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Introduction

Sheep and the people who tended them have played a major, and sometimes-overlooked, role in Nevada history. Sheep were first brought in to feed and clothe miners — and then, under ideal conditions for grazing sheep, the state's production of mutton, lambs and wool exploded. The large amount of public lands in Nevada available for grazing kept start-up costs low, and attracted nomadic operations. Sheep were durable in harsh winter conditions, and with proper herding, they could cover vast distances in order to find feed.

Basques were involved with Nevada sheep almost from the beginning, as sheepherders and sometimes owners. The industry had its ups and downs. Overgrazing became a problem in Nevada as in other parts of the West.

Photo: Lamb carried in sling from saddle

This exhibit honors the lonely and courageous work of Basque sheepherders.

Water was always scarce, and conflicts between ranchers, homesteaders, and nomadic sheepmen led to regulations which ultimately curtailed open grazing.

Although the nature of the business had changed, sheep ranching continued, with grazing still permitted on some public lands under certain conditions. Sheep still graze in Nevada mountains in the summer and Nevada deserts in the winter. But sheepherders are a vanishing breed, and the days of the Basque sheepherders, once the masters of Western sheep, are over. Many of them carved arborglyphs — records of their experiences and thoughts — on the bark of aspen trees in Nevada mountains.

Exhibit Guide

 

About the Sheepherders of Northern Nevada multimedia exhibit

Nevada Humanities LogoThe exhibit was prepared by Glee Willis and Donnelyn Curtis, in conjunction with Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe; with technical support from Melonie Shier, Mark Gandolfo, Shawn Sariti, and Nora Bustos Dena. Web design was provided by Araby Greene. Funding support was provided by Nevada Humanities.