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A wooly yarn about region's past Susan Walter | Sat, Jan 28 2012 12:00 PM

During South Bay's early days, even before the 1850s, sheep, cattle, horses and fowl were crossed from Mexico and back.

As seasons changed, pastures were eaten, or forage decimated by weather issues (drought or flood), greener pastures — as they say — beckoned, and drovers moved across the border in search of livestock browse.

Many reasons can be cited for these border crossings with animals, i.e. critter rustling on the U.S. side resulted in an across- the-border dash south to evade irritated owners or authorities tasked with investigating cattle rustling, horse theft, bogus veterinarian drug smuggling and such issues.

Unscrupulous owners below the line sneaked their diseased beasts north to evade American Department of Agriculture inoculation costs and inspection delays.

I knew sheep had been an important part of South Bay’s history, having enjoyed a wonderful diary kept by Sam Cameron. His writings will be part 2 of this “sheep wool spin” topic.

The Otay Press, which I have dozens of clippings of in my office as a result of previous work,  had several notices and articles about sheep. No doubt there are many more because then I was not specifically researching sheep. Below, I ignored the years and ordered the articles by month to sketch out the seasonality of sheep ranching. Here are some sheep entries from the The Otay Press:

“January 9, 1890. Between two and three thousand sheep are now grazing up the Otay Valley, and several thousand more are soon expected to arrive from Mexico, from whence they are driven to our border for lambing, thereby becoming American sheep and  avoiding the U.S. duty.  On Monday last several hundred of these sheep were driven to  the San Diego market for slaughter.

February 20, 1890. The Mexicans who have been accustomed to drive their sheep into the United States before shearing time, in order to escape the duty on wool, are this year bringing less sheep across the line, as the new law of Mexico demands a tax of 35 cents per head on all sheep taken from Mexico into the United States.

February 27, 1890. Sheep men who have [tried to avoid the Mexican duty  payments], held a meeting last week, to draft resolutions petitioning President Diaz to  abate the tariff.

September 5, 1889.  About twenty Indian sheep-shearers from up the Otay were in town     on their ponies Sunday last.

In case you’d like to learn a romanticized version of those Indian sheep shearers, grab the sensational novel “Ramona” by Helen Hunt Jackson published in 1884. It details half-breed Ramona’s tragic love for Alessandro “the head of a group of itinerant Native American sheep shearers.”
Last year I interviewed descendants of Native American sheep shearers whose ancestors worked our very hills and valleys!

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