Dreams of Angora empire dashed
When 14 masked men attacked a ranch on Piñon Mesa on July 26, 1902, held three herders at gunpoint, then clubbed, stabbed and slashed 600 Angora goats to death, it reignited local and national indignation about cattle and sheep wars.
Anonymous cattlemen were named as villains, while a businesswoman and social reformer from Chicago briefly became a national heroine.
Nancy B. Irving was the founder and local manager of the Angora Goat Ranch Association, which had financial backers from Chicago and Indiana.
“I desire to see if the moral sentiment of the state of Colorado and the people of this city and county will tolerate such a high-handed outrage,” she told The Daily Sentinel two days after the attack.
She and her financial backers would not be stopped by the killings of three-quarters of their goat herd, she said, warning, “We shall protect our property and our own if the state does not do so.”
Although Irving sought help from Mesa County commissioners, the district attorney, the sheriff and even Colorado Gov. James B. Orman, no arrests were ever made in the goat killings, and she received no restitution for her losses.
When a national magazine wrote about the incident three years later, an unidentified “leading citizen of Grand Junction” explained “that the cattlemen ran the town and opposition to their interests was dangerous.”
For a short time after the attack, Irving withstood the pressure of the cattlemen, hiring armed men to protect the remainder of the goats.
“Plucky Mrs. Irving,” as some newspapers called her, also won the support of a number of sheep ranchers who had faced their own battles with cattlemen.
But her defiance didn’t last. By October of 1902, the Angora Ranch Association was being disbanded and the goats were being sold.
Irving, who married a man named Elzie Miller in 1904, remained in the Grand Junction area with her husband and daughter at least until 1911. That year, she recommended to the Grand Junction City Council that the city seek a better water supply from Piñon Mesa.
Monument Springs, on her ranch, had some of the best water on Piñon Mesa.
By 1920, however, Irving and her daughter were living in Denver, and Nancy was listed as a widow. They remained in Denver for at least another 20 years.
Irving was born in Kentucky around 1862. Little is known about her early life, except that she grew up on a horse farm there and was an experienced rider.
By the turn of the century, Nancy Irving was in Chicago, where she made a name for herself as owner of an advertising business and a social reformer who, among other things, pushed for improvements in the area’s slums.
Her daughter was born there, but what happened to Mr. Irving is unknown.
Nancy also published a book in which she argued that no businessman could be successful without lying. She famously offered a $1,000 prize to any man who could prove he was honest. The prize was never awarded.
It’s not hard to guess what excited Irving’s interest in Angora goats and a ranch in the West.
Publications such as Wool and Sheep Markets were eager boosters of Angoras at the turn of the century. In 1901, the magazine said the Rocky Mountains, in particular, were an ideal location for goats because of the millions of acres of brush that goats would flourish upon, even though cattle and sheep could not.
“It is the peculiar mission of the Angora to redeem these lands to pastoral uses,” it said, “and until this is done, there will be no abatement of the boom that is on.”
Two years later, the price of mohair wool from Angora goats had tumbled, and the boom was ending.
In the summer of 1901, Irving acquired property on behalf of the Angora Ranch Association at Monument Springs, about four miles south of the Glade Park Store, although she and her daughter lived in Grand Junction.
Irving also began talking to local bankers and potential investors about constructing a factory to process fleece from the goats and produce mohair products.
If the local citizenry didn’t demand justice over the goat killings, “it will require but little effort to keep away such capital as I had hoped to bring here,” she warned in the Sentinel.
On July 31, 1902, the Sentinel expressed its outrage over the goat killings, and IT also published indignant statements from two Denver newspapers.
The fact that cattle were on the range first didn’t give “the cattlemen of this or any other section the right to kill or murder on private property,” the Sentinel said.
The Sentinel also noted that this was not the first violence by cattle interests fighting the introduction of sheep and goats to the region. It mentioned the killing of several hundred sheep on Plateau Creek in the early 1890s.
Not discussed was the 1894 attack near Parachute, when nearly 4,000 sheep were run over a cliff to their deaths, and the sheepherder was wounded by a gunshot.
And still to come was the 1907 murder of a Montrose sheepherder near Kannah Creek, as he and his brother were moving their flock from Utah to the mountains near Montrose.
“It is up to the government of this county to hunt down the killers of those (goats) until every one of those concerned is apprehended and punished,” the Sentinel editorial declared.
If not, it warned, Mesa County would rightfully face censure from people throughout Colorado.
Although Sheriff W.G. Struthers began investigating the goat killings the day after they occurred, no arrests were made.
Grand Junction did not become the site of a mohair processing plant.
The sheep and cattle wars continued, although within a few decades, many of the cattle ranches on Piñon Mesa would be raising sheep.
Information from The Daily Sentinel archives; The Museums of Western Colorado; Wool and Sheep Markets, 1901; The Arena magazine, 1905; and various historic newspapers from newspapers.com.