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Oregon Pioneer Herds Sheep from San Francisco

Sheep provided essential wool clothing for early Oregon pioneers, but only the Hudson’s Bay Company had any sheep.  In 1842 Jacob Leese broke the company’s monopoly by driving a flock of 900 sheep from San Francisco to the Willamette Valley. It was quite a trip.

The drive lost 20 animals while crossing the Klamath River in Northern California, and then faced threatening Indians.  The sheepherders had only seven guns and felt challenged day and night until they crossed the Rogue River in Southern Oregon.

Lambs born along the way soon made up for their losses.  One shepherd, John Minto, reported using pack mules to carry newly born lambs.

The Leese sheep were of poor quality, but his flock introduced the sheep industry in Oregon. Within 20 years thousands of sheep were grazing in Southern Oregon alone. In one week in June 1867, more than 15,000 sheep moved south of Canyonville. The next year, the Ashland Woolen Mill opened to process thousands of pounds of locally produced wool.

Sources: "Hurry up the Woolen Mill." Oregon Sentinel 15 June 1867 [Jacksonville, Oregon] : 3. Print.

Gaston, Joseph. "The First Farmers." Centennial History of Oregon, 1811-1911 V. 1. Google Books, n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. .

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.