Sheep, cattle and unwritten rules

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Photo courtesy John M. Motter The Chapsons ranched and raised a family overlooking the West Fork of the San Juan River during the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Chapsons ranched and raised a family overlooking the West Fork of the San Juan River during the late 1890s and early 1900s.

Prejudice between Anglos and Hispanics existed during the early settlement of Archuleta County, just as it did throughout the pioneer west. A related prejudice between sheepmen and cattlemen was also evident. Not all sheepmen were Hispanic and not all cattlemen were Anglos, but it seems the ethnic problem was closely related to the ovine/bovine rancher problem.

I was told by the late Ray Macht, a descendant of an early Archuleta County family recognized as cattle ranchers, that an unwritten rule guided the sharing of range between cattlemen and sheepmen. At times, the rule was enforced with guns.

According to Macht, during the summer grazing season, cattlemen allowed sheepmen to run their flocks on the lush grass found above 10,000 feet in the San Juans. To identify the 10,000 feet elevation level, Macht pointed to the rock cliffs evident in the mountains looping around Pagosa Springs on the East and North. When the summer season ended, the sheep were driven back into New Mexico for the winter.

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