Photo: Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection, William M. Pennington, X-33103

Churro Sheep

The Navajo-Churro sheep, a breed of Spanish origin, came to Dinétah (the Navajo homeland) in the 1500s. This hardy breed was well-adapted to the local desert environment and its wool soon became prized by Diné (Navajo) weavers. During Colonel Kit Carson’s scorched-earth campaign against the Diné in 1864, Unites States troops decimated Diné crops, orchards, and flocks of Churro sheep. Further flock reductions carried out by the federal government in the 1930s resulted in the slaughter of 30 percent of every household’s livestock. The Diné refer to this slaughter as the “Second Long Walk” because of the devastating effects it had on their economy, culture, and the spiritual connection they had developed with the animals. Churro sheep nearly disappeared. Restoration of the Navajo-Churro breed began in the 1970s thanks to a long-running collaboration between Diné communities and Utah State University. Today, the flocks continue to grow.