6. Elberts Dogs

By Jeep Collins

Elbert was  a dog trainer, at one time he had more than thirty border collies of his own, and a few others that he was training for other ranchers.  These sheep and goat specialists were great fun to watch as they worked and moved stock.  From horseback Elbert would sometimes have two or three dogs working together at the same time giving each individual his specific commands.  In those days and in that country if you had sheep a sheep dog was a necessity, or if you didn’t have one, to have a neighbor like Elbert who was always looking to train his dogs.

The country here was rough and the rocky trails into the hills so narrow that without a dog it would be impossible to bring the sheep down into the valley to pen them.  At that time sheep and goats needed a lot of attention because of screwworms.  Screwworms were the larvae of a particular type of fly that laid their eggs wherever they could find an open wound.  After shearing there were always minor cuts that needed to be watched and doctored.  Screwworms were a big problem with all animals. I remember seeing a deer swimming in the lake by our house, and my dad telling me that they did that to drown the worms who had entered by a wound from a barbed wire fence cut, or maybe wounded by a poor shot of a hunter.

When the county replaced the gates with cattle guards along the road to town, they stopped the cattle but the sure footed goats walked right over them.  To keep them in their own pastures Elbert stationed a dog at each opening. A fifty five gallon barrel was his shelter and a short chain kept him at his post. The sheep and goats would not come near the passage unaware that the tie chain would not allow the dog to reach them.  His bark and bared teeth kept them where they belonged.

Elbert kept a container of dog food and a bucket of water by the door of the school bus. On the morning run to Medina he would stop at each cattle guard and one of the kids would fill the dog's food dish while another would fill the water container.  When the water bucket got low he stopped in the middle of a creek crossing to refill it. On the afternoon run the dogs got fed and watered again. There wasn’t any time saved by not having to open gates for the bus with this chore to be done, but the rest of the travelers saved a lot of time going to town.

Photo:  A working dog bringing in the sheep.