Sheep to Shawl

Frontier Homestead State Park invites you to our first big event of 2017. Join us Saturday, March 18 for a trip back in time as we explore wool, from Sheep to Shawl. Frontier Homestead State park in partnership with the Sagebrush Fiber Artisans will allow participants to journey through the step-by-step process of taking wool from the sheep’s back to yours. Join us from 10:00-2:00 to have fun with the whole family.

Sheep will be attending as well to give visitors the opportunity to touch and feel before and after their annual haircut. Shearing demonstrations will be given hourly starting and 10:30am and run until 1:30pm.



Demonstrations include shearing, washing, carding, spinning and dyeing wool. Knitting and weaving will be available to participate in. Come enjoy the activities and visit with our talented craftspeople. Cost is $2.00 per person or $5.00 per family. Friend’s Group members are free with membership card.


This living history experience is hosted at the Frontier Homestead State Park Museum located at 635 North Main Street in Cedar City. Call 435-586-9290 for more information.

Forgotten Chapters of History: Home Manufacture

Home manufacturers on the job. During the 1950’s Cedar City historian and businessman William R. Palmer had a weekly radio program on local radio station KSUB. During his show, Forgotten Chapters of History, Palmer told tales of local history and sometimes covered other topics. Thanks to Special Collections at the Sherratt Library on the campus of Southern Utah University, many of these programs are available to listen to. On November 9, 1952, Palmer presented the story of Home Manufacture in Southern Utah.  Click the links and enjoy making something yourself as you listen to Forgotten Chapters of History.

Palmer's audio broadcast "Home Manufacture" 11/09/52

Taking the sheep home.

Step one in the manufacturing process.

Cedar City Livestock and Heritage Festival: A Guest Blog

This week we invited the Livestock Festival to write about one of Cedar City's great events. Sheep on parade

Tranquil Downtown will get a little wild and wooly on Saturday, October 29th at 10 a.m. when Cedar City’s Annual Sheep Parade herds its way down Main Street. Considered one of the most unique parades in the country, over 1,000 head of sheep will follow the historic Livestock Trail from Cedar Mountain, down Cedar City’s Main Street, to their winter home in the Cedar Valley. The Sheep Parade is the highlight event for the 11th Annual Cedar Livestock & Heritage Festival, an annual celebration of southern Utah’s agricultural traditions and lifestyle.

According to Festival Chairman, Chad Reid “The first sheep were herded from Cedar Mountain in 1870, and have continued to travel through Cedar City every year since.” Reid adds, “The sight of a herd of sheep trailing down Main Street through historic Downtown is an exciting glimpse of our livestock heritage and truly a spectacle not to be missed. You never know if the sheep are going to behave or not.”

Horses, wagons, antique tractors, stock dogs, and historic and modern sheep camps also take part in the procession. The parade route is along Main Street from 200 South to 400 North. After the parade the tractors and sheep camps are on display the remainder of the day at the Cross Hollows Events Center, located at 11 North Cross Hollows Dr., during the Cedar Livestock & Heritage Festival.

The 11th Annual Cedar Livestock & Heritage Festival celebrates Iron County’s unique livestock and agricultural heritage October 27-30th with a variety of authentic events , including; cowboy poetry, Dutch Oven cooking contest, draft horse and antique tractor pull, stock dog demo, sheep camp display, quilt show, vintage auto display, ranch rodeo and of course the Sheep Parade!

New events have been added this year to include a Junior Ranch Rodeo; where youth teams compete in the traditional ranch skills of goat milking, team roping and branding. The Junior Ranch Rodeo will take place Friday night, October 28th at 4 pm at the Cross Hollows Events Center, 11 S. Cross Hollows Road. The 2nd new event is the Sheep Lead Contest; a sort of sheep fashion show according to Reid, where “contestants not only display their fashion skills but also their sheep-handling talents”. The Sheep Lead Contest will take place Saturday, October 29th at 4 pm at the Cross Hollows Events Center.

