Wyoming’s Original Tiny Houses, Sheep Wagons, Drove People Insane
It could be a truly lonely life. Insanity was a real danger for those who lived in the sheep wagons of the old west in the early 1900s.
Sheep Wagons were drawn by horse to a remote pasture where the sheepherder would sleep, cook and live out of until the sheep exhausted the grass and the flock and shepherd would move to greener pastures. That didn't sit too well with cattlemen as you probably know.
“It is not to be wondered at that such a life often ends in insanity. It is said that the asylums are repleted year by year by a large contingent of these unfortunates. Indeed, their lot is a most pathetic one, and they sometimes even lose the power of speech and forget their own names.”
- Episcopal Missionary Bishop of Wyoming, Ethelbert Talbot, in his 1906 My People of the Plains
"For twenty dollars a month he is willing to sit in the sand and listen to the never-ending bleating until the little mind he has gives way, and they fetch him in from the range insane.”
- The 1897-1897 Biennial Report of the California State Commission on Lunacy
“Once, indeed, a college professor, ill of consumption, undertook to follow five thousand bleaters for the summer. In autumn they found him insane, on his hands and knees among the sheep, bleating with them.”
Wyoming Tales and Trails documents a Denver newspaperman who wrote differently, saying only the best people were trusted with the valuable herds and that camp tenders would come with supplies once or twice a week with supplies for the wagons that were a house on wheels.
“It is a canvas-covered wagon, containing cookstove, bunk, cupboard, and, in short, everything that can make life bearable for the herder.”
-Arthur Chapman, columnist for a Denver newspaper
I suspect that both sides of the story are true, depending on who the shepherd was working for.
“If you only knew the hardships these poor men endure. They go two together and sometimes it is months before they see another soul, and rarely ever a woman.”
- Elinore Pruitt Stewart, housekeeper for Wyoming rancher Henry Clyde Stewart(1868-1948).
Lucy Morrison Moore, 'The Sheep Queen of Wyoming' established a winter range northeast of present Shoshoni, Wyoming and “did not see another adult white woman for five years.” In 1891, they built a winter home in Casper.
No wonder the sheep are nervous.
Before Winnebagos and Airstream trailers, there were do it yourself RVs. Would you like one as a tiny house? How about for a guest cottage? Tiny living enthusiasts are flocking to sheep wagons.
For more on these sheep wagons and the lifestyle, check out the great article at wyomingtalesandtrails.com. Wyoming Wagon Works in Laramie custom builds wagons. Sheep wagons can be like classic campervans, the Airstream of pioneers
Here are some resources: