After posting The Colorado Connection – Some Aussie Trivia, I received a fascinating e-mail from Col. Jon Eckert. He and his wife Elizabeth are Aussie fanciers living in Panama City, Florida.
After visiting and corresponding with him, I learned he was born in 1937 and raised in Western Colorado until after World War II. His mother was the 3rd generation who grew up in the ranching country near Paradox, Colorado – west of Montrose on the Colorado and Utah border. She had a shepherd as a child which later became the center of a great mystery.*
Jon’s grandfather, Harry Sanburg, was an experienced cowboy, ditch rider and the ranch manager for the Mormons in western Montrose County.** Later, in the mid-20s he bought a ranch near Cedaredge which was originally homesteaded by Ed Lavender.
Sanburg had cattle and a reputation for top herding dogs, some of the finest working dogs in the area. As Jon put it, he was “the man with the right dog.” The dogs they used were the type of dogs we identify as Australian Shepherds. “Now Bob may have been a little high in the rear end according to the Aussie standard but the head and ears are all Aussie. In addition Bob had a blue eye as can be seen as white in the black and white picture with my Grandfather,” writes Eckert.
You can see pictures of Bob on the Aussie Timeline (1938):
Interestingly, when you look at the photograph of Bob with Jon in 1938, he looks like he could have been a full brother to our Badger (Hartnagle’s Badger) pictured with Christine and I in 1957:
Jon’s uncle, Lynn, who currently runs the ranch, related a story about Bob. Apparently, a sheep owner came through the area and had heard of Bob’s reputation from some of his sheep herders who had seen the dog work cows. The guy immediately offered Harry Sanburg $75.00 for the dog. It was the middle of the Depression. In spite of the fact that was a significant amount of money – Sanburg refused. He “couldn’t let his buddy go,” said Eckert.
Lynn remembered Bob as always being right there when the horses were saddled up, ready to go. Eckert commented, “And when we say “go” we mean on foot all day; there were no trucks in the mountain or anything like that. I can also remember him and the other dogs going with Grandpa to irrigate every morning. They were always right there when you needed them and ready to work.”
When Jon got older, 8 to 10 years of age, he would go along on the rides in June taking the cattle to the Mesa. “It was Bob’s and my job to bring back the strays from the adjacent ridge as we worked the herd up the mountain. It kept me busy. Bob or Louie, (a light colored red merle that came after Bob), always took care of me and made me look good. Sometimes we would be a mile or so from the herd with some ornery cow that wanted to go her way. Bob or Louie took care of it for me and after a long absence we would finally end up back with the herd.”
The development of that type of dog in the region was facilitated by the annual cattle round up and sorting. Each year the cattle were pastured on Grand Mesa from June to October. “In the old days, the cattle were gathered and sorted in October and then driven home. It was a good opportunity for the dogs to show their stuff to the other ranchers and in the area there was always a demand for offspring of the best ones,” Jon related, and suggested the breed was refined based on performance and utility. He said, “I don’t know that Bob was in demand as a stud dog, but he certainly was one of the performing offspring.”
His uncle said in those days there were no other breeds but this type of dog in the ranch country at that time. The closest type would have been the Border Collie which was not introduced into that area until later on.
Jon also told me about one of his current dogs named Cory who has the characteristics of the old dogs. I asked him to describe him. “I guess the one word I would use is he is a teammate and always ready to work. I don’t think of him as a pet, but part of a team no matter what we are doing. I try to read his eyes, because that is how he communicates with me. He does bark and it is either out of frustration or joy depending on the situation. Yep, he is my teammate.”
The ranch is still going, run by Lynn and his sons. Even though Border Collies have taken over with the new generation of cattle ranchers, Jon still remains faithful to Australian Shepherds. At this time he has six Aussies. Although, he is out of the cattle business in Florida, he and his wife participate in Agility and Obedience with the breed. He says they are, “still the greatest dog.”
* When the dog died, she was ceremoniously buried in a Ute Burial Ground on the ranch.
“Later, in the 1970s, archeologists were excavating the site and were confused about the modern dog bones in the grounds. An article was published in the Grand Junction Sentinel about the find. Word got to his mother and she was glad to settle the mystery,” laughed Jon.
** Harry Sanburg was in the Colorado State Legislature in the 1930s and is responsible for many of the State’s original water laws.