Sheep Herding in Arizona
Text by Bevara
Sheep trailing has long been a part of Arizona culture and the state is covered with trails and routes used by herders over the centuries. In the early 20th century, the state boasted over one million sheep, many of which were trailed across the state on routes such as the Black Canyon and Beaverhead-Grief Hill Sheep Driveways. Today, however, the number of sheep has dwindled; so has the number of working driveways.
Two groups among a handful of individuals who are actively living and maintaining the state’s sheep culture are the Auza and Manterola families. The turn of the 20th century saw an influx of immigrants to Arizona, specifically to tend to the over one million sheep in the state. One such group was the Basques, including the Auza and Manterola families, who came from the Spanish and French Pyrenees Mountains where they were traditionally sheepherders.
The Auza and Manterola families have historically trailed their sheep from the winter range in Casa Grande to the summer pastures in the north. Today, they truck the sheep from Casa Grande to Cordes Junction, and then trail the sheep north. Trailing the sheep is good for the health of the sheep and improves lambing in November. The Black Canyon and Beaverhead-Grief Hill Sheep Driveways have been used for over a century and are still used by the Auza and Manterola families every year to bring sheep from their winter pastures in the south to summer pastures on the Mogollon Rim. The route dates back to the 1600s, and it became a federally designated livestock driveway in 1919.
Joe Manterola talks about his family and their sheep ranch in excerpts from an oral history video taken for Northern Arizona University. Complete video interview at Northern Arizona University, Cline Library, Ecological Oral Histories Course.
Much of the landscape covered by the driveways lies within the Black Canyon Trails Area, a corridor containing approximately 4,000 acres. During Arizona’s centennial year, a project was launched by the Black Canyon Trails Coalition to identify, preserve and showcase the rich history of the sheep driveways. An outdoor exhibit (opening in spring 2013) at the Black Canyon Heritage Park, located in Black Canyon City, will present the story of the trails, as well as the families and legacies they represent.
In addition to the Black Canyon Heritage Park, visitors to Arizona can also experience authentic sheep and ranching culture at Cordes Station. Once a robust, hustling stage stop, used by weary travelers, cattlemen, miners, sheep and goat herders (including the Auza and Manterola families), Cordes Station gives visitors a glimpse of days gone by. The station has been owned and operated by the Cordes family for over 125 years.