By Josie Tauscher


I suppose you know what a bum lamb is.  If not I’ll try to explain what the term means in the country where I grew up, Wyoming.  In the spring during lambing season a great many of the mother sheep die or refuse to accept their babies.  Why they do this I cannot tell.  When I was a child we lived on a ranch some forty-five miles from town.  In early spring, my mother and we two youngest girls always went out to the ranch to round up the cattle and horses.  My father was away working and it became our job to start things going at the ranch after being in town all winter.

My mother was unable to ride horseback, so we girls did all the riding.  As soon as we had gathered the cattle in, we devoted our time to the bum lambs.  We milked several cows so we had lots of milk to raise these orphans.  Mother made each of us a sack of burlap.  Sewing up the open end, she cut a slit in the center to put over the saddle horn.  Then two openings on each side to form a pocket in which to carry the lambs.  There were numbers herds of sheep in the hills around that area and we went from one camp to the other to get the lambs the herders would save for us.

The spring I was eight years old, my mother and I went to the ranch alone.  Getting the stock rounded up and fences mended was quite an undertaking for a lone woman and an eight year old child but we managed to get it done.  That year I raised fifty two bum lambs.  I made nipples from the top of an old rubber boot to feed them.  After about a week or so of bottle feeding, I taught them to drink from a small trough.  In that manner I could feed them all at once and so lessen the work of taking each on separately from the pen.

 I had been ill for a few days and unable to make my usual rounds to gather my lambs; consequently, I was afraid the herders may have had to destroy the bums as they had no way to care for them even if they had wanted to.  Imagine my delight when I arrived at the nearest sheep camp and the herder had three lambs for me and one was coal black.  The kindly man had been feeding them diluted condensed milk from a tin cup.  Placing the rim of the cup in their mouth the same as you or I would drink, he taught the lambs to drink.  Putting a lamb in each pocket and carrying one in my arms, I made my way home pleased as punch with my prize black lamb.  I named him Smokie.

The next week I visited another camp and to my dismay found the herder had been injured.  One of the ewes with twin lambs had objected to the dog coming too close to her babies and attacked the dog with a vengeance.  The man, in trying to protect the dog, stepped in a badger hole and sprained his ankle very badly.

When I arrived he had been laid up for two days and could not step on his foot at all.  Being only eight I knew very little about cooking but I could make coffee and I fed the dogs and counted the markers (black sheep) for him.  That day I didn’t get any lambs as I couldn’t tell the bums from the others in such a large band.

When I reached home and told my mother about the herder being hurt she hitched up a team and wagon and went back to the camp to bring him to the ranch.  While he stayed at the ranch, Mother took care of his ankle.  It was my job to look out for the sheep which I did to his satisfaction.

The next day the camp-mover came with supplies and helped us out or our predicament by going back to his headquarters and bringing another herder to look after the sheep until the other man should be able to take over duties again.  The camp-mover thanked my mother and made me a solemn promise he would always keep all the bum lambs for me.

In September when we went back to town to go to school I sold my lambs for a good price but I couldn’t part with my little black lamb.  I kept him for several years.

And that was the way Little Bo Peep found her sheep.