The Wool Harvest

Early days of shearing Shearing and wool handling methods in the early days of Iron County were crude and time-consuming compared with the modern process.  Shearers were paid five cents per head and the fleece averaged only four or five pounds. The early shearer would run out to a large corral, catch a sheep and drag it to shearing. Using manual shears, similar to large scissors, he would deftly trim the wool off the sheep. When completed, he would tie the fleece up and throw it for collection by the bagger.  All this completed, the shearer walked over to a piece of cardboard hanging on the wall, checked a tally mark under his name and went out to the big corral for another sheep.  Speed and delicacy were the skills needed for success. Many a shearer lost a day’s wages after slicing a vein and killing a sheep.

Sheep ranchers would take their entire herd to a central location for shearing. Iron Springs soon became an ideal place for this process. Shearing at Iron Springs in the early days was one of the big community events in which nearly everybody played a part.  The men camped in tents and wagon boxes along the creek, while the women at home cooked the food and sent it out once a week. William R. Palmer notes: “Some women sent lots of pies, cakes, and pastries, but the man who received them almost had to stand guard with a shotgun to get a taste. On one pretext or another he would be enticed away from his camp and return to find all his dainties consumed.”

The Ras Jones shearing shed at Iron Springs

As the number of sheep increased in Cedar City shearing time became exceedingly busy.  Some relief came in the 1920’s when portable motors became readily available for use in the area. Erastus Jones built a large shearing shed and corral with nine shearing stations powered by an engine west of Cedar City.  With the new mechanical clippers the work could be performed in one-third the time, although the skill of the shearer still proved essential for success. Each man could shear approximately 150 sheep in an eight hour period, and soon the operation maintained a swing shift to ensure that all the sheep were taken care of. The Jones shearing operation continued for twenty years, until portable shearing became cost effective and more convenient. The Rass Jones Shearing Shed is on exhibit here at Frontier Homestead.

A sheep is shorn in the Ras Jones Shearing shed.

Next Time: Hands-On activities for all