Crafting is not new to me. I have been sewing for a long time. It wasn’t until I recently heard about Etsy on the Martha Stewart show, signed on, and was welcomed into the wonderful Big Sky Montana Etsy team. The rest, as they say, is h-i-s-t-o-r-y!
My history is one that mirrors the history of just about everyone else here in Northern Montana. But just like every other artist, my art reflects my surroundings, and my little sheep on Etsy have a long story behind them.
I designed my first sheep pattern in 1984 and obtained a design patent, copy rights, etc. Some of my first items were sold through the Montana and National Woolgrowers Associations. In fact, I helped raise money for the National Wool Growers by loaning them my "Where's Ewe" design for clothing. I later designed a 100% wool ewe for the Montana Wool Growers which appeared in the State Capitol promoting sheep and wool. My work was featured in an article in the National Wool Growers magazine in, maybe, 1987. I subsequently went to their conventions in Reno and San Diego to sell my little lambs, as well as to Billings for the Montana Wool Growers conventions. I had a lot of fun in those years – no matter what!
I started with sheep because I raised some here on our ranch in Northern Montana. However, I’ve had to give them up because the grizzly bears are too much of a nuisance and like to snack on my babies. I miss them, though. It broke my heart to give away the last of my ewes when I finally gave up on raising sheep. The last attack on my sheep was a grizzly attack that killed my "Jena the Gentle Ewe" (see below) and her daughter out in the garden area one night. So, I gave what was left of my sheep to a really sweet little girl over by Cut Bank for her 4-H projects. The grizzly was caught and relocated. But that's like catching a tick on a ewe and relocating it. We have so many bears that a single bear relocation does not dent the population all that much. It never used to be this way. I used to be able to walk to the river right out back of our home and corrals, but now I am very careful because there are so many bears right out my back door. Having the guard dogs certainly helps, but is no real security. In fact, I was charged by a grizzly and her cub on Mother's Day this year.
Jena the Gentle Ewe
What had happened was the guys (my husband and son) had decided to bring a dead cow home from up north because there were 13 grizzlies up there prowling around looking for a meal. We calve up north and they wanted to keep the bears away from the calving grounds. Ho! So, despite my objections, they brought the dead cow home. When Mother’s Day came around, it was raining and the ground was muddy. One of my old Anatolian Shepherds was barking and really upset about something out by the farming machinery, which is close to our home. I thought, “For goodness sakes, what is the matter now?” I Slipped on my shoes and jacket and went out to see. As I got close to the machinery, up popped this grizzly bear. After we started at each other for a moment, she started charging at me! I was slippin' and slidin' in the mud trying to run like crazy. I had to open a darn gate, and run to the house. I made it to the house, grabbed my .357, and ran back out to shoot some warning shots to see if that would chase the bears away. At that point, I was very concerned about my old guard dogs. The shot in the air did not scare the bear, but it sure made my guard dogs head for home! I phoned the game wardens and they came and removed the dead cow. The bear and her cub came back about three times and before finally going on their merry way.
I’ll tell one more. One year we were raising a bum heifer (female) calf and she was so sweet and friendly. She was fed in the barn and grazed in the corrals by the creek outside our backdoor. One night as I was "night walking", I heard this horrible wailing and screaming, (my hair stands up as I recall this). I yelled for my husband and son to get a gun and to go see what was happening in the corral. It was like a horrible human scream and wailing. Turns out a grizzly bear had come into the area where the sweet bum heifer was, grabbed her and was attempting to eat her alive from the heart/stomach area. The guys scared off the bear, and fortunately the calf was still alive, but had a huge tear in her underside.
But here’s the miracle! The bear had torn into her and also pulled her hide from the fat (there were air bubbles when you ran your hand over her hide), but my daughter-in-law was able to put her back together. She lived and grew up to be fine.
That’s just a couple of my encounters with bears. It’s wild up here, but I love it. I have lived here in Babb for 38 years. I came from Northern Illinois (Lake Zurich) which was “country,” but not a farm...just somewhere in the middle. I worked in Chicago in advertising and public relations. I was known as the "country gal". I did a little modeling, and worked in and around the Lake Zurich area.
But the mountains were always calling me, so in 1970 I packed my sewing machine and headed west. I had been to Babb in 1968, so that’s where I headed. I met my husband in Babb. Babb was very wild back then, a very tiny area with no law to speak of. Both of our sons were born in Alberta, Canada since it was the closest hospital. My husband and his dad had raised sheep (and cattle) in the Livingston, Montana area before they moved to Babb from Nebraska.
It has been a "real adventure" living here, a very hard life at times. The weather is totally unpredictable. The winters were horrible throughout the 70's. We lived in an old homestead house built with the remnants of two little log cabins that had been extended to accommodate a kitchen and a bathroom. I had never been to or seen a house this "rustic" in my whole life. By the time we got it, it had been abandoned for years, and since we live in a flood zone, the flood of ‘64 had redone the floors.
We have had winds upwards to 115 mph. I remember the first winter when the real winds came in November and slammed into the little stucco- sided house with cotton batting for insulation. The windows were clacking and rattling so badly that I got physically sick. It was like the roaring freight train sound of the tornado I had been in back in Illinois. I was home alone and went and found some duct tape and taped the windows just like for a tornado.
However, as I have said, I love it here. My saving grace is that I am an optimist and always look for the good and the lesson learned. One of the good things to come out of this ranching life is my little flock of lambs that I know won’t ever be attacked by a grizzly.