Sheep Rock or Sheep Walk?
Visitors to the Upper North Platte River Valley often ask how a bluff a few miles north of Saratoga got its name, “Sheep Rock.” Of course, there are several explanations, including legend, tall tales and something in between.
Probably the best account is that when sheep men started running woollies in the area in the late 1800s, the already-established cattlemen resented the intrusion, so a few cowboys ran a herd of sheep off the cliff into the North Platte River, along with the sheep wagon, herder, horse and a couple of dogs, thus “Sheep Rock.”
The following tall tale comes from a column in the “Platte Valley Lyre,” the first newspaper established in Saratoga in 1888. The piece was called:
The Sheep Walk
“The Sheep Walk” is a bluff, which, at a distance of two miles below Saratoga, rises bold and sheer, to a height of 250 feet above the broad and swift waters of the Platte. The top of the bluff is tableland in form, and here, in early days, was a favorite haunt of the mountain sheep. Along the dizzy edge of the bluff’s perpendicular face could be seen at almost any time from a half dozen to a score of surefooted mountain rams enjoying a pleasant promenade – a circumstance from which came the christening of the bluff as “The Sheep Walk.”
A few miles below “The Sheep Walk,” the Platte River is crossed by the old Overland Emigrant Trail, and as the bluff began to be noted as a mountain sheep haunt, it became a practice of the emigrants to seek thereon a supply of mountain mutton. On one such occasion, an emigrant hunting party, approaching the bluff from the rear, found on the tableland quite a band of sheep. These sheep, with the exception of one very large ram, broke through the line of rifles and disappeared in the surrounding hills, leaving behind, however, several of their number as emigrant mutton.
The hunters now turned their attention to the ram in question, the animal being in plain view at a distance of several hundred yards, standing on the very edge of the precipitous bluff. Sure of their quarry, for their rifles commanded every foot of the tableland, the hunters leisurely advanced with the intention of getting in a deadly volley at short range, but they little knew the mountain animal they so confidently approached. There was a quick, backward glance, a swift spring, and the gallant ram shot from the bluff’s dizzy edge into the sheer and awful depths below.
Scarcely had the startled observers time to realize the awful leap made when there came to their ears the loud splash caused by the plunge of a heavy body into water. Rushing to the bluff’s bold brow, they saw, 250 feet below them, the noble ram, uninjured from his appalling fall, bravely breasting the fierce current of the bank full river. He soon reached the stream’s farthest side and nimbly became lost to the eyes of his disappointed but admiring pursuers.
Readers should be cautioned that the writer of the column was known as the “lurid liar of the West” and published a couple books filled with his tall tales. Dick Perue possesses those books and delights in passing these legends along to his readers.