Sheepherders flock to party on West Desert
County Chronicle Progress
January 26, 2006
By Dean Draper
The third annual
“Old Sheepherder’s Party”
was held at the Border Inn on the
Utah/Nevada state line on Friday, Jan. 20.
Food, fun and story
swapping attracted a people to the annual
Sheepherders gathering at the Border Inn.
Lamb and mutton, what
else, were served to over 100 people
attending the party co-sponsored by the
Great Basin Heritage Area Partnership and
the Border Inn.
Sheepmen, sheepherders, government trappers
and members of their families gathered to
share old times with each other. They
swapped stories, poems, lies, and nuggets of
unrecorded history. These stories are being
preserved by the Heritage Area.
Unique to the western
Utah and eastern Nevada are the sheepherders
of mostly Scandinavian descent. Many herders
winter and wintered their northern and
central Utah flocks out in the vicinity of
the state line. The Snake Valley providing
lots of open solitude for men to think and
sheep to graze in during the winter.
This year’s party
included invitations to the Basque
sheepherders in White Pine County as well as
the predominantly Scandinavian herders of
central Utah utilizing the Snake Valley.
Eldon Johnson, Nephi,
started his herding career at age 16 in
1937. He herded sheep for three and one half
years before looking elsewhere.
Johnson was living in
Fountain Green and had decided not to return
to school in the fall of 1937. He was
approached by the local truant officer and
told he needed to be back at school. Johnson
said he got an offer to herd sheep that same
day and accepted it.
His new employer, Henry
Jackson the truant officer, met him in Nephi
and took him out to the west desert. He
equipped him with a dog and gave him
instructions weekly on where to graze the
he ever got lonely, Johnson said: “It never
bothered me. I just didn't get lonely. After
three and one half years I decided I'd
better go and see my family.”
Johnson didn’t return to
tend the flocks, but enlisted with a friend
in the Navy.
Johnson is proud of his public service.
While out on the desert he met up with Bob
Aagard who proclaimed Johnson the mayor of
Tule Valley as he spent so much time there.
“I’m the mayor of Tule
Valley for life and preside over my
constituency of no one,” said Johnson.
have contributed to the history of the
started herding sheep in Callao when I was
19 years old,” said Francisco Colqui, a
native of Peru and now living in Hinckley.
“I didn’t speak a word of English. I was one
of the first sheepherders from Peru.”
Colqui eventually learned
English, gave up sheepherding, got married
and started a family. He is now employed by
Elvon Holman used to trail his sheep about
250 miles from Skyline Drive to the west
desert for the winter. His sons Arden and
John accompanied him to the party to
re-visit the area so loved by their father.
Part of sheepherding is
varmint control. Government trappers were
called in to eliminate offending predators.
Van Warnick of Deseret was one of those
trappers and came to enjoy the party.
“I trapped and hunted as
a government trapper for 26 years,” said
Warnick. “In the winter time I was gunner in
Fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. We were
after trouble coyotes, not just any
Several representatives of the media were at
the Border Inn to record as much of what was
happening as possible. The Chronicle
Progress was joined by the Sanpete
Messenger, the Deseret News, and
the Salt Lake Tribune.
Hal Cannon, Western
folklorist, canvassed the crowd to record
stories for National Public Radio. Dave
Tilford, Great Basin Heritage Area, recorded
histories on video and tape as did Dr. Kevin
Marie Laxalt from Nevada. She was on hand to
record the Basque influence on White Pine
Utah, at one time, there were 300,000 head
of sheep. Now you’re lucky to scare up a
1000,” said Tilford. “We’re taping and
recording people’s accounts of sheepherder.
they are to be shared with the University of
Nevada Reno’s Oral History Department and
with the Utah Humanities Council.”
“The response to the ‛Old
Sheepherder’s Party’ has been remarkable,”
said Denys Koyle, owner of the Border Inn.
“It keeps getting bigger every year. We’re
here to not only honor the people who worked
here, but to record their experiences before
they are lost.”