The Colorado Connection – Some Aussie Trivia

Colorado was significant in birthing the development of the foundation bloodlines of the modern Australian Shepherd. Why? The Centennial State was an important hub for major horse and livestock events. Rodeos, horses, the National Western Stock Show, the Colorado State University, and the Western Horseman Magazine were common factors bringing together the early breeders.

– Fletcher Wood, a horseman, and cattleman and one of the first breeders, served as the Ring Master for the National Western Stock Show in Denver Colorado, one of the major livestock shows in the country. He was also the director of activities for the Jefferson Country Fairgrounds where some of the first Australian Shepherd dog shows and K-9 Khanas fashioned after the popular Gymkhana horse events were hosted.

Fletcher acquired Wood’s Jay, one of the breed’s foundation sires from Jay Sisler in 1949. He was a large, distinct blue (self merle with very little white trim) sired by Sisler’s Shorty and out of Sisler’s Trixie. Jay was a handy cow dog. Fletcher said, “Jay would heel cattle and worked the back end of cows, but didn’t like to go to the head of a cow until Fletcher started encouraging him to bark a little bit when a cow turned on him. Jay would bark in her face and turn her around and then he was fine, “he never did bark at the back ends, but he’d bark at the heads when they came to him.”

– Juanita Ely, who was the earliest documented breeder, had blue Australian Shepherds since the twenties. She and her husband ranched at Deer Trail, Colorado, which incidentally is where the first rodeo is believed to have been held. In 1950, they acquired Ely’s Blue, the famed Ghost Dog on the original IESR Registration Certificates. Ely’s dogs contributed to bloodlines from Colorado to California and the Pacific Northwest, including our bloodlines, Hartnagle’s Las Rocosa Aussies. Juanita was also my mother’s godmother.

-My family developed our bloodlines at the base of the Rocky Mountains where we raised sheep and cattle – hence the name, Las Rocosa. As fate would have it, our beautiful little Goody, a daughter of Ely’s Blue who was later registered as Wood’s Blue Shadow contributed not only to our bloodlines, but to Fletcher’s dogs and Dr. Heard’s Flintridge bloodlines.

– Green’s Kim AKA Mansker’s Kim was owned by Kenneth Green, a cattle rancher and veterinarian who’s rugged mountain ranch is now part of the Golden Gate Park.


– Steve Mansker, a race horse trainer, farrier and hunting guide became acquainted with Jay Sisler in the 40’s through rodeos, but it wasn’t until 1956 that he acquired Freckles from Jay. Later, in the early sixties while Steve was attending the Colorado State University he became associated with Joe Taylor who bought Taylor’s Rusty from him. CSU is also where Joe met the Petramalas who owned Tate, the dam of his beautiful Taylor’s Buena.

– In 1963, after Walt Lamar graduated from OSU with a degree in Agronomy (soils) he transferred to the Bureau of Reclamation at Grand Junction, Colorado. He met Steve Mansker at a rodeo in Meeker, Colorado, where he bought Lamar’s Scratch who was out of Freckles. Later on, after some stiff negotiations Walt was able to buy Lamar’s [Mansker’s] Turk from Steve.

– Another Colorado bred dog, Dale Martin’s Adobe Gypsy (out of two of Hank Weiscamp’s dogs) figures considerably in the pedigrees of hundreds of Aussies in the Pacific Northwest. Weiscamp’s dogs were mainly Joe Taylor’s breeding.

– The world-famous Flintridge bloodlines found in the largest percentage of modern Aussies were produced in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, by Dr. Weldon T. Heard. Heard, a veterinarian and sheep breeder used dogs from Wood and Ely bloodlines.

From these highly influential people and their Colorado bloodlines, breeders in other states began their own lines and Australian Shepherds were launched from relative anonymity to mainstream popularity.

