnumbered by the ranchers and their hands. They would need to hire men to protect them and the flock. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  11. I never realized things got so horrific between the sheep and cattle ranches. I’m not sure what I’d have done, hopefully stayed and fought but I can see both sides. Thanks for sharing!

    • You’re right, Megan, they both had legitimate arguments for their side. It came down to who was stronger, or maybe that translates to who had the most men to fight a battle, or who was the meanest and most determined. Thanks for reading.

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