As promised, you now get a peek into one extraordinary man's description of his experiences with sheep. I believe he must have been as adorable in personality as his portrait suggests. Sam Cameron’s journal commenced during his miserable 21st year while stuck in sheep camp at Otay Mesa.
Like many others the Camerons herded their “woolies” annually west for milder winter weather, lambing and shearing, and back into the mountains around Campo for summer forage there. On foot or horseback, they camped in the open, packed what they needed, and shot dinner when it became available. Not only was there open range here, but ranchers like Jno. McCool welcomed “any kind of stock” seeking pasturage to his property at “terms moderate.”
Here are a few of Sammy’s choice observations about sheep and their care from the 1870s into the 1890s.
Bracketed items are my comments, but otherwise these are direct quotes with Sam’s original spellings.
Chilwell had bad luck with his sheep. Coming down off the mountains this time 86 died... Next morning left 12 head in the camp dead from poison.
January 24, 1878: TRC [father Thomas R. Cameron] has gone to town today and left me alone in my glory.
Jan. 25, 1878: Friday. Stood gard all night, rained 3 or 4 hours in the fore part of the night. Very comfortable, yes indeed.
Feb. 2, 1878: Saturday. TRC has started home and left me in my lonesome glory.
Feb. 21, 1897: Thursday. First lambs today. Rain on and off all day. [Note: Sheep can soak water like sponges. The miserable animals become very heavy and this weight can cripple them, making them easy targets for packs of coyotes and feral dogs.]
March 6, 1878: I have nothing to read. Am awful lonesome, hardly now what to do with myself.
May 7, 1878: Tousday. I am about sick of sheep camp. I long for some thing new. I have not saw a man or heard a bit of news in a week. If I stay here much longer I will be elected ------- mejaritay for the loonitick silam. Eney one with half an eye can see that I was not born to be a hermit. Sheep hearding is pretty much the same as penetenechery. He must stop this side of kingdom come. Ba ba ea fifty thousand bas may be music for some but it has no charm for me.
May 8, 1878: Several of the sheep have the blind stagers now. [Blind staggers = any nervous disease of a quadruped characterized by failure of the hind limbs caused by inadequate diet, eating poisonous plants, sheep dip medications, lambing, shock as a result of shearing, stuff like that.]
December 1879: Take a young man and put him in a sheep camp and leave him thar alone, month after month, in time he will think that thar is only one damn fool on this earth and that fool is him self.
I wish that our sheep were in hell, and I was thair to herd them.
April 2, 1978 Tousday. Today and yesterday the Tig-E-the-mom-E-ter was about 900,000,000,000,000,000 above zero. The heat was ter-rar-a-bil. There is no shade trees here. The sheep stood in the son and the swet drippened of them. And me I laye under a bush and cussed. This is true every word.
April 21, 1881: 2 day I am in need of a good ----. You know how it is your self when you feel that way.
I have been alone in the camp for the last 10 days. I do not know when the governor [his father] will come. And I dont give a damn. That is me. Independent as a hog on ice. If I cant stand up I can lay down.
OK, now you have a first person background description of sheep care from someone who was right here in South County. His bitterness is understandable, I think. At times he was alone with the sheep up to five months at a stretch. I believe he clearly would have gleefully shot stupid Little Bo Peep, knew her stupid lost flock were too stupid to find anything like their way home.
Sam’s diary has been published and is well worth a read. His pithy comments cover many other subjects, such as weather, squatters, border issues, cattle, love and much, much, much more.
I hope I will get to revisit him in the future to share his observations on some of these topics.