Wyoming’s sheep business never had the fame or cachet of Wyoming’s cattle business, but at the turn of the last century sheep raising was more widespread and probably more lucrative. Cattlemen, however, reacted violently to sheepmen’s entry onto the public range, and for a time deadly raids by cattlemen on flocks, sheepdogs and sheepherders were chronic. A gradual decline in wool and lamb prices since the 1920s has left only about a twentieth as many sheep on Wyoming ranges now as there were in 1909.
Browse Articles about Agriculture
|Cody, William F. as Wyoming Town Founder and Irrigation Tycoon||Robert E. Bonner|
|Crow Creek Ranch||Stephanie Lowe|
|Dry Farming||Carl V. Hallberg|
|Ellis, Frank “Pinky” on the sheep business, small-town politics and family life||Casper College Western History Center|
|Empire, Wyoming, African-American community of||Robert Galbreath|
|Glendo Dam, History of||The National Park Service|
|Grazing leases, federal||Russel L. Tanner|
|Huntley, Wyoming; Jewish Farm Families of||Carl V. Hallberg|
|Huxtable Ranch||Stephanie Lowe|
|Jewish Farm Families of Huntley, Wyoming||Carl V. Hallberg|
The vivid, charismatic J. B. Okie raised sheep near Badwater Creek at the turn of the last century, and was so successful he was called “Sheep King.” A businessman with great vision, he soon owned half a dozen stores in small towns in central Wyoming, and eventually an equal number in Mexico. Lost Cabin, Wyo., named for the legendary Lost Cabin Mine, was his base. Okie built an opulent mansion there, a big bunkhouse for employees, bungalows for guests, an office building, a roller rink, a golf course and an aviary full of birds of paradise (left), cockatoos and macaws.
Grass was free and profits enormous in the cattle business in Wyoming Territory — for a while. The business dates to the 1850s, but the boom came after the Union Pacific Railroad connected Wyoming ranges to eastern markets. For a time it seemed as if every investor got rich. Finally, a weakening market and the overstocked range could not withstand two years of drought followed by a terrible winter. The big boom busted, following an economic pattern repeated many times since in an economy still based heavily on natural resources.
Elwood Mead was only 30 in 1888 when Territorial Gov. Thomas Moonlight hired him to bring order to Wyoming’s water law. As territorial engineer Mead did just that, and his ideas were written into the state constitution adopted in 1890. Mead spent only 11 years in Wyoming, but all his life carried with him what he learned in the state.
In Wyoming, dry farming—growing crops without irrigation--began to become popular in the early 1900s. Vernon T. Cooke, first state director of dry farming, was extremely influential in promoting the method. Today, the University of Wyoming’s experimental agricultural station continues to develop dry farming techniques.
Before Glendo Dam could be built on the North Platte River in Platte County, Wyoming, complicated water-rights disputes had to be settled among Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado and the settlement approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. The process took more than a decade, and shows the difficulties of allocating water in the arid West. The earthfill dam, nearly 2,100 feet long and 190 feet high, was completed in the fall of 1957. It stores water for irrigation and recreation, controls floods, reduces sedimentation in the Guernsey reservoir downstream and produces hydropower.
Seminoe and Kortes dams, both located in a remote stretch of northern Carbon County, Wyo., were constructed in the 1930s and 1940s primarily for the production of hydropower. While power plants at both dams still generate electricity, the area is frequented by tourists, especially fishermen who travel to the renowned Miracle Mile, just downstream from Kortes Dam, to catch trout.
Boysen Dam, named for local businessman Asmus Boysen, was constructed on the Wind River in the 1940s to control flooding and to provide irrigation water for agricultural purposes. The dam was completed in early 1953 and its power plant continues to generate electricity today. Boysen Reservoir provides recreational opportunities as well.
Alcova Dam, a Bureau of Reclamation project, was completed in 1937. The reservoir opened in 1938 and a power plant was completed in 1955. The $20 million dam project didn’t achieve the high expectations of immense wealth that were forecast at the time of its inception, but continues to provide irrigation water for farmers and ranchers and generates hydropower for the area. Alcova Reservoir offers fishing, boating, camping and swimming opportunities for visitors.