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Postcard from the Past: Shearing Barn Laced with State’s history

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By: Dick Perue

While researching the history of the sheep industry in Wyoming for this week’s Postcard, I discovered the following information which sidetracked me and brought back memories of how I started this column back in 2008. 

Jennifer Womack, then managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and Dennis Sun, the publication’s publisher, talked me into doing a column about pioneer agriculture, and the rest is “history.”

Back in 2008, Jennifer wrote:

Walcott – A 1982 “Wallop for Senate” bumper sticker plastered to a door surrounded by decades of lanolin build-up from millions of sheep may best tell the story of the Australian-style Walcott shearing barn. 

Barn owners Vern and Della Vivion told attendees at the 2008 Wyoming Livestock Roundup historic ranch tour the building served as the shearing facility for the area’s expansive sheep operations and as the area’s social gathering point. 

Social gatherings included fundraisers and gatherings for political candidates.

Efforts are underway to either preserve the barn in its present-day location or relocate it to Territorial Park in Laramie, an effort which will take nearly $2 million to complete. 

Della said a recently secured $10,000 grant might be the beginning of what she hopes will be a growing fund. Wyoming’s State Historic Preservation Office has also taken an interest in the building by compiling a great deal of its history in written form.

Unfortunately, the barn burned to the ground in 2011.

This building where we stand, which still has so much of its integrity, in eight years will be 100 years old. It was built in 1916,” said Della. 

Located near the railroad tracks, wool sheared at the barn was loaded on the train, and in the early days, shipped to Boston.

Area shearing facilities were first located at nearby Fort Steele and operated by the Cosgriff family. Della said when an area saloon proved too distracting for shearing crews, facilities were relocated to the Walcott area. 

Remnants of the old town of Walcott and the shearing barn were part of the Sept. 21 tour, organized by locals Bill and Carole Ward and Dick and Marty Perue, all of Saratoga. Dick Perue offered a firsthand account of stomping wool into the wool bags at the barn during his younger days. 

He also noted his father and uncle were part of the shearing crew in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In 1915, three local sheep operations – the Leo Sheep Company owned by Le Emmitt Vivion, the Savage Brothers Company and Andy Nelson and Company – purchased the Walcott shearing operation from the Cosgriffs. 

Completed in 1916, the barn was part of a University of Wyoming effort to add efficiency to shearing and sort wool by its quality. The barn was last used in the 1980s. 

Built for 20 sheep shearers to use at a time, Della said Curt Rochelle, Elmer Peterson, the Palms and more used the facilities.

“This has been a cultural center in a sense,” said Della. 

Laughing, she added, “In my young days here, it was so if you didn’t come to the Walcott shearing sheds for dinner on Sunday, you just weren’t anybody. In fact, we had Paul Harvey here for dinner once.”

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