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Folk Art in Brown’s sheep camp barn is recorded

By Susan Simons

    In February of this year, Colorado Preservation, Inc. listed Brown’s Sheep Camp as one of this year’s top six endangered historic sites in Colorado.  The ranch is located inside the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) and is controlled by the Army at Fort Carson on behalf of the Department of Defense.

    While CPI was concerned about preservation of all the buildings on this historic ranch, they put special emphasis on a wood-framed barn with interior walls covered in brands, names and drawings.  This collection is considered “rare and significant” folk art, and it documents the story of the ranch and the ranching community in the Purgatoire River region of southeast Colorado.

    From May 13-17, the Fort Carson Garrison Commander authorized Dr. Lawrence Loendorf to direct a group of volunteers from the Colorado Rock Art Association in recording the folk art on the walls of the barn.  Dr. Loendorf is an anthropologist and archaeologist, retired from New Mexico State University, who has directed documentation of the prehistoric and historic rock art sites on the Hogback on the PCMS.

    To record the paintings and drawings on the walls of the barn, the volunteers used methods typically used for recording rock art.  They assigned panel numbers to the walls of the barn, took photographs and made scaled drawings of each panel.  The walls were marked at 12 inch intervals to form a grid; then the images were drawn on graph paper, 1 inch to a foot.

    The drawings will be inked, checked against the photographs, and a database will be created documenting all the names, initials, dates, brands, and drawings.  The documentation will be submitted to the State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) for archiving, and used by the Fort Carson Cultural Resources Management Program for educational purposes.

    Various colors of sheep marking or branding paint were used to make the drawings, and if a date was recorded in a certain color, dates could be estimated for other images in that same color.  Boards with signatures were often used for repair in the barn.  The brand of the Brown Land and Live Stock Co.  is on the walls as is the Circle Diamond Brand from the Bloom Cattle Company.  The recorded dates were generally in the early 1900s.

    Most of the sheepherders who left a record on the barn walls were Hispanic or Basque.  In addition to names and dates, some drew self-portraits or portraits of wives and girlfriends.  In the inked drawing published with this article are drawings associated with the names of Bonifasio Trujillo and Juan Rafael Maes.  Below are the numbers 335 repeated three times.  The two men may have been a sheep shearing team, and the numbers may refer to their record for sheep sheared in a day.

    Samuel Taylor Brown bought the land for the sheep camp in 1882.  Brown’s business partner and son-in-law Julius Gunter, who became Colorado’s 21st governor, inherited the ranch in 1917 and managed it until 1940.  The Army acquired the land for the PCMS in the early 1980s, and the structures at the ranch have been preserved, including a bunkhouse, two barns, several homes, and working corrals.  The ranch is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.  Fort Carson’s Cultural Resources Management Program facilitated the recording effort, and oversees the preservation of the ranch.