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When Fredric Remington was a Kansas Sheep Rancher
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While many know Frederic Remington as a famous painter and sculptor of the West, few know he was once a sheep rancher in Kansas a few miles north of my home in Butler County.

Remington was born in New York and, when he turned 17, went to Yale where he played football and studied art. After his father became ill, Remington returned home where he met, and fell in love with, Eva Caten. After his father’s passing, they hoped to wed but her father would not permit her to marry Remington.

Remington decided to move to Kansas to start a sheep ranch with former Yale classmate, Robert Camp. With his father’s inheritance and a desire to prove worthy of Eva’s hand in marriage, Remington traveled to the closest town with a hotel near his ranch: Peabody. 

However, once he visited the 160 acres near Plum Grove — a town which no longer exists — he holed up in the hotel for several weeks. Finally emerging, he began the work of creating a ranch. Although he wanted to get into the cattle business like his contemporary, Theodore Roosevelt, in South Dakota, he chose the lower cost of entry sheep business. Although sheep are raised for both meat and wool, during his time sheep were raised primarily for wool.

Remington began with the purchase of 500 Merino sheep, a breed from Spain known for fine wool. For a period of time, the Spanish government was so protective of the Merino breed that anyone caught exporting the animal were executed.

According to Raymond Russel Birch in his 1906 senior thesis at Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State University), The Sheep Industry in Kansas, at the close of the year 1872, there were 39,773 sheep in Kansas. This number gradually increased until in 1878 there were 243,760, in 1880 426,492, and, by the time Remington and Camp began their ranch in 1883, there were 1,154,196 sheep in Kansas. 

During Remington’s time in Kansas, there were more than 55 million sheep in the United States. Today, there are only a few more than 5 million. Texas ranks first with 655,000 and Kansas ranks 17th with 82,000.

Why did they disappear?

International Trade

After I began writing for Kansas Living in 2015, I became acutely aware of how global issues have tremendous local impact. In the past, I would drive by a herd of dairy cows and not understand the dairy farmer’s income could be impacted by what happened in the governments of Canada or England. 

When I saw a herd of sheep grazing contentedly on a hillside, I laughed watching the lambs frolic. I simply had no idea that what happened in Washington, D.C., determined why there are so few sheep in America.

Trade Policies

Nine years after Remington started his ranch, the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act of 1894 destroyed the sheep industry nationwide because it eliminated tariffs on imports of coal, iron, lumber and wool. Sheep ranchers suddenly lost out to a market flooded with foreign and inferior wool at a cheaper price

Sheep for Wool and the Discovery of Oil 

Although for millennia, humanity has clothed itself with natural products from wool, cotton or leather, the discovery of oil led to the invention of synthetic textiles like nylon and polyester, both of which are petroleum-based clothing. 

Sheep for Meat

There are two basic categories for sheep meat: lamb and mutton. Lamb meat is meat from young sheep under one year of age. Mutton is the meat of mature sheep, usually two to three years of age. Like specific breeds of sheep for wool, there are specific breeds of sheep for meat. 

Sheep for Wool/Fiber

According to the American Sheep Industry Association, “Sheep producers traditionally harvest wool during the spring months. In fact, more than half of American-produced wool is shorn and sold during April, May and June. In 2023, the United States produced 22.7 million pounds of wool. The average weight of a fleece in the United States is 7 pounds. In the past, U.S. textile mills consumed nearly all of the domestic wool production. However, in the last 25 years, many of the mills have either closed or moved their production facilities to other countries. Because of this shift, export markets, along with the U.S. military, have become increasingly important to American producers.”

In 2023, the Utah legislature developed a proposal in which they illuminated these factors some of which are discouraging but others provide hope:

• The domestic sheep industry is non-competitive in the global export market. 

• In four decades, the U.S. sheep inventory declined 62 percent, and 5 million head is now at the lowest level in history. 

• In the past decade, sheep meat consumption in America increased 62 percent. 

• While lamb/mutton consumption increased since 2012, domestic production declined by 16 percent. 

• While consumption increased and production declined since 2012, imports surged 134 percent. 

• By 2022, imported lamb and mutton captured 74 percent of the domestic market. 

• The American sheep industry is the first U.S. livestock sector to be predominantly outsourced.

Remington the rancher was a short-lived experience for him as he was often known to spend much of his day sketching rather than tending to his sheep. A good-natured prank he and his friends pulled in Plum Grove went awry and he found himself in trouble with the law. He soon sold his share to Camp and returned to New York. It’s believed that his first, and most famous sculpture, “The Bronco Buster,” came from sketches he drew watching cowboys riding bucking broncos on his Kansas ranch. As he wrote, “Only those who have ridden a bronco the first time it was saddled, or have lived through a railroad accident, can form any conception of the solemnity of such experiences. Few Eastern people appreciate the sky-rocket bounds, grunts, and stiff-legged striking.”

For more information on Remington in Kansas, check out the Frederic Remington Historical Society’s website at

Note: This is part one of a series on the sheep industry in America. In future stories, you will meet terrific people like the Brunkow family near Wamego as Glenn, Jennifer and their children, Isaac and Tatum, challenge the downward spiral of the sheep industry in creative ways to provide their fifth-generation farm with sustainable solutions.

Rick McNary is a leader in bringing people together to build community and reduce hunger in sustainable ways.