Editor’s note: This is the second part of a four-part series on Shiner Ranch in Idaho’s Lemhi Valley. It focuses on the Yearian family.
The Yearian ranch is still headquarters for the Shiner ranch, and it’s one of the oldest ranches in the Lemhi valley. It was homesteaded in 1868 by Thomas Pyeatt when he came west after the Civil War to seek a fortune in the gold fields. He didn’t find gold, but rather he found a valley where he decided to put down roots. After staking a claim and building a sod-roofed shelter, he traveled back to Illinois to gather his family and make the long trip west again.
The Pyeatt ranch was sold to George W. Yearian in 1871 and eventually grew to 2,500 acres as the Yearian family acquired nearby homesteads. The settlement (a store, stagecoach stop and post office) along the river was called Yearianville until its name was later changed to Lemhi.
George’s son Thomas Yearian married Emma Russell in 1889, who became known as the sheep queen of Idaho. Emma was born in 1866 in Kansas and graduated from Southern Illinois Normal College, but after her mother died she headed west on her own, at age 21. She worked as a governess in the mining town of Salmon, Idaho, then a schoolteacher in a one-room sod-roofed school farther up the valley. She played piano with a group of musicians who entertained at social events and met cattle rancher Thomas Yearian.
They married and had six children. Emma wanted them all to have an education — which would be expensive — so she decided to raise sheep because they seemed to make more money than cattle. Her husband continued to raise cattle, but Emma borrowed money from the bank and purchased 1,200 ewes. Her wool business prospered and the family built a limestone six-bedroom house with indoor plumbing and electricity in 1907. Wool was in huge demand during World War I. Though times were tough during the Depression, she managed to keep her sheep enterprise going, and at one time she had more than 10,000 sheep.
Affectionately called “Big Mama,” Emma was active in local civic groups, and in 1930 she was elected to the state Legislature. She died in December 1951 at the age of 85 and the town of Salmon closed down for her funeral. Her husband Thomas outlived her by 11 years, dying in 1963 at the age of 99. He was 97 when he sold the ranch to George Ellsworth in 1961 and moved to town, and 30 years later Ellsworth sold it to the Shiners.
The big horse barn at the ranch was built by Yearians in 1904.
“We’ve had it repainted several times,” Dean Shiner said. “The first time, a guy from New Hampshire showed up and needed a job. We didn’t need any help, but he said, ‘If you’ll just let me live in your bunk house and feed me, I will restore your barn — replace some boards and paint it, and put shingles on the roof.’ So we let him do it,” said Dean.
“He went to town and rented scaffolding so he could get up on the roof. He knew how to do it, and it didn’t cost us much — just to feed him and give him a place to sleep. It took him all summer but he got it done, all by himself. That was the first time it had work done on it, and it was badly needing some upkeep. Since then, we’ve repainted it a few more times.”
It’s always been a great place to get the horses ready to ride or to harness the draft horses. “Nearly every day it has at least three horses tied in it or around back. In winter when we’re calving and checking the cows on horseback, we tie horses in there during the day, to get them out of the weather while we go eat or feed cows,” Dean said.