For more information on all the Cedar Livestock &Heritage Festival activities including the Sheep Parade, visit or call 435-586-8132

A Cooperative Effort

As the Cedar City community sheep herds increased in number, a cooperative organization was established to aid those stockholders in more effectively distributing and marketing the growth of the herd. The Cedar Sheep Association became a well managed, dividend paying company that provided a measure of security during the community’s lean years.  By 1879 there were more than five thousand sheep in the cooperative herd and shareholders had sufficient wool for the women to card, spin, and knit and sufficient mutton for home use. The Cedar Sheep Association

To supply fresh meat for the community, the sheep association drove twenty-five to thirty fat old ewes to town each week where they would be dispatched by the local butcher, Charles Ahlstrom.  William R. Palmer writes, “Early Saturday morning, before the flies became too active, the people rushed to the butcher shop on Main Street to buy a leg or front quarter of mutton. It was never cut up smaller than that. Plucks (the heart, liver, and lungs) were given away at the slaughterhouse to the kids who swarmed there like flies on killing days.”

After the wool needs of the town were met, the balance was sacked up and freighted to Provo or Salt Lake City and traded for groceries and hardware. These goods were transported back to Cedar City, and sold at the co-op store. The stockholders would draw their dividends in the form of merchandise instead of hard currency.    The Cedar Sheep Association disbanded in 1917.  The Cedar Sheep Association building is currently the home of Bulloch Drug on Main Street.

The Cedar City Co-op - "The Old Reliable"

Another Co-op venture was the Cedar City Co-op, otherwise known as “The Old Reliable”.  William R. Palmer worked in this co-op and shared the following story:

“Dealing all the time with people, the clerks came to know their vagaries. Aunt Manie was one who always expected the clerk "to throw something in." She came early one year to do her Christmas shopping, and I waited on her. On her list was a pound of peanuts. I opened the drawer and there was a big mouse in the bin. I scooped it with the nuts into her sack. She said, "Now what are you going to throw in for a Christmas gift." I said, "I have already thrown something in, you'll find it soon." I expected to have her in my hair any day, but time went on to the end of January before I saw her again.

1915 Cedar City Co-op ad.

She was back to trade, and at the end as usual, she asked me to throw something in. I said, "Aunt Manie, I threw something in the last time we traded, and you have never thanked me for it. It was when you bought some peanuts." "Oh!" she cried, "I never got one of those nuts. I put them in my trunk to keep for Christmas, and when I opened it to get them on Christmas morning a pesky mouse had got in and ate them all. It also ate holes in some of my clothes." I lacked the courage to confess my sins, but I made the peanuts up in full to Aunt Manie and gave her a sample package of a new tea to pay for her darning. After that Aunt Manie would trade with no other clerk . . . .”


Early Iron County Sheep Stories

In going along with recent posts, we thought we would share some interesting tales taken  from the 1940's radio addresses of William R. Palmer. The following excerpts were compiled  from a 1974 Utah Historical Quarterly article. If you want to read the entire article, it can be found here: Utah Historical Quarterly Spring 1972 Spelling and pronunciation have been left as Palmer intended. Enjoy. Most of our early pioneers came from the shops and factories of foreign lands. The Americans among them were but little better prepared for pioneering. All of them knew little or nothing about sheep, and no one was available to advise them of the range conditions that their animals must face. So, in trying to build up their cherished flocks and herds, they did many things that seem humorous to the experienced growers of today.

Sheep on the summer range.

Sheep were first brought to the Cedar City area in November 1862 by the Willden family, who later moved to Beaver. They had ten head. As fast as others could get hold of them, every family acquired one or more to produce the wool that was needed to spin the family clothing. They were valued as high as thirty dollars a head. To avoid loss they were kept in a pen at home and fed by hand like pigs.

As the years went by, the sheep increased until the families were supplied with the wool they needed. The animals by now were becoming troublesome to care for, and ways were sought to get them away from home where they could pick their own living. At first they were driven out in the morning and brought back at night. Then neighbors put their flocks together and took turns in herding them. Finally a community herd developed and they were brought home only once a year to be shorn.

Sheep in their pens.

