Sheep Herders

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Sheep herders, workers in charge of tending sheep on the open range, proliferated in the last three decades of the 1800s. Following the end of the American Civil War (18611865), the open lands of the western United States saw an influx of ranchers. The U.S. government had fought a series of wars to put down rebellions staged by Native Americans, including the Sioux Uprising of 1862, and stockmen were encouraged to move onto the open range. By the end of the 1860s, the longhorn cattle industry, which originated in Texas, was flourishing. By the mid-1870s sheep ranchers appeared in significant numbers. In 1886, at the height of the open-range livestock boom, Montana alone had roughly a million sheep (and 664,000 head of cattle) grazing its lands.

Ranchers engaged in the practice of purchasing tracts of land adjacent to public lands, and then allowed their livestock to graze freely throughout the area. This method of open-range ranches allowed ranchers to control thousands of acres of land, but by 1890 sheep herders found themselves in conflict with the cattle raisers, as the seemingly endless open range became increasingly limited. Growth of the livestock industry meant that western lands were crowded with 26 million head of cattle and 20 million head of sheep. The industry continued to grow, and small ranchers and sheep herders were soon dominated by big business.

See also: Open Range, Westward Expansion