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Sheep Trails and Dog Trials

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

#Ketchum's #TrailingoftheSheep is my "not-to-miss" event of the year, except for 2020 and the Year of the Unexpected. But I have wonderful memories of 2019. Arriving in an early snow blizzard that quickly moved through, watching the #sheepdogtrials clutching a blanket around the shoulders while balancing a cup of hot cider, the festival dancers, and the parade that brought up all the nostalgia of my own small town parade memories. And the sheep. Oh yes, the sheep.

The idea to bring a shepherd into the Hartmann Ranch came years ago as I was plotting the saga of Lena and Evan Hartmann. My shepherd recently immigrated from Scotland and he brought with him his border collie. His name is Graham Kincaid. He's opinionated and very focused on the needs of his working companion, Alec. If you were to ask Mr. Kincaid, he'd tell you there's never been a better dog born on God's green earth for herding sheep. But when he realizes that his dog has sired puppies, you can imagine Mr. Kincaid might have a vested interest in acquiring one. Unfortunately, the young woman who owns them is less inclined to relinquish them to the brash Scotsman. Tempers flare and therein lies the tale.

The Big Wood River still is a highway for the sheep and shepherds as they move every spring into the higher elevation grazing fields. In October they reverse their route before winter comes. (Yes, that's an intentional plug for the first book in the saga of the Hartmann Ranch, Comes the Winter. Which btw will be on sale at the end of this month.)

Some of those original Scottish shepherds moved on to establish businesses elsewhere. They were frugal and sent their children to fine universities, but their cultural heritage remains. If you come next year to the festival, make sure you travel south to Hailey where you can watch the dancing and sample a variety of lamb delicacies.

Last year, I wrote a post about searching for a location in which to place my fictional Hartmann Guest Ranch. The picture below was taken of the valley where I chose to build the house. If one travels up this valley, they'll find it narrows so much that I would not recommend taking a rental car. And yes, as in the story, there is an abandoned mine up in those hills.

We picnicked on that log to the right, and I must say, it was chilly. But the setting was perfect, so perfect that in A Portrait of Dawn, the Hartmanns take their own picnic to the pond. Of course, that was July of 1890, and the weather was a little more agreeable.

If you do make the trip as far as Ketchum, go at least as far as the Galena summit and a tad beyond to this overlook of the #SawtoothRange. It's breathtaking. When you see it, I think you'll understand how a setting can inspire romantic stories such as The Sawtooth Range.


Here's another sneak preview of A Hartmann Ranch Christmas.

Monday, December 2, 1891

Graham buttoned his jacket as a sudden chilling wind blew in from the north. Only a month down from the summer range high in the Sawtooth valleys and he was counting the months before he’d be heading back. After weeks of quiet solitude, the constant chatter from the ranch hands and clamor of Ketchum’s city streets set his teeth on edge. Thinking back to his recent interchange with Miss Webster, he let out a loud puff of air. Neither the sheep nor his dog argued with him half so much.

Graham could feel Evan’s eyes studying him before the rancher asked, “Something troubling you, Graham?”

The shepherd weighed his answer, not sure where his employer stood on the subject of opinionated women. Finally, he said, “You’re a reasonable man.”

Evan chuckled. “I like to think myself so. There’s a few who might differ with that opinion. There was a rancher just this week up from Hailey who thought my asking price for that bay yearling was clearly not reasonable. And he told me so in a most direct manner.”

Graham chewed on his lower lip a while. “If you don’t mind my asking, why did you give up your independence for married life?”

Evan made no attempt to temper his response and he laughed. “You make it sound like I gave up something of great value for a ball and chain.”

“Seems to me that’s exactly what any man does when he willingly submits to marriage vows.”

The rancher turned with an amused expression. “You’re serious?”

Graham hitched a shoulder. “It’s my opinion.”

“Well, I’ve one of a different sort. For me, it was giving up a lonely life in exchange for a lifelong companionship with a woman I’d give my life for. You know, Lena. How could marriage to a woman as kind and dear as she be equated to imprisonment?”

“Didn’t mean offense. Mrs. Hartmann is all what you say and more.”

Evan nodded. “Much more. You might be grateful your parents didn’t share your opinion or you might not be sitting there debating the merits of married life.”

“You speak true.” Graham thought it best to drop the subject and turned his focus to the swift-flowing river, pondering the freedom it represented to a man like himself. He’d need to be careful about voicing his thoughts or he’d be pegged as a romantic, or worse, a poet. He’d known a few years of marriage. They hadn’t been pleasant, but at least they’d been brief, God rest her soul.

They rode on in silence, the road leading north along the meandering Big Wood River. Another five or six months before he and Alec would drive the sheep north again. He wondered how he’d manage these months of confinement. Only up there did he find the freedom that had called him to America. He glanced back at the collie tucked into a tight ball of sleep on the wagon bed. They’d traveled across the stormy Atlantic, crossed half a continent, before pushing even farther into Idaho’s rugged central mountains. It’d all been to find a place doing what they both knew well, tending sheep.

After a mile or more, Graham asked, “Do you think Miss Webster knows her dog is pregnant?”

Evan turned to him. “She is?”

“No doubt about it. You’d have noticed if you’d looked.”

“Suppose so. I had my attention more focused on Miss Webster. What’d you do to rile her?”

Graham crossed his arms across his chest. “Nothing.”

“Never saw nothing have such an effect on someone,” Evan said drolly.

“Dogs like that shouldn’t be kept as pets.”

Evan turned a look of astonishment on him. “Is that what you told her?”

“I’d bet my monthly wage on that dog being full-blooded border collie. A dog like that needs room to run. More than that, it needs a job to do.”

“You said that to her?” Evan grinned when Graham nodded. He shook his head. “That might explain the hackles I see rising every time you two are anywhere close to each other.”

Graham wouldn’t comment on that. True or not, her bad opinion of him might make her less favorable to any offer he might make to buy one of her dog’s pups. He chewed on that for a time before making a suggestion. “You could use another good herding dog if you plan to grow the herd next year.”

“That’s what Bart and I discussed in the fall. We’ll still keep running cattle, but I’m liking the look of the future in wool and mutton. I’m not the only one seeing the wisdom of it. If Bart can swing a deal for that piece of land due south along the Snake River, we’d have our winter home for those we don’t sell in fall.”

This was the most Hartmann had said at one time concerning his plans for next year. And Graham liked the way the man was thinking. If he owned the ranch, it would be exactly what he’d do. Grow the herd. Buy the land while it was available. And there was so much land here. No island controlled by the rich gentry. A man like himself might have opportunity here to start small and with hard work become a man of means, a man respected. He was counting on it, and he was saving for it.

Even if Hartmann didn’t buy one of her pups, he would. Another dog would help him next spring. And if the pups were, as he expected, Alec’s offspring, one would be a fine addition to his team. Maybe two. But Hartmann was right, Miss Webster was not favorable towards him or his dog. Once she found out about her own dog’s tryst with Alec, she might never forgive either of them.

Coming November 18, 2020

1 Comment

MK McClintock
MK McClintock
Oct 10, 2020

I can't believe that with as often as I went to the Hailey and Ketchum area that I had never heard of this until you mentioned it. It looks like such a fun event, and I like all real settings you incorporated into your book.

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