February 10, 2009

SHEEPHERDER’S WAGON

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by Maggie Brendan


All of you have heard of the Conestoga, or covered wagon, that frontiersmen used for travel in the West, but few have ever heard that sheepherders also had their own specialized wagon. My second book, The Jewel of His Heart, which will be out in October, is based on the life of a Montana sheepherder. So I thought this would be a good topic for my post today.

Sheepherders had to search hard to find a flat spot to roll out their bedroll without encountering a root stump or rock that poked their backs at the end of a long day herding sheep. They already had to fight snakes, horned toads, and at best, slept on mattresses made of brush or soft pine needles.

Back in 1884, a blacksmith, James Candlish, was moved by the constant complaints of sleepless nights that he heard from the herders. Being a blacksmith in Rawlins, Wyoming, he shod horses and pack animals, so he designed a wagon to get the sheepherder off the ground and created for them “a home on wheels”. It opened in the back with a canvas flap to block the wind.

However, someone came along and improved upon his invention. In 1892, the Schulte Hardware Company of Casper, WY designed a wagon that had Dutch doors in front with a window above the bed, and a cast iron stove with an oven. It was the just the thing for making life more bearable for the sheepherder. It stayed warm in the winter and provided a cool place to retreat from the heat. The door was convenient and allowed them to open it to let their dogs in, or keep them out. It addition to a pull-out bed across the wagon’s back, it had a pull-out table, drawers and cupboards.


Photo courtesy of Jim Howard at
http://www.oldwesternwagons.com/


It was the perfect accommodation for most, but there were other herders whose opinion was negative because of the fact that herders tended camp in one place for a few days, then at the end of the day they had to herd the sheep back to camp where the wagon was.

The kerosene lamp and the stove made the compressed bunkhouse a cheery and warm place for the sheepherder to retreat. It wasn’t long before they were seen dotting the landscape wherever sheepherders were found.


Happy Trails,


Maggie Brendan

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7 comments:

Leigh said...

What a fun bit of info. Looks and sounds like an antique travel trailer or pop-up camper (for which I'm very grateful for, now that our family has graduated from a tent)! :-)

Have a great week,
Leigh

brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

It's it neat?? The man that built this wagon has an interesting website. Check it out. I believe this one will be on my new book coming out in the fall.

Vickie McDonough said...

Very interesting! I'd never heard of a sheepherder's wagon before. It's like a home away from home.

I'm looking forward to reading your next book!

brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Thanks for posting, Vickie! It was a cool thing to learn while the story was brewing in my mind!

Linda Broday said...

I love your post! Very interesting. It's a subject I'd never heard discussed. This wagon sort of resembles one that the Gypsies used. It was built along the same lines with doors and a cook stove and bed inside. I'll have to jot this shepherder's wagon down for future reference. Thanks for sharing!

brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Linda, the wagon in the picture was made from the base an original sheepherder's wagon and historically refurbished. Check out the story on the website--it has photos of gypsy wagon, too!

Utahroamer said...

"...few have ever heard that sheepherders also had their own specialized wagon."
Where do these people live? Here in northern Utah, sheepherder wagons are still a common sight in the high country.