Yavapai College - Newsletter 3

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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : latest news : latest news August 01, 2014

10/16/2012 10:00:00 PM
Coalition seeks to preserve tales of sheep drives: Historic sheep driveways are focus of Thursday meeting
Courtesy Cindy Shanks
Retired Mesa schoolteacher Cindy Shanks took these photographs of the Dobson family sheep on the Heber-Reno Sheep Driveway within the last four years. The sheep drives ended last year on that route.
Courtesy Cindy Shanks
Retired Mesa schoolteacher Cindy Shanks took these photographs of the Dobson family sheep on the Heber-Reno Sheep Driveway within the last four years. The sheep drives ended last year on that route.
Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier

As the tradition of driving sheep from the Sonoran Desert to Arizona's high country fades, the Black Canyon Trail Coalition hopes to at least save its stories.

The coalition is hosting a meeting in Black Canyon City Thursday for people who are interested in the history of the Black Canyon and Beaverhead-Grief Hill sheep driveways, people who have personal stories about them, and people who just love sheep.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Albins Community Center, 19055 East K-Mine Rd. Another meeting takes place today in Casa Grande, headquarters of a few of the remaining handful of large sheep operations in the state.

The meetings focus on two sheep driveways that have been a Yavapai County agricultural tradition since the 1880s.

The Black Canyon Trail follows much of the Black Canyon Sheep Driveway route that parallels Interstate 17 to the west. The route dates back to the 1600s, and it became a federally designated livestock driveway in 1919.

It passes through the ghost town of Cordes, where the Cordes family still celebrates the arrival of the sheep each spring and fall with barbecues.

"There used to be at least seven trails from Casa Grande and the Valley (of the Sun) that came through here," Patsy Cordes told The Daily Courier in 2010. "Except for two, they're all gone now."

Patsy's daughter Cathy operates the only business in town these days. The Cordes Station sells a variety of antiques on weekend days. But decades ago, the sheep industry brought so much business to Cordes that it spawned a rail spur.

"I think I was about 4 or 5 when I (saw my) first sheep drive," Cal Cordes told The Daily Courier back in 2010. "We had shearing plants, dipping vats and fed all the sheepherders. We had about 25,000 to 35,000 sheep come through in spring and fall. We'd eat with the sheep owners like (Frank) Auza and (Joe) Manterola."

The Black Canyon Trail Coalition has obtained grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Arizona Humanities Council and Arizona Centennial Projects to hire scholars who will research and document the history of the Black Canyon Sheep Driveway. The documents will likely become a special collection at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott.

Arizona had more sheep than any state in the 1920s-1940s, said Kristine Komar, who was hired to help research the driveways' history.

"This is a rich story," she said.

The grant also will help build a permanent exhibit at the new Black Canyon Heritage Park in Black Canyon City.

Future public programs at the park will feature sheepherding families and children's books by Cindy Shanks of Mesa. She wrote about the former Heber-Reno Sheep Driveway from the desert to the White Mountains. The books contain Shanks' photographs documenting the drive from 2008 to 2011.

That sheep drive came to an end in 2011 when the last family using the driveway, the Dobson family's Sheep Springs Sheep Co. of Chandler, sold off its sheep because of rising feed prices. The family had been herding its sheep to and from the White Mountains each spring and fall for more than a century.

But sheep drives continue through Yavapai County to the Mogollon Rim.

Those who hang on to the tradition say the long walk puts the sheep into better shape for breeding, gives the sheep a head start out of the desert heat before they're permitted to graze on national forests on the rim, and protects the historic right to use the driveway.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Article comment by: Raymond Evans

We had a ranch along New River from Canyon (Black Canyon City) to just below Bell road. There were two sheep drives at that time that went across the ranch. Every spring the sheep came down from the mountain. Part of them went to the east Valley and part went on the other trail to the west side of the Valley. Buckeye, Peoria, Avondale, Glendale etc. The drive was from about 12 mile wide to about 3 miles wide at different places. The last drive that I saw was about 1970 +/- and young Mike Espil was takeing the herd up as the man in charge for the first time. I later got to know Mike (son of Pete Espil) in Yuma after the Espil Sheep Co was dissolved.

Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Article comment by: Elizabeth Steele

This article is great. I am a granddaugter of Charles Cordes. Was never at Cordes during a drive but do remember drives from Topok, on the Colorado to Seligman. That trail fallowed the rail road (more or less) to Krozier then up Wright creek to the top of the mountain. The Aja Family used that trail alone with the Echveria families.
I do thank you for remembering what built AZ.

Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Article comment by: Angela Bennett

I will never forget witnessing this phenomenon while exploring northern Arizona in 2000. Driving up to PV, my friend and I pulled over to see the shepherds and hundreds of sheep climb the mountain to get to the Verde. What a sight.

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Article comment by: JOHN CORLEY


Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

Good article. Insert sheep jokes here.

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Article comment by: Monkey Jedi Flame

Why no mention of sheep's crossing?

With all the play for the Cordes family, looks like someone at the Courier just wanted the Cordes name on the mind of voters before election day.

Un-bias reporting at its best!

Editor's Note Unbiased? Yes. Kelly Cordes lost in the Primary Election.

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Article comment by: Don Balmes

What a great and interesting article and a special piece of history of our great state of Arizona. I have spent my entire life of 82 years in the valley. Just wanted to tell Judy that I remember her Grandfather well and he was a special gentleman - a very nice man.

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Article comment by: What an interesting, educational article.

Thank you Courier and Joanna! Feel a little 'sheepish' not to have known about this interesting piece of Az history.

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Article comment by: Judy Mongello

My maternal grandfather was Basque. Came to AZ in about 1912 to raise/run sheep with a brother. They grazed their sheep in the high country during the appropriate seasons. He would then return to Buckeye, AZ where we lived and would winter there.

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