Robinson’s Summit Mountain
It was in the early 1920s when James Coupe Robinson’s determination to expand his sheep operation and the opportunity to buy prime sheep range in the mountains south of Summit in Iron County, Utah, came together.
He owned a 300-acre farm in Parowan Valley and a U.S. Forest Service permit to graze about 1,000 ewes and lambs on mountain range east and north of Paragonah. One incentive for the private purchase above Summit was the Forest Service practice of changing the number of sheep allowed to graze on the permit. “He just couldn’t outguess the Forest,” his oldest son said. “His thinking was that the private land would make the operation more secure and allow some growth opportunities.”
Wilford Day, owned significant acreage which he put on the market. James Coupe (my grandfather), who had been successful in his farm/ranch venture, took the big step, and added about five thousand acres of privately owned land to his sheep operation.
The land acquisition began at approximately the ridge line of Dairy Hill and Elephant Ridge on the west and, proceeding east, crossed the valley of the west fork of Braffitts Creek, Middle Ridge, the valley of the east fork of Braffitts Creek, Summit Mountain, the valley of Summit Creek and part way up the rim of Dry Lakes. Generally, the purchase was approximately two miles north-south by about six miles east-west. Elevations ranged from about 9,600 feet to about 7,000 feet, with a significant variety of slope, vegetation, and animal life.
The purchase was ideal for sheep range, and before the family left the sheep business in the early 1970s, the acquisition–with some additional parcels purchased later to bring the family holdings to nearly 7,000 acres–supported two separate herds of between 1,200 and 1,500 each. A third herd of about 1,000 head grazed on the original Forest Service permit northeast of Paragonah.
Names of some of the land’s features are colorful. Some, like the Jones Dairy, were established before the original purchase. The Jones Dairy is located in the upper end of the valley of the west fork of Braffitts Creek. Settlers from what is now the Enoch area established a dairy, where cows grazed and were milked. The milk was processed into cheese which was kept cool on the mountain with spring water during the summer before being transported to the valley below for use during the winter. It was primarily women and teenagers who ran the dairy on the mountain while the men cultivated their farms in the valley. At the time of the dairy, the land was “public” and was used by whoever occupied it at the time. Remnants of log structures used in the dairy operation have almost all disappeared.
Other names on the land are more self explanatory, either because of events that occurred there, because of prior ownership, because of colorful characters who had named sites after themselves, or because of physical features: “Bucking Horse Hole,” “Otto Dalley Pasture,” “Dick Lewis Flat,” “Bernice’s Meadow,” “Deep Canyon,” “Blue Spring,” “Pine Spring,” “Tom’s Lake,” “Enoch’s Grove,” “Lover’s Lane,” etc. Others are downright cryptic, or leave only a hint of how they received their name: “Croppee Ridge,” “Yellowjacket Spring,” “Grouse Spring,” “Toothache,” “Sawlog,” “Hill Cumorah,” and others.
The colorful nature of the names become more understandable if a person is familiar with the men who herded the sheep. Orion “Oney” Webb was a wooden-legged legend. Kenneth Robinson, a grandson of James Coupe, carved poetry and beautiful pictures on the aspen trees, Skinner Matheson told wonderful stories and ate considerable “government mutton (venison).” Calvin Connell, a brother-in-law of James C., sang Scottish ditties and herded Summit Mountain until his 85th birthday. Gilbert (Gib) Barton was a great sour dough cook (actually, they all were). Sherrell Lister, a current property lessee, thinks that Middle Ridge is the best place in the world.
Mountain-related traditions among the extended Robinson family of blood relatives and adopted herders and associates included summer fencing projects, annual drives to and from the mountain, the October separation of lambs from their mothers in the pinion-surrounded corrals at the base of the mountain, picking elderberries and chokecherries for cobblers and jelly, and supply runs to the herders.
Initially, much of the servicing of the sheep and the men who tended them required a heavy investment in horses and mules. In addition to the animals the herders rode, horses and mules were outfitted with pack saddles to transport everything from salt for the sheep to tents for the herders. At the peak of the operation, before roads and vehicles made things different, a constant herd of over 20 horses and mules were kept at the valley farm to keep the operation running. Sheep dogs varied from beloved and invaluable to worthless and miserable. The latter didn’t last long because of the agony they could cause a herder. Always, the dogs would bound out to meet anyone visiting a camp. If the dog came to greet a visitor, the herder was almost always at home. If the dog was tied up, or not present, the herder was nearly always away from camp.
Many animals and birds call Summit Mountain home. Deer are abundant; elk are fewer, but they are seen occasionally, especially near swampy wet areas; and cougars probably exist in numbers that might frighten people, but they are rarely seen. On an average of every five years, a black bear will be observed crossing through the area. Snakes are almost entirely water snakes, blow snakes (big bluffers), and king snakes. Rattle snakes are rarely sighted, and then almost always at the lower elevations. Grouse, sage hens, and even a rare turkey can be spotted. Porcupines, squirrels, chipmunks, rock chucks, gophers, moles, are common. A few badgers have been observed over the years, but not many.
The sheep and farming operation was originally managed by James Coupe Robinson, but it wasn’t long before three of his sons, particularly Kenyon, were heavily involved on the mountain. Sons D and Leon were involved more in the farming end of the operation, but later also took active roles in the work on Summit Mountain. A number of James Coupe Robinson’s grandsons also spent considerable time keeping the operation running. Kenyon and D Robinson are now deceased. Leon, the youngest of the three brothers, is still actively farming.
Once the sheep came off the mountain each year, traditionally October 15, the lambs were separated from their mothers, and normally fattened for market on Robinson farm feedlots in the valley.
In the early 1970s, the Robinson brothers sold their herds, grazing rights to approximately 35,000 acres of winter range, 10,000 acres of spring range, and the original 6,000 acres of Forest Service summer range. Summit Mountain has been only partially used for sheep grazing for the past 20 years.
Submitted by: James Clark Robinson (son of D Robinson and grandson of James Coupe Robinson).