Cattlemen form Sheep Shooter groups to keep sheep off cattle ranges
In the year 1898, the Cascade Forest Reserve was created, and during the first two years of its existence, this reserve was closed to grazing. Sheep owners who had formerly used the Cascade Mountains for summer range were forced to look elsewhere for summer range for their flocks. This resulted in a great influx of outside sheep to the Blue Mountains.
Local sheep owners who had occupied the range for years had respected the rights of the cattlemen by staying off range that was grazed by cattle. Cattlemen who had used the foothill range were slow to take radical measures to protect their rights, but the overcrowding of the sheep into traditional cattle grazing areas resulted in a decrease in forage supply.
Near the turn of the century, cattlemen began to organize into groups known as Sheep Shooters to drive sheep owners back from the range that they called cow range. Their plan of action was to establish a "deadline" across which sheep men were not allowed to herd their sheep. Trees were marked by cutting a saddle blanket blaze fore and aft along a line that ran through timbered country. Notices printed in red ink on cloth posters were tacked on the sheep side of the line.
A typical notice would be similar to the following:
Warning to Sheep Menâ€“You are hereby ordered to keep your sheep on the north side of plainly marked line or you will suffer the consequences. Signed Inland Sheep Shooters
Several mass killings of sheep occurred in Central Oregon as a result of the growing tension between sheep and cattle operators. The largest slaughter of sheep occurred near Benjamin Lake on the High Desert in 1903. Sheep were herded off a rimrock and those that survived where shot with the result that nearly 2,400 sheep were killed.
The major conflicts ended when the Blue Mountain Forest Reserve was established by the Department of Agriculture in 1906. The reserve would soon become the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests. The government established grazing allotments by 1907 on the new reserve, which controlled the number of livestock that could be grazed and the location of animal grazing.
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