By Billie Jean Siddoway

My mother, sisters and I founded Siddoway Wool Company, LLC in 2002. We were inspired by a rerun episode of the 1970s television series Little House on the Prairie. On that show, a hailstorm flattens the wheat stands of Walnut Grove. The men of the town, discouraged, set out to find work in the quarries in order to earn enough money to survive the winter. The women, led by Caroline Ingalls, resurrect the fallen wheat, cut and thrash it by hand, and salvage enough to make flour for the coming months.

For many of America’s sheep ranchers, recent wool harvests have been like hail-damaged wheat. The strong U.S. dollar and other economic factors cause imported wool to be cheaper than what can be grown here at home. Consequently, wool buyers offer bids for the domestic product far below the cost of production. Some ranchers have stored their wool, hoping to wait out the storm. Others have discarded their wool in the local landfill or given it away for use as garden mulch. The women of the Siddoway Ranch decided to make blankets.

The Generations

James William & Ruth Siddoway
My great-great-grandparents, James William and Ruth Briggs Siddoway, immigrated to Idaho as Mormon pioneers in the spring of 1886. At just 24 years of age, James brought his wife, two horses, and a wagon filled with supplies on the two-week journey from Salt Lake City to what would become the city of Teton. The couple began in a tent on Canyon Creek while they erected a log house. The construction didn’t stop there. The Siddoways and the other new residents of Teton City built a general mercantile, a bank, a lumber mill, a flour mill, an irrigation system, and established many farms. James participated in politics, serving on the Teton City Council, the Fremont County Commission, and in the Idaho legislature. James and Ruth bred a few head of livestock, registering their sheep brand in 1898, and reared eleven children.

Ruth & James

James Clarence & Ruth Siddoway
The oldest son, James Clarence, known as J.C., was fond of caring for the range sheep. However, he left the ranch for a few years to attend the business college in Salt Lake City. When he returned, he married Ruth Bean and the couple began following in the paternal parent’s footsteps. J.C. and Ruth had eight children. But having a large family didn’t slow either of them down. Ruth’s name was synonymous with fun. She was known as a fabulous party hostess who would occasionally share her gifted singing voice with a receptive crowd. J.C. operated the farm and ever-growing sheep ranch as complimentary enterprises. He established a crop rotation system that improved the soil and sustained the sheep: 4 years of alfalfa, 1 year of potatoes, 3 years of sugar beets, 1 year of grain, and back again to alfalfa. In the winter, he kept ewes and newborn lambs indoors in large heated lambing sheds. By providing better conditions for the animals, he had larger lambs and more of them. However, J.C.’s claim to fame was not as a farmer or rancher, but as a businessman. Residents of Teton still recall how J.C. closed the bank in 1919 at the first signs of economic depression and paid all of his depositors 100 cents on the dollar. The payments on outstanding loans came trickling in over the years, long after the bank had closed, with debtors leaving payments of $5 or $10 and an expression of gratitude. Like his father, J.C. took an interest in civics. He served as the president of the Fremont County Wool Growers Association, a director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, as an Idaho State Representative, and as an Idaho State Senator.

Ruth & J.C.

Raymond Kenneth & Jeanne Siddoway
Raymond Kenneth, known as Bill, was J.C. and Ruth’s second child. He showed an early interest in the sheep, horses, and sheepherders. When Bill was just 10 years old, his parents allowed him to join one of the herders in taking the sheep across the summer range. It was the first summer of many that Bill would spend in the Rocky Mountains, and by the end of his life he had likely crossed the Targhee Forest trails as many times as any person before or since. Bill attended the University of Idaho in Moscow, where he studied Animal Husbandry. This was the setting of one of his most famous tall tales: “The True Story of Old Shep.” When he returned from the University, he went back to work on the ranch, managing sheep and managing money. Bill attributed his business skills to his father, and when asked whether he was afraid of being reputed as excessively frugal, he replied: “Being tight is better than being broke.” He worked hard for four years, saved his money, and met and married Jeanne Clark, who had been working in St. Anthony as a telegraph operator. Jeanne joined in her husband’s interest in the ranch, and she was often found slaving over the wood-burning stove in the bunkhouse or typing an industry speech for Bill. Bill offered those speeches at many public lands meetings, and as the president of the Fremont Woolgrowers Association, the president of the Idaho Woolgrowers Association, and the National Woolgrowers Association. Bill gave a short speech when he received an honorary doctorate degree in natural resources from the University of Idaho, bragging that he now had papers just like Ben -- his registered border collie herding dog.

Bill & Jeanne

Jeff & Cindy Siddoway
Jeff Siddoway, my father, is Bill and Jeanne’s oldest son. He and my mother, Cindy Butts, went to high school together in St. Anthony and attended the University of Idaho in Moscow. They are the current majority shareholders of the Siddoway Sheep Company, Inc. Jeff is president of the Fremont Wool Growers Association, past president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association and a past member of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. Jeff serves as the Idaho State Senator for District 35. Cindy is past president of the American Sheep Industry Association and past chairman of the Idaho Farm Service State Committee. Under Jeff and Cindy’s leadership, the ranch increased in size and scope. At one point, they had up to 14,000 breeding ewes. Since then, they’ve cut back to approximately 10,000. This translates to production of over 100,000 pounds of wool each year. Unfortunately, wool and lamb prices have declined significantly in recent decades, creating challenges for Jeff and Cindy that their forefathers did not face. In a speech at one of the Idaho Wool Growers Conventions during a particularly rough market year, my father pledged to keep the sheep company afloat during his watch, and he has kept his word.

Cindy & Jeff

The Next Generation
My siblings and I are beginning to become involved in the management of the sheep operation. My younger sister, Jodie, attended vocational school. She works at Melaleuca in Rexburg and also on the ranch. She has a eleven-year-old son, Wayne. Our brother, J.C., is now actively involved in the management of the ranch after receiving a degree in Animal Science from BYU Idaho. He and his wife, Braidyn Jacobs, have an eight-year-old daughter,Emma and a four-year-old boy, J.Clark. I am practicing law with Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough in Salt Lake City after receiving a Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah College of Law and a Bachelor’s of Arts from the University of Idaho. I am a member of the Idaho and Utah Bar, and work in the areas of agricultural and natural resources law.

Braidyn & J.C.