Odd, Old News: Sheepdog, Sam, Saved a Lamb, Lassie Style, South of Kneeland in 1921

Two young girls, one holding a dog and the other bottle-feeding a lamb

Two young girls in the Briceland area, one holding a dog and the other bottle-feeding a lamb. [Photo by Ray Baker in the Humboldt Room Collection of HSU]

Nuggets of old news served up once a week by David Heller, one of our local historians.

Man’s best friend and loyal companion, Canis lupus familiaris, is once again the subject of this week’s Odd, Old News. Sam was a young sheepdog in the Iaqua area [near Kneeland] whose remarkable intelligence and concern for his flock led to the rescue of a lost little lamb in a storyline straight out of an old Lassie TV episode.

Every sheep ranch had its dogs for herding and protection back in the day. Coyote populations in Humboldt County were large, and in the 1880’s sheep ranchers would pay $10 to $25 dollars for a coyote killed, a considerable sum at the time. From break of day to sunrise, and from dusk to dark were when coyotes were most active, often predating on the best in a flock, fat yearlings and lambs.

Due to the heroic efforts of one young sheep dog, one little lamb’s life was spared from a sad ending.

Humboldt Standard, September 27, 1921

Up in the mountains in the Iaqua section lives Sam—just a common Shepherd dog, or rather a puppy as he is only ten months old, but with the intelligence of a very much older dog.

When quite tiny Sam became the property of H.H. Slater, who owns acres about a thousand acres of mountains, these Sam later came to have charge of. Does it seem strange for one small puppy dog to have such a great deal of territory to roam about on & have for a playground? Not at all, for on these lands thousands of sheep are pastured.

Sam is their guardian & is just as much attached to his flock & looks out for their safety just as mothers do for their children. As soon as he was old enough, he was placed among the sheep by his master & as the days went on, he gradually grew to learn his duty was to watch over the sheep & guard them from the many coyotes that draw near once night fall, eagerly waiting to seize the opportunity of feasting on a little tiny lamb. Sam’s food is always brought to him in the field & with one exception never has he visited the farm house, —he stands his post both day & night.

Several weeks ago, Sam did come to his master’s home, one afternoon, & could not be driven away. He was told to return & even led part way back but to no avail. He would not go. He didn’t appear ill, as there seemed something about the look in his eyes & the wag in his tail that he was trying to tell something. Finally Slater thought that after several un-successful efforts of trying to have him return voluntarily he would accompany him back to the sheep that were grazing about a mile away.

Sam seemed joyful & began to jump up & down, barking incessantly & more so when they arrived at a fence, bordering a growth of dense underbrush. Leaping over this, his bark became louder as if calling for help. Having a suspicion Sam was probably in danger, Slater neared the fence upon his arrival found not ony Sam, but a very young lamb which had become separated from the flock & caught in the underbrush.

During the whole time of this Shepherd dog’s constant watch, not one sheep has been killed by coyotes, while it is a common occurrence in the neighboring flocks.

Praises fell galore on Sam’s silky head, who realizing his master’s appreciativeness, was unable to make any response aside from vigorous vibrations of his tail. This is only one of several incidents, that has made Sam one of the treasures of the Slater household, & ”not for anything” would his master change him. —Maybe Sam knows it.

Earlier Odd and Old News:

There are many more, but here are the most recent:



  • And this is why Christianity uses the metaphor of us being lambs, and Jesus being the shepherd… oh wait, in this case, Jesus would have to be the dog! Oh well, as they say, GOD=DOG 😉

    Sweet story, David, and i love the accompanying photo. I bet someone knows just who those girls are… there weren’t that many families in Briceland.

    • The girls in the photo are thought to be Maggie and Edyth Duckett, daughters of Fred Duckett and Mamie Teel Duckett of Salmon Creek.

      • David, where did you get that? That’s so cool to know!

        • Persistent historical sleuthing Kym. There are a few photos of these little girls, we know that they attended the Oak View school, the successor to the Elk Ridge school. The William Duckett family settled on what is known as the Somerville Ranch, near Salmon Creek (not the big Somerville Ranch atop Elk Ridge, but the one accessed today by Somerville Road), and he had a much needed flouring mill at the mouth of Butte Creek by 1877. William and wife had eight kids, including Fred. William played an instrumental role in developing the road and bridges between Phillipsville and the mouth of the Southfork at Dyerville in the 1870-1880’s. I see Elk Ridge and Salmon Creek confused a lot in early historical mentions, requires some sorting out.

          • “Settlers” = Squatters.

