Diane Josephy Peavey writes stories about her life on a sheep and cattle ranch in southcentral Idaho - its people, history and the changing landscape of the American west. These pieces have aired weekly on Idaho Public Radio for 15 years and many are collected in her book Bitterbrush Country: Living on the Edge of the Land (Fulcrum Publishing, 2001). Her writings also have appeared in numerous magazines, journals and in anthologies. Diane has been an invited poet at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada and a panelist in discussions on Women in Ranching at this event. She was the first director of the Idaho Rural Council, the Literature Director for the Idaho Commission on the Arts and is the co-founder with her husband John of the October Trailing of the Sheep Festival in the Wood River Valley.
Fences tell the stories of the west. Barbed wire strung across once wild lands cut off Indians from their traditional hunting grounds leading to wars in a last bid for freedom. But barbed wire fences continued usually to contain livestock not to keep people off the land. Hence the signs “close gates behind you.” Sometime early in the 20th century the original owner of our ranch, sheepman James Laidlaw, built a fence around his 4,000 acre meadows so extraordinary that it still stands today needing almost no maintenance. It was built at a whopping cost of $1,000 a mile to keep coyotes away from his prized ewes and lambs but perhaps he fenced in as many coyotes as he fenced out. The history of fences now takes a new turn as multi-million dollar ranches spring up across the landscape identified by their freshly painted white fences, No Tresspassing signs and padlocked gates. And with the growing population numbers those of us on the land begin to lock our gates to limit the recklessly abuse of our ranch lands by new recreational users. It is an isolating gesture between neighbors, friends and visitors as we all attempt to survive and find our place in the New West.
In the early part of the 20th century, south central Idaho was second only to Sydney, Australia with as many as 2.65 million sheep in Idaho in 1918. Today many of the generations-old ranching families have been forced out of business by natural and economic crises.. Those who remain face new challenges every year. In this discussion, we will look at the nomadic way of life of sheep ranching, unlike the cattle business, and the constant movement of herders, sheep camps, dogs, ewes and lambs between summer and winter pastures. We will explore the role of the Scottish, Basques and Peruvians who figure prominently in the history of sheep ranching. Many of these men and women now own their own sheep operations and many come together every year for the “Trailing of the Sheep” Festival to remember and reminisce about the days when Idaho was sheep country.
In this presentation will look at the cultural connection of people who live on the land to their histories and landscapes. True for American Indians and for many western ranchers and farmers, the discussion will reach across the ocean to look at this same phenomenon among the families who have lived and farmed for generations in the lands of Palestine. Through slides and interviews, we will hear of the frustrations of farmers and shepherds from the Israeli border communities of Qalqiliya and Jayyous to the lonely hillsides south of Hebron. These people have faced disruptions throughout the 41-year occupation but none as severe as the construction of the “Security Wall” as the Israelis call the largely-completed 760-mile concrete wall or barbed and electrified chain link fence. This barrier was to follow the 1967 “green line” land boundary between Israelis and Palestinians but instead cuts deeply inside Palestinian lands to protect illegal settlements built around local Arab villages. As it does, it isolates families from their crops and grazing lands. Now through their cultural awareness of who they are and their determination to hang on to the land of their ancestors, they share a similar tenacity with ranchers and farmers in the American West.
This presentation will look at the West and the people who live on its lands, their stories, traditions, and the changes they live through as the Old West struggles to understand its place in the New West. It is a tension as old as the region itself. The first Indians here – the Shoshone, the Paiute, the Bannock, the Nez Perce, the Coeur d’Alene, the Kootenai – suffered severe losses at the hands of those who arrived after Lewis and Clark. So too has each successive community watched the west it loved go through jarring changes. Today traditional resource-based communities become second homes for the wealthy and recreational centers for urban people and we find ourselves again assessing the uses of this western landscape. Discussing essays by the author and other contemporary writers, the presentation will explore the changes occurring today and the attempts to bridge the demands of the old and new cultures.
The westward migration of our early pioneers continues today as a constant influx of "new westerners" fill our communities. Those of us who make the journey are inspired by many of the same dreams and moral certainties as those we follow. But other than a new set of dishes from Bloomindales, do we bring anything different to the journey and the resettling? And what are the cultural and economic implications for those who are here and those of us newly arrived?