To breed up the quality of their sheep, the company brought in a few head of purebred merinos. They were run on the best ranges and given every advantage that they might increase more rapidly. Everyone thought they were wonderful sheep until shearing time came. The natives had light, fluffy fleeces and sheared only three or four pounds each. Shearers were paid five cents per head and with the crude appointments they had, men sheared only from fifty to seventy head per day. The merinos were wrinkly bodied, tight, greasy-wooled fellows that almost defied the shear blades. The coming in of the merino herd was always occasion for groans and profanity on the part of the crew.

Early shearers.

It was the manager's custom to call the men together for prayers every night and morning. And always a blessing was invoked upon "our flocks and herds." There was a newcomer from England in the crew one spring, and he could not get the knack of using the shears. He snipped and snipped all day. If he was lucky enough to get a good run of bare-bellied natives he sometimes got up to fifteen or twenty head in a hard day. When the merinos came in his count dropped to a third of that number. After wrestling with the merinos one hard, hot day the manager called upon Dick to lead in prayer. He made a good and fervent start but when he came to the blessing of the flocks and herds he truly told the Lord how he felt about the matter. He said, "Lord bless all our flocks and 'erds, but this 'ere bloody, greasy 'erd we don't care whether Thee blesses urn or not." It was a long time before proper reverence and decorum could be restored at prayer time.

In those days the housewives carded and spun the wool, and wove the cloth and knitted the stockings for the needs of their families. So the first market to be supplied was the townspeople. The sheep company declared a wool dividend every year, and the women brought their sacks to the Tithing Office to receive it. The women came generally because they knew wool better than the men, and they wanted to select their own for they would have to work it up. If the family needed more than twenty, thirty, or fifty pounds of dividend wool that was theirs, or if they were not stockholders, they bought it from the company or from a shareholder who had more wool than he needed. After the town was supplied, the balance was sacked up and hauled to Provo or Salt Lake and traded to ZCMI for groceries and hardware. These goods were brought home to Cedar City and sold over the counters of the Co-op Store. ZCMI found a market for most of that wool among the women of Salt Lake City who still were carding and spinning and weaving their own cloth.

Sheep to Shawl: Spinning and Weaving

Controlling the yarn The spinning process turns prepared fiber into yarn or thread. The spinner controls the thickness and amount of twist to give the finished yarn the desired qualities. Usually yarn is plied, multiple strands twisted together, to give the final product more strength. The yarn is stored on a spindle or bobbin as it is spun.

A spinner in action


Once the spindle or bobbin is full the yarn is wound on to a skein winder. There are various types of skein winder, but they all perform the same purpose: they allow the length of the yarn to be determined and keep the yarn in organized, untangled loops, ready to be turned into fabric.




One way the yarn could be used is on a loom to weave fabric or rugs. Warp threads are those that run the length of the fabric. The warp is wound on to a beam at the back of the loom. Each strand of warp is then passed through a harness and a reed. The harness moves up and down to create the woven pattern. A simple loom will have just two harnesses which makes a plain weave. Looms with four, eight, or sixteen harnesses allow for more complicated patterns. In a floor loom, like the rug loom at the museum, the harnesses are controlled by treadles. When a treadle is stepped on a system of chains and pulleys raise one harness and lower the other. This creates a space for the shuttle containing the weft, the horizontal strands, to pass from one side to the other.

You can even weave using straws.

The other treadle is then pressed, causing the harnesses reversethe position of the warp, and the shuttle is passed back across the loom. Between each pass of the shuttle the reed is pulled forward to press the weft tightly in to place. As the fabric grows it is wound onto a beam at the front of the loom.

015Also, be sure to mark your calendars for our Sheep to Shawl event, This Saturday, March 19,  from 10am to 2pm. Call us at 435-586-9290 for more information.

Sheep to Shawl 2016

Join us Saturday, March 19 for a trip back in time as we explore wool, from Sheep to Shawl. Frontier Homestead State park in partnership with the Sagebrush Fiber Artisans will allow participants to journey through the step-by-step process of taking wool from the sheep’s back to yours. From 10:00-2:00 have fun with the whole family as you explore how pioneers made clothes. Sheep will be attending as well to give visitors the opportunity to touch and feel before and after their annual haircut. DSC_0569



Demonstrations include washing, carding, spinning and dyeing wool. Knitting, crocheting and weaving will be available to participate in. Come enjoy the activities and visit with our talented craftspeople. Cost is $1.50 per person or $5.00 per family. Friend’s Group members are free with membership card.

