Campbell was last of a kind in Eagle Valley
Randy Campbell was a born sheep rancher. He grew up in a sheep ranching family, working beside his father, Ervin, and grandfather, Avery, on the Campbell Brothers ranch near Norwood, Colo. When middle school age, Randy was responsible for trailing hundreds of sheep down the highway from Redvale to Ophir.He was a hard worker who made a life-long career of the business he loved, managing sheep herds for several Colorado ranches before eventually starting his own ranch. Since the 1980s, Campbell was probably the most visible sheepman in the Eagle Valley, running herds of hundreds of woolly animals that summered on Red and White Mountain and wintered near the Utah-Colorado state line.”He was just a natural for it. In this age, he was a throw-back to the old days when there were really capable people around,” says Chris Jouflas, 83, a retired valley sheep rancher.Campbell, 58, died on March 9 at his home in Loma, Colo., 18 months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He will be remembered as a hard-working rancher who still found time for fun and loved his family. Campbell was known for his honest analysis of any situation. “He never minced words,” recalls George Shaeffer of Eagle, a close friend. Campbell’s words during the hectic business of shipping sheep tended to be colorful.Campbell subscribed to the “Code of the West,” unwritten rules of respect for land, fair play, loyalty, and hospitality. He was generous in sharing his way of life with friends who showed an interest and were willing to try hard.”Just don’t weaken,” was Campbell’s frequent advice.”It didn’t matter whether we were creeping up a rutted dirt road with chains on all four tires, pulling a sheep camp up Red & White Mountain, or on horseback chasing an ewe out in the desert. He just didn’t give up,” says Shaeffer.
Campbell was born in Grand Junction on Dec. 6, 1951 to Thelma Rose and Ervin George Campbell. In 1965, the family moved to Olathe, where his father managed a ranch that often ran as many as 10,000 ewes. Throughout his school years, Randy worked with his father running docking crews, lambing, herding sheep, and tending high country camps. He graduated from Nucla High School in 1970.He briefly worked as a surveyor, but his love of the sheep business drew him back to ranching in the mid-1970s. He was managing a sheep herd above Silverton, Colo. in 1980 when he met his future wife, Julie Hansmire, who was working for the Bureau of Land Management, monitoring vegetation on high country sheep permits.Shortly afterwards, Campbell moved to Wolcott to work as sheep foreman for Jouflas, sometimes running up to a couple of thousand sheep. Campbell had a knack for evaluating new ranges and determining and adjusting grazing plans.”He was very astute in his work ethic. He knew where he was going, and knew how to handle people,” says Jouflas, “If you wrote down what you thought a sheepman should be, Randy would have been at the head of the list.” Under the tutelage of Jouflas and Pete Clathis, Campbell learned to barbecue lambs, Greek style. His cooking talent was in demand for parties and special events.
Campbell and Hansmire married Aug. 20, 1983 in Gypsum, and began establishing their own business, leasing property from Jouflas, buying ewes, and acquiring grazing permits. Shaeffer recalls one long day helping Campbell push sheep down Lake Creek, onto the railroad grade, then up the valley to summer grazing lands above Minturn. When the exhausted sheep reached a point near Big O tires in Avon, Campbell declared it was time to let the animals rest.”We just tied up our horses and let the sheep sleep. After it got dark, we pushed them on up into Minturn, and up Two Elk,” says Shaeffer. What was supposed to be an eight-hour day turned into 18 hours.In 1989, the Campbell and Hansmire bought the Cottonwood Ranch north of Cisco, Utah, which became the winter home base for both the livestock and their family. They continued to move the sheep between the Eagle Valley in the summer and Utah in the winter.An accomplished horseman, Campbell was happiest when he was on horseback, regardless of the weather. “I have sheep so I can ride every day,” he would confide. He always had a solid string of riding horses and a pack string of mules. For 20 years, vacations were pack trips exploring the Flat Tops or other mountains. In 2005, he joined the Round Up Riders of the Rockies, an organization dedicated to the perpetuation the Western tradition of cowboys and horses. In 2007, the Colorado Wool Growers awarded Campbell the Camp Tender award for outstanding contributions for the preservation and advancement of the Colorado sheep industry.”He was the last of a breed that is gone out of the valley now. Randy was the exclamation point to the end of an era,” says Jouflas.Kathy Heicher is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com.