Adus F. Dorsey II
In 1847 the first domestic sheep arrived in Utah with the Mormon Pioneers. Sheep numbers increased until in the early 1900’s when there were more sheep in Sanpete County alone than exist in the entire State today. Those numbers peaked at around 2.4 million head just about the time of the Great Depression during which time many of Utah’s Sheep Ranchers took their sheep skills and migrated to the surrounding Mountain States. Utah has always been THE place for sheep producers from all over America to come to select the finest purebred seed stock and today the Utah Ram Sale is still the place to find the best Rams anywhere in the United States. By 1994 Utah had only 445,000 sheep and lambs and a wool clip of only 3.8 million pounds. Sheep remain an important element in Utah states agricultural economy, but the glory days of the 1920s are gone forever.(Utah Wool Growers Association)
The glory days of sheep herding for George Coombs was when he was a kid in the fifties. It was on a balmy spring afternoon during a conversation at George Coomb’s Cactus Hill Ranch, George recalled from memory the days when he was six or seven when some of the old sheepherders like Clarence Baker and Gene Bullard when they were still alive.
Another favorite memory that George Coombs shared was a day in his childhood when he was sitting on an old wood rail fence at the Cactus Hill ranch and he first saw what was surely his dad driving a herd of sheep. In the distance a swirling cloud of dust began to prominently rise on the eastern skyline, all from the hoofs of a large herd of Coombs sheep, it was somethinglike a slow moving dirt devil and coming toward Teasdale around Donkey Hill.
As George classically and somewhat glassy eyed remembered and expressed it, he jumped off the rail fence and began to race as fast as he could through the newly planted field, and just as suddenly “here come Gene Bullard and he took hold of my arm and swung me up behind his saddle, and still to this very day I can still smell that old man, the camp fire smoke and the sweat, in one swift move with an out stretched arm old Gene lifted me off the ground and onto the back of his old gray mare and I held on for all it was worth, and together we rode the rest of the way to my dad’s sheep herd”.
In a grateful voice George said he was very fortunate to grow up with those old sheepherders” they did it the old way and I watched and observed how they did things, and those old timers taught me a lot about herding sheep. I started to go to the sheep herd when I was in seventh grade and I spent seventy two days between the seventh and eight grade in Jacobs Valley with Alfred Ekker, Culla Ekker’s son, much of the time poaching deer and catching more than our limit of fish in the crystal clear mountain lakes on Boulder Mountain.”
George stated that the most sheep he and his dad had was about the 3,000 in the late sixties and early seventies, he also said when he was younger and when he was in grade school they would shear sheep down at the Cat ranch and or set up a portable sheep shearing out fit down at little Egypt and shear two or three herds there, “but there were a lot of sheep on the desert in them days, but not anymore as they pulled out their sheep operation on the west end of Henry’s in about 1986”.
In the early 1960’s George remembered loading up in an old pick up with his dad (Guy Coombs) and heading out to the desert. The road was still dirt from at the junction of highway 12 and 24. They would start out early in the morning with a few cans of gas and two spare tires and supplies for the sheepherders and head out of town, “it would take me and my dad all day long to get to Star Springs, a long hard day, and it was dark when would get there”.
Tugging at the sun bleached handkerchief tied around his neck, George’s mind drifted and he said back in those days there was about ten herds of sheep on the desert, old Hugh King had a herd, Reed Brian, and Sam Allen partnered up with Guy on a herd and a few fellas from Grand Junction Colorado would winter down there. George said that his Dad was a businessman and he probably knew more about sheep than anybody in southern Utah, and he had herded sheep on seventeen different allotments. George said “there was a time my dad bought a herd of sheep down on the Arizona strip and with a couple Judas goats and with Kay Allen’s dad they drove them up the Paria between Kanab and Page Arizona, through Cannonville and Tropic out Widstoe way and onto the West end of Boulder and Parker Mountain, a monumental feat that has or will ever be repeated”.
George said most of his younger days were spent up on Boulder Mountain with the sheep herd from the time he got out of college herding sheep from Donkey point to Government Point which was the Coombs allotment, as well areas on Parker and the Monroe. A lot of his time he sat out on the rim of Boulder mountain, gazing down and reminiscing about his memories of Gene Bullard, Hugh King, Sam Allen and his and rural way of life in the expansive fields, and as George calls it “East Teasdale”.
George Coombs was an outspoken and diligent proponent of the Utah Farm Bureau (http://utfb.fb.org/) and their practices and proposes that in order for the present farm and ranch operators and the youth in Wayne County that feel the dedicated need to carry on the Wayne County agricultural and ranching tradition join the Utah Farm Bureau so as to have a voice.
In only a way that George could, he also expressed the constant need and public presence at the Wayne County Commissioners meetings for the public to stay informed on policies and decisions that affect the (our) rural way of life that so many of us seek and depend on as a livelihood.
George Coombs wass a life long and outspoken resident of (East) Teasdale, Utah. For more George Coombs comments on sheep herding in Wayne County visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiNliE8ZNBA