            • Don’t mind your sassing my using the word settler… like the word pioneer, time has dignified the word more than it often deserves. Scratch the surface of ‘settler’ history in Sohum and the deeper story is revealed. By 1869, the time of the Duckett’s taking up a homestead, some few of the local Native survivors of the genocide period in Southern Humboldt had straggled home from distant reservations where they had been force marched years before…. those that still lived. It is thought that the Phillipsville/Miranda area had communities/rancherias of survivors in the post 1865 period. The only record of the sighting of any Native Americans in the Salmon Creek(Ca-na-kok) area (after 1861) occurred in mid-February of 1864 when a group of soldiers in Company E of the Mountaineer Battalion of California Volunteers, pursued a band of Natives in that area that local hunters had reported. They found signs of 2-3 bands but never caught up with them. From mid-1863 to mid-1865, Captain Hull, operating out of Ft. Bragg with a force of the 2nd Infantry California volunteers was aggressively efficient at rounding up the last kennesti/kunneste (people) in Southern Humboldt and taking them to reservations. So much so that the Euro-American settler/squatters at the Southfork settlement wrote the military that they were worried that Hull would take away the Indians living with them. (Southfork was the first name for the Garberville area, before it came to be associated with the Dyerville location).
              The 1865 Doolittle Map of Humboldt County shows eight men living along the South Fork of the Eel, six of whom had Native partners and children by 1870, when the local census showed 30% of the census population to be mixed race families. The enrollment of the first school down on the Garber/Cal Trans flat s. of Garberville in 1871-2 was 3/4 mixed race. The many people with Native blood from Sohum trace it back to the largest group of survivors of the ethnic cleansing of the area, the women who partnered with the first white men of the area.
              By 1869, another class of men were arriving in the area, taking up pre-emption claims, or squatting, until the government surveyed Salmon Creek in 1875. I hope that I have ‘nuanced’ the word settler
              with a little of the Native American history of the Duckett homestead area. small fyi– Somerville road, where they lived, took its name because one of the George Somerville’s 1/2 Native sons ranched there.

      • Thank you, David! Fred Duckett was a brother of Annie Duckett, who married John Henry Hunter, Jr., and adopted Bob S’s aunt Laura.

        • Squatters County Historical Assn

          Squatters all.

          • Except, unlike modern urban squatters, american settlers worked themself to the brink of exhaustion to take the land from the natives and turn it into ranches and farms and subsequently farms. Anyone who has cleared land by hand knows just how hard it is to do. Dangerous and back breaking hard. Just as risky as early native american explores must have found it to face going into areas where the risks were real and unkown. Starvation or injury could overtake them. And they were on their own if it did. No EMPs showed up to haul to a hospital or a short drive to a grocery to make up for a failure in hunting or growing.

            Snot faced whiney simpletons who stand in the security of what their ancestors gave them then talk as if they would have done one molecule better are an embarassment to all. They drag everyone down into their stupidity. Of course it is clear that native Americans got some of the worst of the worst behavior humans can do. When given a control over others, there always, always those nasty minded bullies who indulge their ugliness in unnecessary nasty ways. That is the very reason for sacrificing much to keep what independence each individual has- to keep the nasties from their doors- to say “no, you can’t do that to me” and mean it.

  • I watched a sheepdog once “save” a lamb. Not really save but the lamb thought he was in trouble and the sheepdog tried his best to help. One lamb had gone adventuring- through a gate and down a fence line. When his mom noticed him gone, she went to get him but found herself on the other side of the fence, yelling for him to come same as he was yelling for her. The fence kept them apart and they were getting pretty upset by it.

    The dog was attracted to the noise and figured out that the lamb needed to be taken back to his mom. He went through the gate and ran down to the lamb. Then encouraged the lamb to follow him so he could lead him to the gate and back to mom. The lamb followed- he knew who was herd boss after all- but about half way down the fence line to the gate, he panicked and ran back to where mom was yelling. The poor dog tried again and again but the lamb would go back every time. The dog tried leading, herding,showing the lamb a place where he could squeeze under the fence, etc but the lamb and his mom would not cooperate.

    I just started to go “save” the trio myself when someone else came to persuade the lamb and ewe to move closer to the gate, swing the gate away from the lamb. Suddenly the lamb saw the opening and the family was reunited! But the sheer persistence of that sheepdog to bring them back together, simply because they were upset, was amazing. A good dog indeed who took work seriously.

    Thank you Mr. Heller and Ms. Kym for recalling that good memory for me. Be safe in these uncertain times.

  • Can anyone tell me how to pronounce Iaqua?

  • Ernie Branscomb

    Those are the kind of dogs that every rancher had, and most country folks had. They were loyal intelligent and faithful. They were mostly McNabbs or Border Collies. They are extremely swift runners and highly energetic. They love to herd and keep their flock together. Even as small puppies they try to keep chickens herded together. They would even try to herd cats… until they got their noses scratched.

    My grandfather had a dog named Jack. The dog loved to gather the cows and bring them into the barn every evening. The ranch is the hillside just south of Laytonville, and they had about six small milk cows. Grandpa would have to make him stay put in the evening until he was ready to bring the cows in. Then he would say “Okay Jack, go get the cows”. Grandpa would get the barn ready for milking. Jack would herd them right into the barn. Great work ethic!

    My Mother, Elsie Branscomb used to love the talk about that dog.

    Love your history David. Thank

  • Love your story Ernie. Thank you.

  • Wonderful story, thanks. 🙂

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