Sheep Ranching in the American West


Herder and Sheep CampBeginning in 2001 the Western Folklife Center embarked on our Sheep Ranching in the American West project that has taken us to Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and California to visit individuals involved in trying to keep this occupation and way of life viable. The outcomes have not only been a new understanding and appreciation of this occupational community, but countless hours of recorded sound, photographic documentation, and architectural drawings. From this research have come public presentations of poetry, music and story, including a traveling exhibition and radio programs on our PRI and NPR series, The Open Road (for PRIs The Savvy Traveler, and Deep West Radio Documentaries. Our hope is to continue to build on this work in the years to come. There are plenty of stories yet to be told.

History of Sheep Ranching in the American West

Herder cooking inside sheep camp Over the years the Western Folklife Center has focused much of its attention on the songs, poetry, stories and craft of cattle ranching. As this work became more visible we were often approached by people in the sheep ranching world asking, “When are you going to document us?” “When will it be our turn?” The immediacy of this work became clear one beautiful morning in Starr Valley, Nevada as the staff gathered for our annual retreat and friends Leonard Coulsen and Laurie Rich were heading out the door. Leonard made an impassioned plea for us to again discuss a focus on sheepherding and ranching in the West as it was quickly changing and disappearing and soon there would be few people to record and interview. We took Leonard’s comments to heart and, with funding in hand, began this documentation.

To share in the the daily life of Wyoming sheep ranching, visit the Online Journal of Pat and Sharon O'Toole. View the Northern Nevada sheep ranching landscape with photographer Linda Dufurrena in her Online Journal archive.

Premiering at the 2007 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, was the new Deep West Records CD, Songs and Stories of Sheepherding. This recording of the songs, verse and stories of shepherds who came to this country to pursue the American dream includes a collection of  Scottish, Scandinavian, Basque, Greek, Irish, Mexican and Peruvian material, as well as extensive notes, photos and translations to the songs and poems.  Available now in our online Gift Shop.


The Western Folklife Center's Sheep Ranching in the American West  project received the the generous support of:
Nevada Arts Council
Anne Pattee
National Endowment for the Arts
Simmons Family Foundation
R. Harold Burton Foundation