Trailing of the Sheep Festival: Celebrating a Rich Tradition of Sheep Ranching and Western Culture

Xavier Roger
Trailing of the Sheep Festival Image 2

In the heart of the Wood River Valley, Diane Peavey’s journey from a childhood lamb chop enthusiast to becoming the wife of a sheep farmer named John Peavey led her to embrace a lifestyle deeply rooted in the Western ranching tradition. Her love for the western way of life, combined with her passion for literature, has paved the way for a unique cultural celebration known as the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. This article delves into the captivating story of Diane Peavey, the festival’s mission, and the rich history of sheepherding in Idaho and the West.

Diane Peavey: A Life Transformed

Diane Peavey’s story begins with a childhood birthday dinner request that foreshadowed her future. As a young girl, she had a penchant for lamb chops, a preference that would eventually connect her to the world of sheep farming in ways she could never have imagined. Little did she know that her journey would lead her to John Peavey, a sheep farmer with whom she would fall in love, and that they would establish their life on a sheep ranch in the Wood River Valley.

“When I moved here from Washington D.C., I didn’t know much about farming and ranching. I ended up meeting a handsome gentleman who told me he raised a few sheep, and I ended up not only falling in love with him but also the western lifestyle,” Peavey recounted with a smile.

A Lifelong Love for Literature

Peavey’s love for literature has been a constant throughout her life, and she has a special fondness for Western literature and tales of life and adventure. It was the transformative power of a book that set the wheels in motion for her involvement with the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.

“When I read ‘Sweet Promised Land,’ it changed my life. When we started Trailing of the Sheep so many years ago, I’ve always wanted to host a book club or reading group, so we decided to go for it this year,” Peavey said.

Peavey will be leading a discussion centered around Laxalt’s book, which is available at the Hailey Public Library and The Community Library. The discussion is scheduled for Saturday, October 7, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Town Center West in Hailey.

Exploring Dominique Laxalt’s Journey

Trailing of the Sheep Festival Image 2
Trailing of the Sheep Festival Image 2

The chosen book for this year’s discussion is a captivating work by Dominique Laxalt. The narrative follows a sheepherder, Dominique Laxalt, who is a Basque immigrant embarking on a remarkable journey from the Sierra Nevada desert back to the French Pyrenees. Alongside him is his son, Robert, who chronicles their arduous trip, shedding light on the challenges and hardships of the sheepherding profession.

“I hope that people read the book before coming to the conversation and the festival itself, as it gives understanding and connection to our mission before they even get here,” Peavey emphasized.

The Mission of Trailing of the Sheep Festival

At its core, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival is dedicated to the mission of “gathering, celebrating, presenting, and preserving the history and cultures of sheepherding in Idaho and the West.” This annual gathering seeks to educate, entertain, and inspire attendees while honoring the enduring legacy of sheepherding in the region.

“If it can help open people’s eyes and see the romance of western culture and the importance of keeping it alive, that will make me so happy,” Peavey expressed her heartfelt wish.

A Deep-Seated Tradition: Sheepherding in the Wood River Valley

The rich tradition of sheepherding runs deep in the Wood River Valley’s history. John Hailey, the owner of a stagecoach company and the namesake of Hailey, Idaho, is credited with introducing the first sheep to the region in the late 1860s, as documented by the Blaine County Historical Museum.

Edward Wentworth’s 1948 book, “America’s Sheep Trails,” provides further insight into the significance of sheepherding in Idaho. Wentworth noted that in 1918, the number of sheep in the state amounted to six times the human population of that year.

“When the mining industry waned, sheepherding became essential for families to survive. Thanks to the Basque, Peruvian, and Scottish people who brought their sheepherding skills and traditions to our valley,” Peavey remarked, reflecting on the vital role that sheepherding played in sustaining local communities.

Preserving a Cultural Treasure

Despite its historical importance, sheepherding has faced challenges and dwindled over the years. Diane Peavey hopes that through events like Trailing of the Sheep, people will recognize the special and indispensable role of sheep ranching and agriculture in the region.

“Aside from meat, sheep are so important to the wool industry. It has so many uses, especially in cold weather areas,” Peavey emphasized.

According to the Idaho Wool Growers, wool is a highly durable fabric that surpasses cotton in longevity. It also offers essential cold weather protection by retaining heat and wicking moisture away from the skin.

“The traditions of making wool clothing and tapestries are also passed down through generations and have a rich history, which we love to showcase in the festival,” Peavey added.

Diane Peavey’s remarkable journey from a lamb chop-loving child to the wife of a sheep farmer is a testament to the unpredictable paths life can take. Her dedication to preserving Western culture and the rich heritage of sheepherding in Idaho and the West is at the heart of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. This annual event not only celebrates the enduring traditions of sheepherding but also serves as a platform for education and cultural enrichment.

As visitors gather in Hailey to discuss Dominique Laxalt’s book and participate in the festivities, they gain a deeper understanding of the vital role that sheep ranching has played in shaping the Wood River Valley’s history. The festival serves as a reminder that traditions, such as those associated with sheepherding and wool production, are worth preserving and passing on to future generations.

In closing, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival stands as a testament to the resilience of Western culture and the enduring significance of agriculture in Idaho. It is a celebration of the past, present, and future, and an opportunity for all to embrace the romance of the Western way of life.

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