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Sheepherders of the West: Rockpile Museum hosts annual sheepherder’s festival

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The Campbell County Rockpile Museum invited the public to a free two-day event celebrating all things sheep at the Third Annual Powder River Basin Sheepherders Festival held in Gillette May 10-11, where attendees gathered to commemorate the rich culture of sheepherding in the West.

The event allowed attendees to learn about the Scottish, Basque, Peruvian, Nepalese and American sheepherders’ cultures, and the Rockpile Museum gave visitors a glimpse of local history.

During the event, the museum opened its doors to the public for free, and visitors were given the opportunity to tour the local museum and several outdoor exhibits.

The tour included the Homestead Shack and Ranch Blacksmith Shop. The museum also has two rural schoolhouses on its grounds, as well as a caboose, boxcar, windmill and horse-drawn farm equipment.

“This year’s event was very successful, and I would like to thank Heather Rodriquez, museum educator, for taking over this challenging event and for all of her hard work navigating all of the details,” Museum Director Robert Henning stated. “The event exceeded our expectations.”

Cultural dinner

“The museum hosted a cultural lamb dinner the night before the festival, featuring a culinary delight,” Rodriguez explained. “The dinner told a story of cultural cuisine from around the world, featuring five courses, each from a different country.”

The first course, an American lamb appetizer, was presented by Kelly Barlow, who spoke about the CC Wool Grower’s, their history and the Lamb-O-Rama, held in downtown Gillette in the 1960s.

“Fifth-generation sheep rancher, blogger and employer of Peruvian sheepherders Marie McClaren from Kemmerer described Peruvian sheepherders to the 66 guests,” Rodriguez stated.

McClaren shared a few fun stories about Peruvian culture and cuisine as the second course was served, which was Peruvian lamb skewers.

The Billings Caledonian Pipes and Drums entertained guests before they enjoyed a delicious Scottish Shepherd’s Pie.

“We opened the large bay doors, and music echoed across the building. By the time the nostalgic music ended, there was not a dry eye in the room,” Rodriguez said. “It was a magical moment for all of us.”

The next course celebrated Mexico with a spicy Mexican lamb stew, while Rodriquez spoke about Mexican herders and arborglyphs.  

“In Southern Wyoming, Mexican herders – often from New Mexico – would carve in Aspen trees as a way to denote their time herding,” she mentioned.

Following Rodriquez was David Romtvedt, a Basque historian, musician and American poet, who played his accordion and talked about Basque culture while event attendees enjoyed a piece of Basque cheesecake.

“To end the cultural dinner, we all tried Pacharan, a liqueur from Spain, which was flown in specially for the occasion,” Rodriguez concluded. “It was a delightful evening, and we are very thankful for all of those who attended and the Prime Rib Restaurant for preparing the delicious meal.”


 Honoring the history of sheepherding in the Powder River Basin, the museum hosted a variety of activities.

The sheepherding event allowed guests to relive history in a sheep camp, offering a variety of food, music, art and cultural activities, including sheep and dog demonstrations.

“Each year we have grown – from only having two wagons our first year to nine this year,” Rodriguez stated. “The growth and support behind the event have been amazing. This year we were thrilled to have Mike Miller, along with a group of friends and family, trail approximately 160 head of sheep to the event grounds.”

The six-mile trek from the L-W Sheep Camp west of Gillette to the Rockpile Museum delighted the community as they watched Miller and his border collies move the herd through the city.

“We have received great feedback and have expanded activities each year. This year we estimated about 600 individuals attended,” Rodriguez added.

Celebrating sheep in style

Artist Anna Anderson from Calico Farm Fiber Arts was also at the event and held a class in which participants created their own sheep or highland cow out of wool fiber. 

“It’s a pleasure to introduce individuals to the world of fiber art,” Anderson said. “I am extremely lucky to have fallen into it by chance years ago.”

Anderson’s fiber hobby turned into a business more than 12 years ago with the rescue of six Pygora fiber goats. 

“I knew nothing about shearing or how to utilize the fleece,” she added. “However, shortly after rescuing the herd, my neighbor gave me a spinning wheel and introduced me to fiber arts. I fell in love with it and soon began the Wooly Rescue for fiber-bearing animals.”

Anderson continues to rescue fiber animals in need, as well as an occasional horse or dog needing a home.

Recently, she and her family moved to Montana and are in the process of setting up their ranch.

Anderson enjoys traveling across the West spreading the joy of fiber art and joined the Gillette festival as a vendor with her mother and sister. In tow was their 11-day-old mini-Nigerian goat, Pip, who was a crowd-pleaser.

Another vendor attending the event was local Fiber Artist Shelly Ketcheson of Wright who started her business Wicked Tint Yarns in 2019 and has been dying fiber ever since.

“I have explored all forms of fiber arts, but what I keep coming back to are weaving and dyeing yarns,” she said. “The exploration of color and how colors interplay with one another fascinates me.”

Ketcheson specializes in naturally-dyed yarn, knowing exactly what changes to pH will yield different colors.

“The Lamb Lady” Gwendolyn “Gwen” Kitzan from Kitzan Family Farms, LLC, located near Nisland, S.D. attended the event.

Kitzan Family Farms, LLC sources local, delicious, nutritious and sustainable South Dakota lamb and lamb products. 

“Being fourth and fifth generation farmers, we take care of the land so we can pass it along to the sixth generation,” Kitzan said. “We offer whole lambs, mutton, lamb cuts, sheep pelts, frozen meals, soaps, lotions and lip balms. We make a point to use the whole animal.” 

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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