Volume 31, Number 1 - Fall 1991

The Ozarks as Sheep Country
One Man's Story
By William H. Johnson

One Hundred and Sixty Acres of Land for $14.00 and What He Did With It, Down in Taney County, Mo., One of the Finest Grazing Counties in Southwest Missouri.

Forsyth, Mo., Nov. 12, 1898.

To The Missouri and Arkansas Farmerand Fruitman:

I want to relate to your many readers the story of one man, who came to Taney County seven years ago and homesteaded one hundred and sixty acres of the government land, which cost him but $14.00 and which he is just now proving up under the homestead laws. His name is H. T. Wilson, and he lives three miles southeast of this place.

H. T. Wilson in 1880 was a sheep herder in Texas. In that year he purchased a flock, and having so much trouble with the scab, sold out and went to Oregon. In Oregon and then in Washington Territory for several years he herded sheep, contending with various diseases, of which scab was the worst. He next went to Montana, and there remained until 1891, when, hearing of Taney County, he removed here in the spring of 1891, and took up a homestead. Of his experience in Taney County, and of the opportunities of this county for sheep men, here is his own statement: "I came here," said M. Wilson, "with little more than my stock of experience with sheep. I had only enough money to pay the $14.00 government fee, and buy a small flock of fifty sheep and such few articles as a homesteader needs. My claim of one hundred and sixty acres lies on the ridge a mile from White River, and the land is high and rolling and covered with blue stem grass, and there is abundant water in the valleys and plenty of shade everywhere. Just such country as my experience in four sheep raising states had taught me was adapted for the sheep business.

"I found myself a pioneer sheep raiser in Taney County and had to combat the prejudice of my neighbors as well as their dogs. The first month I lost ten of my little flock by dogs. It has been up-hill work for years, but I have at last demonstrated that sheep are the moneymakers, and my neighbors have small flocks of their own. As the sheep have multiplied the prejudice and the dogs have given way, so the loss from that source is small and would be nothing were my sheep corralled at night, which I have not done.

"In the seven years my little flock of forty and its increase - for I never bought any more, except bucks - have supported me year by year and increased until the flock numbers two hundred and ninety at present, after selling off the surplus for 1898.

‘This is the most ideal country and climate for sheep I have ever known. I have never lost a sheep from contagious disease. Scab and foot rot and other troublesome sheep diseases are wholly unknown here. I have talked with breeders who claim they have brought scab infected sheep here and they got well of their own accord. The ground is dry and well drained. There is no mud and no stagnant water or miry places. Sheep love the high ground of the hills. They love to sleep at night on the highest ground they can find.

"The Ozark Mountains, with their extensive blue stem range and mild climate, afford an unexcelled locality for sheep.

"I feed my sheep nothing from March 1st to December 1st. After December 1st I feed them lightly until January and then light or heavy, according to the weather, until March. With the first days of March my sheep find picking sufficient on the range and do not come up for their feed. "Weeds are the first green things that appear, but by March 15th the blue stem grass is abundant.

"I have been experimenting with blue grass and find that when started it rapidly grows and spreads wherever the blue stem flourishes. I do not doubt but that with a nominal outlay the blue grass can be made to flourish on these hills as it does in old Kentucky, where I was raised. Indeed the climate and the general appearance of the country are strikingly similar.

"When one buys all the feed it costs but 50 cents a year to winter the sheep, and nothing whatever to some I know who let their sheep rustle for a living the whole year though. It is true sheep will live without feed through the winter upon the range in this county, but I find it money well invested to keep my flock strong and healthy so the ewes may bring early and better lambs.

"But little tillable land is required by the sheep man; fifteen acres of clover and timothy will winter three hundred head of sheep. I have only fifteen acres in cultivation on my claim, but as much of this is in fruit, I buy a considerable part of my winter feed.

"Blue grass remains green all winter in Taney County. I do not doubt that thirty or forty acres of rough land started to blue grass will winter in good shape a large flock.

"We who are handling sheep are anxious for more sheepmen to locate with us. Sheep raising is an infant industry which would be more profitable to all in handling, protecting and marketing our supplies were more people engaged in it.

"My sheep are common native ewes bred to Shropshire bucks, but I would advise newcomers, whenever possible, to bring in their flocks, as the demand far exceeds the local supply. Of the various breeds I would suggest the Cotswold as being best adapted to this locality. They are large, hearty and good mothers.

"My lambs come in December; by April they weigh from forty to seventy pounds and bring 6 and 7 cents in St. Louis. Mild climate allows me to put my lambs on the market in April when the best prices are paid. In April I shear my flock; the wool netting me an average of $1.00 per head, but would do better with a better grade than I have.

"My experience teaches me that I can make one hundred per cent annually on each dollar invested in Taney County. I do not have to herd my flock. I do not round them up at night, though it would be better if this were done. My flock spend the night in the woods, close to the house, where they come each evening for salt.

"In winter I do not shed them except the ewes in lambing time. I have not lost in seven years one sheep or lamb from the weather.

‘There are no varmints here to molest sheep, no wolves or bears, and I have no trouble with large birds or foxes.

"My own experience assures me that any industrious man who has sufficient money to buy a small flock can come to Taney County, homestead a tract of one hundred and sixty acres and make a success. It would give me pleasure to give advice and render such assistance as I could to beginners.

"To men with capital there is big money in handling large flocks in this county. There are tracts of government land ranging in size from one hundred and sixty to five thousand acres of the finest sheep range on earth, which may be cash entered at $1.25 per acre. The price of all land is very low, the best improved farms in White River bottom can be had at from $15.00 to $25.00 per acre.

What Mr. Wilson says of the sheep raising industry here in Taney County are facts drawn from actual experience. He lives close to this village and his ranch and flock can be seen by all who care to investigate further.

There are yet sixty thousand acres of land, most of which is equally as good as Mr. Wilson’s claim, and much is better.

Any head of a family, singleman or woman, or married man can take up one hundred and sixty acres. The government fee is but $14.00. Five years residence is all that is required to obtain title. One need not remain on the land all the time. A soldier or sailor has special favors shown them, and no taxes can be collected on these lands for seven years. No other government fees are required.

The open winters, delightful climate and abundant timber make buildings and fencing as well as the matter of living, an easy matter.


Editor’s note: William H. Johnson promoted Ozarks real estate from Forsyth during the 1890s, moved back to Springfield, and renewed his efforts in Hollister with the coming of the White River Railroad in 1904.

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