Sheep country in three western American localities: place identity, landscape, community, and family
Sando, Linnea Christiana
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Sheep ranching in the American West is a vanishing way of life, but one that has for generations shaped many of the region's communities and their cultural landscapes. This research explores how powerful and enduring place identities associated with sheep ranching and the wool industry have transformed communities in Sweet Grass County, Montana, Elko County, Nevada and Umatilla County, Oregon. To assess the evolving roles sheep ranching and the wool industry have played in cultivating place identity, I used interviews and conversations, 'stories,' landscape observation and analysis, an analysis of past and contemporary creative endeavors, and archival works, such as government documents, local histories, newspaper articles, and promotional literature and imagery. I also explored the concept of place identity from varied perspectives, including from a community standpoint and a more in-depth family perspective. The sheep and wool industries did not unfold and impact the places and people in identical ways. Factors including the physical environment, local economies, key players and image makers, cultural backgrounds, and defining institutions of communities all played a role in shaping place identities. This research also shows the myriad ways communities and their residents incorporate the heritage of raising sheep into their daily lives, such as through festivals, community events, the sharing of social memories, and through creative works. The urban and rural landscapes in each case study also reflect the wool and sheep legacies, but this legacy is displayed differently based on distinctive environmental settings and unique settlement histories. By assessing the concept of place identity from varied perspectives and varied sources in three different localities, this dissertation provides a meaningful methodology for examining the ways place identities are created, nurtured, and reflected at multiple scales and in a diversity of communities.