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Exhibits > The Sheep Eaters

The Sheep Eaters
by David Dominick

For the most part the historical literature is not kind to the mountain-dwelling Sheep Eater Indians of western Wyoming and northern Idaho. The Sheep Eaters are identified in history books as miserably poor, wretched souls who lived like brutes, without even dogs as companions. Among these inaccurate depictions there is one work that stands out, through its outright deceit, as the most dreadful. This book, titled “The Sheep Eaters” was written by W.A. “Doc” Allen and published in 1913 by the Shakespeare Press. In the book Allen describes an interview of “Woman Under the Ground” whom he claimed was the last of the Sheep Eaters because all the others died of smallpox.

The book was totally discredited, more than 30 years ago, by the highly respected Swedish anthropologist Ake Hultkrantz and, more recently, I have learned that the heroine in the Allen book is not even a Sheep Eater. Rather she is a Crow woman whose photograph was taken in the late 1800s by O.S. Goff, the post photographer at Fort Custer, Montana. Furthermore, there are Sheep Eater Shoshone on the Wind River and Fort Hall reservations today, constituting living proof that not all the Sheep Eaters died from smallpox. Nonetheless, the book continues to influence people’s attitudes about the Sheep Eaters, especially those who do not do other background research and, unfortunately, it is also now readily available. Reprinted in 1989 by Ye Galleon Press, without any updating or critical commentary, the book is for sale in many western bookshops. I fear that unless they are exposed, the fabricated tales about the Sheep Eaters will become even more ingrained into the fictitious literature about the Sheep Eaters.

Curiously the new edition did include—without the author’s permission—a reprint of “The Sheep Eaters,” a fine article written by David Dominick that was published in the Annals of Wyoming in October 1964. Dominick did his original research on the Sheep Eaters as a senior honor’s thesis at Yale University in 1960. The well-researched article remains the best, published information available on many aspects of Sheep Eater lifeways. It is presented here in its entirety with Dominick’s permission so that students and educators will have an accurate and reliable account of the Sheep Eaters.

Lawrence Loendorf
New Mexico State University

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“The Sheep Eaters” by David Dominick
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