Lesson from Louis L’Amour

In an interview, Louis L’Amour once said, “Historians follow the main line. One historian follows another one, adding maybe a detail here and there or questioning something the other fella has said. They don’t go off to the right and left and they don’t go out there in the boondocks to see what was happening.” This is what has occurred with the history of the Australian Shepherd.

Much of the breed’s written history has been compiled by dog historians, whose association with the early Australian Shepherds was no closer to the subject than a library shelf of books. The thoroughly researched “facts” for the most part are gleaned from library sources and then laced with suggestion and imaginary reasoning, “would have been,” “would soon have,” “may have,” “probably was,” “might be.” The eye witness accounts from actual owners who knew and used the breed were, in most cases, discounted for lack of published documentation.

One historian’s view that has been published over and over proposes the Basque shepherds and their sheepdogs from the Pyrénees Mountains had very little to do with the breed’s foundation stating, “It appears that the theory of Basque origin probably came about from the understandable assumption by some breeders who obtained their first dogs from Basque sheepherders, that the dogs themselves must be of Basque background, and it makes a romantic picture to envision the Basque sheepherders being followed around the world by “their little blue dogs,” but this picture, nonetheless, is erroneous.”

Another author wrote, “However, one fact many [breed] historians either do not realize or have forgotten is that many of the Basque immigrants to both Australia and North America were not shepherds in their homeland.”

The reality is that the breed’s groundwork was formed in the time period between the 1940’s to about 1970, which is documented by registration. It was created from a relatively small group of dogs including Feo, a little blue dog which was brought to the United States from Spain with a contract herder who was working for the Warren Livestock Company. Juanita Ely, one of the breed’s oldest documented breeders bought the dog. He sired a beautiful little blue female named Goody (later registered as Wood’s Blue Shadow) who is behind the pedigrees of countless Australian Shepherds today including the Dr. Heard’s Flintridge, Hartnagle’s Las Rocosa and Fletcher Wood’s foundation bloodlines.

This occurred in the time period when 40 to 50 million head of sheep were grazed in the open ranges throughout the western half of the United States. Many of the herders that came here were shepherds in their homeland. They arrived (on a three-year visa) under contract through the Western Range Association. When they got here, they wrote home and told their brothers to join them, which they did and brought their dogs. During that time in history hundreds of Basques and their dogs were recruited in to the western sheep ranches due to the severe labor shortage created during the 1940s and 1950s.

The “little blue dogs” started gaining recognition because they started showing up throughout the west as the herders brought them in. In response, the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was founded. According to Ken Duart, an early California breeder, he acquired Lita, an early foundation bitch from a Basque shepherd who brought her directly from Spain. He said a sheepherder who had a bunch of sheep at Rolf’s Ranch in the San Miguel area had friends that came to California from the Basque sector of the French and Spanish border to work on the Nelson Ranch in the Bakersfield area. When they came to the United States, they brought two dogs with them which they were allowed to bring as tools of their trade without quarrentine. She was an attractive blue merle female (with one blue eye). She had a moderate coat and a long tail. The time was either late 1959 or early 1960.

By 1974, there were only 16.5 million sheep in the United States. The sheep industry continued to decline and Basque herders were no longer recruited from Spain, but the breed’s underpinning was laid.

In spite of the references (Douglas & Bilbao 1975 or Laxalt 1989) that insist that Basque immigrants didn’t bring dogs with them, a retiree in Aragon related that, when he went to California to herd sheep in the early 1970s, sheepherders coming from Spain brought only a few personal items; but in his father’s generation (i.e. during the period immediately after World War II), many of he immigrants brought their herding dogs with them. This fact is corroborated by numerous sources including an interview, in which a Basque immigrant and his four brothers all brought their dogs when they flew to the US in the 1940s under sheep herding contracts.

A lesson can be learned from L’Amour’s statement. Just because something is documented with lots of facts, doesn’t mean it is reliable…and so has been the case with much of the history being published on the Australian Shepherd.

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