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

Moving the sheep

The herder's home away from home. Sheep ranching in Iron County is often a transhumant operation. This means that the sheep are moved seasonally to different locations. The summer finds them on the mountain while the winter range is the desert.  The sheep are rotated between different pastures in an effort to maintain effective feed. While on government land, a sheepherder is required to be with the sheep to keep them from overgrazing an area, wandering into dangerous and protected areas, and privately owned land. Sheep ranchers are assigned an allotment of land that is used solely for their flock.

Sheep were first taken to the Cedar Mountain in 1870. Local historian William R. Palmer recorded that two men were sent with the herd. They had strict instructions to keep the sheep out of the timber. The owners were afraid that the sheep would get lost, wander away, or get eaten by a predator. One hot summer day, the sheep were determined to get into the shade, where they would have lain all day until evening when they could be driven at will. However, remembering their instructions, the two sheepherders spent the day battling the sheep to keep them away from the shade. Finally, the herd scattered and ran for the timber. One of the men quickly rode to town to report the disaster. A number of residents return to help gather the flock. Palmer states; “Riding and yelling through the forest like madmen they rounded up the wayward woolies and forced them back to the naked sunburned hillside. Then with many admonitions to the careless herdsmen they returned to town feeling they had done a good and heroic days work.”  Fortunately, sheep ranchers today have a much better understanding of the nature of sheep.

Sheep head for greener pastures on the mountain

The Ted Nelson family has been sheep ranching in Iron County for over six generations. Their ranch is centrally located between winter and summer range. Each season the sheep are driven to their ground on the mountain, then back to the ranch, then to the desert, and finally back to the ranch for lambing. The sheep move along trails created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.  All local commercial sheep operations work their herds in this manner. Moving the sheep is essential for the survival of the herd, the financial success of a sheep ranch, and the ecological health of the rangeland.


Next Time- Shearing

Beginning with Sheep

Welcome to the first edition of the Homestead Telegraph.  Through this blog we will keep you up to date on current happenings at Frontier Homestead, provide you with a look into our collection, and provide a look into the history of our area. Please feel free to comment on our posts and don’t forget to share them with your friends. Now, let’s talk about sheep. The mining of iron ore drove the settlement of Southwestern Utah. From 1851 to 1857 settlers operated a productive iron foundry. Due to difficult times, poor technology, and some circumstances beyond their control, production ceased in 1858. The population of the area dropped from over one thousand to 301.  A majority of these early residents came from industrial centers of Europe and knew little or nothing about sheep. However, the sheep industry became a focal point for community survival until the mines reopened in the early 1920’s. The Willden family first brought sheep into the area in 1852. The Willdens brought ten head and soon many other locals sought to own sheep to produce wool for spinning and weaving family clothing. The sheep were valued at thirty dollars a head and most were kept in pens at home and fed by hand, much like pigs.

The flocks in Cedar City began to grow and soon the sheep population became a burden to care for on the small lots most residents owned. Many families began to drive their flocks out in the morning and then back home in the evening. The sheep could then pick out their own living off the land. Eventually, a community herd developed and a local co-op organization was created. The sheep would only be brought into town once a year to be shorn and the excess wool would be sold. The individuals who owned sheep in the co-op would be distributed the profits in the form of merchandise from the “sheep store.” These herds grew into a strong business concern, which paid dividends that ranged from twenty-five to sixty percent.

An old photo from the Branch Agricultural College.

The Cedar City Cooperative Sheep Company dissolved in 1917. As the local community began to establish itself as a destination for miners, tourists, and Hollywood, sheep ranching no longer served as the business of the community at large, but continued with a few families, some which still carry on the “saving grace” of sheep ranching. Next Time: Moving the Sheep

Sheep grazing on Cedar Mountain in the fall.