Sheep are a fixture in the story of Christ’s birth in the manger and Jesus was a shepherd, but there is another Christmas sheep story I’d like to share. It comes to us from Elinore Pruitt Stewart, a single mother, homesteader and author of Letters of a Woman Homesteader, published in 1914.
This story takes place in the Uintah (now Uinta) Mountains of Utah in December 1909. When I first read it, I marveled at how much Christmas has changed and felt grateful to Stewart for a rare glimpse of it, before Christmas became a commercialized gift exchange and intensely focused on one’s own family. The true spirit of Christmas is so evident in Stewart’s story.
On page 68 Elinore Stewart visits “old Mrs. Louderer,” who:
“had thought of cooking some nice things and going to as many sheep camps as she could, taking with her the good things to the poor exiles, the sheep-herders. I liked the plan… You may not know, but cattle-men and sheep-men cordially hate each other. Mr. Stewart is a cattle-man, and so I did n’t mention my Christmas plans to him. I saved all the butter I could spare for the sheep-herders; they never have any. That and some jars of gooseberry jelly was all I could give them. I cooked plenty for the people here, and two days before Christmas I had a chance to go down to Mrs. Louderer’s in a buggy, so we went…
Mrs. Louderer had sent a man out several days before to find out how many camps there were and where they were located. There were twelve camps and that means twenty-four men. We roasted six geese, boiled three small hams and three hens. We had besides several meat-loaves and links of sausage. We had twelve large loaves of the best rye bread; a small tub of doughnuts; twelve coffee-cakes, more to be called fruitcakes, and also a quantity of little cakes with seeds, nuts, and fruit in them, — so pretty to look at and so good to taste. These had a thick coat of icing, some brown, some pink, some white. I had thirteen pounds of butter and six pint jars of jelly, so we melted the jelly and poured it into twelve glasses. The plan was to start real early Christmas Eve morning, make our circuit of camps, and wind up the day at Frau O’Shaughnessy’s to spend the night…
The man had four horses harnessed and hitched to the sled, on which was placed a wagon-box filled with straw, hot rocks, and blankets. Our twelve apostles — that is what we called our twelve boxes — were lifted in and tied firmly into place. Then we clambered in and away we went… We did n’t follow any road either, but went sweeping along across country. No one else in the world could have done it unless they were drunk… I hardly expected to get through with my head unbroken, but not even a glass was cracked.
It would have done your heart good to see the sheep-men. They were all delighted, and when you consider that they live solely on canned corn and tomatoes, beans, salt pork, and coffee, you can fancy what they thought of their treat. They have mutton when it is fit to eat, but that is certainly not in winter.”
Merry Christmas, and may your new year be wooly and bright.