Wayne County Wool

Left to Right, Edwin Archibald Oldroyd (Ted), “The Prize Ram,” George W. Okerlund and Melvin Okerlund. Picture courtesy of Mary O. Ellett Loa, Utah

Sheep seemed to flow into Rabbit Valley shortly after the settlers arrived in what was then Piute County but is now known as Wayne County, and their numbers continued to grow exponentially for decades afterward. Among the first men to own and graze sheep in Wayne County were John Burr, Beason Lewis, Isaac J. Riddle, Polk Sampson, Wm. DeLeeuw, Willard Pace, Urban Stewart, David Coombs and Joe Bagnall, among others. 

It was in 1898 that Emery King came to Wayne County and found employment as a sheepherder with Joe Bagnall whose sheep he later bought. In 1900 Emery King and John Hiskey rented a herd of sheep from a fellow by the name of Campbell for three years, it was through this arrangement that they were able to gain firm footing in the growing sheep business. Like sheep are known to do, Emery King’s sheep herd multiplied by leaps and bounds. 

During the winter months most of the sheep herds would placidly graze in the southern and eastern parts of the county near the base of the Henry Mountains. Summer months they would find themselves enjoying long views on Boulder and Parker Mountains and at times basking in the desert sun east of Thousand Lake Mountain. 

It wasn’t long before George Coombs from Teasdale came onto the scene and saw the benefits of sheep ownership and began working for the local sheep magnate Emery King. Being an industrious sort of fellow that George was he took his yearly herding payment in sheep, and when George had about 1,000 head of his own sheep herd he struck out on his own. 

The first breed of sheep in Wayne County was the American Merino, sheep of this breed-produced fleece of fine, short wool. Merino’s were good grazers and did well in large flocks but were not tasty mutton producers, which in turn made them not very pleasing to the palate or very profitable. In about 1903, and also not rated very high on the preferred tasty mutton scale, were some Rambouiletts or French Merinos that were brought into Wayne County. For mutton coinsurer’s like the late great Dunc Taylor they were larger and a bit more profitable but it still took a lot of effort to acquire a taste for them, but eventually they became popular on the Western ranges. 

Raising sheep entails considerable expense, as it is necessary to have one or more herders with the range sheep at all times watching over them and since the sheep are always on the move, a camp mover also had to be employed.  

Sheep are generally sheared in the spring. Up until about 1918 men using hand shears sheared the sheep. On a good day the average number of sheep sheared per man per day was thirty-five to forty, a young guy with a strong back and something to prove could hand shear closer to fifty sheep a day, but by the age of forty he could be found hunched over in a barn milking cows. 

During the early years a fleece would average six to seven pounds of wool, through improved breeding practices wool poundages have increased dramatically. 

When George Coombs’ sheep were being sheared in the spring it was a happy site to see young Barbara Coombs playing on large bales of her dad’s wool down at Sandy Ranch or in the alley next to the Coombs Store in Teasdale, memories of sheep shearing time were always the favorite for kids growing up. 

After World War II when wool was still king George Coombs would shuttle most of his wool over to Sigurd to send it out on the train but being the smart man that he was, he would always hold back a couple of wool bales to take to Utah Woolen Mills in Salt to trade for blankets. When George Coombs was at the mill he would ask about the large surplus of last years wool suit samples that they would have for the taking, and when George would arrive back in Teasdale with his pay and wool suit samples, his daughters Bernice, Lorea and Barbara were always intrigued to think of ways they could put them to good use.   

“In Teasdale, if there is a lady in the house there is a quilting frame set up in the living room, and if there isn’t, it is down at the church in the Relief Society Room.” Said every married man in Teasdale. 

Quilting in Teasdale has never been just a pastime, every since Eve batted her eyes in the Garden of Eden and handed Adam the apple, quilting has been an art, and no one dares question that fact for fear of losing a rib. For beginners there is more blood spilled at a quilting bee than there is at a professional boxing match. 

Grandma Barbra Pace said she started seriously quilting in 1976, but she always did enjoy embroidering. It was after she pieced together a Log Cabin quilt in the mid seventies and entered it into the Springville Quilt Show, and won 1stprize that her fingers never stopped stitching. It was after winning that 1stprize that Grandma always kept a quilt frame set up in the sun room and when she wasn’t cooking for 30 or more farm hands she was in there quilting. Local lore has it that Grandma Pace could get a record sixteen stitches on a single needle and I dare anyone to try and convince me otherwise. To me Grandma Pace will always be a champion. 

Grandma Barbara Pace / Quilt made from Wool Suit Samples from Utah Woolen Mills, stitched together with red linen strips by Bernice Baker and quilted by the Teasdale Relief Society in the 1940’s after World War II. Barbara Pace Quilt Collection 

Grandma Barbara Pace quilting in the sun room, Teasdale, Utah

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