From two dogs to a mansion
Scottish-born Andrew Little came to Idaho in 1884 with two dogs and $25. By 1935, he was dubbed “The Idaho Sheep King,” Little was considered the largest sheep operator in Idaho and one of the largest in the nation. He married Scottish-born Agnes Sproat in New York City in 1903 and they had five children together.
In 1923, Little started building “The Little Mansion,” which is located on Substation Road. It took over a year to build and originally his land extended from Payette up to McCall and through the Boise foothills.
The three-level, 6,400-squarefeet house with five bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, kitchen and maid’s quarters is called the “Forever House.” The one foot thick walls are filled with junk metal, rebar and old iron farm implements. There really are “Artifacts at the Mansion.”
Little’s early years
Twenty-four-year-old Andrew “Andy” Little arrived in the U.S. in 1884 and walked 22 miles to the sheep ranch of pioneer Robert “Scotch Bob” Aikman. Aikman and fellow Scot Charlie Doane helped several people from their homeland to find jobs in Idaho. At the time of Little’s death, he owned the Aikman ranch and the Little family has owned and operated the century farm since that time. An Idaho century farm is a farm or ranch that has been officially recognized by a regional program documenting that the farm has been continuously owned by a single family for 100 years or more.
Little’s first band of sheep totaled 1,200 ewes that he took in lieu of cash. He was permitted to herd his sheep with the owner’s flock and it wasn’t long before he had accumulated a small band as a nucleus of the flock that grew to vast proportions. The following year, he acquired 40 acres of land.
His ewe bands were largely Lincoln-Rambouillet sheep. After 1910, his ewes were mated to Hampshire and Suffolk rams.
Exact systems and faithful ranch hands
By 1929, Little was the owner of 100,000 head of sheep and marketed a million pounds of wool. Later he purchased the VanDeusen holdings, also located in Emmett. He also owned more than 6,000 acres of 27 irrigated ranches, scattered throughout Payette and Boise valleys and employed as many as 400 men, which he kept busy 12 months out of the year. His ranch hands liked his wise, careful and exact planning methods and served him from five to 20 years. He was known for his keen sense of the business and keeping a close eye on fine details.
Prominent, successful livestock owner
In June 1935, the wool market was lower than expected and Little refused the bids of 15 wool buyers from Boston, Portland and other areas for 84,000 fleeces totaling more than 700,000 pounds of carefully graded wool. The wool had been clipped and was stored in railroad cars where it would stay until the market became active again. He had advertised his sale to take place in Emmett and would-be purchasers placed sealed bids for the wool. Bids were lower than expected, so Little decided not to sell and rejected all of the bids.
Little graded his wool at shearing time by licensed professional graders brought from Boston, prior to the sale. He usually brought a higher price by saving the usual buyer’s commission, which would normally be deducted from the purchase price.
Everything about his enterprise was done in a calculated way. His ranches produced alfalfa, oats and other feeds necessary to feed during winter. Lambing sheds and winter feeding ground were located close to the hay supply where there was an abundance of water in sheltered places.
Lambing took place in February and March and the ewes were ready to move to grass in April or May.
During the summer months, the sheep were ranged in the high mountains in the national forests. Hundreds of acres of pasture in Long Valley took care of some of the bands in late summer.
Little was a heavy purchaser of good registered rams at the yearly Filer ram sale.
In 1935, of the 350 employees, 30 to 40 were cooks. All provisions and supplies were bought in Emmett. Bacon, dried salt codfish by the ton, sugar, salt, pepper, flour, baking powder and other staples were purchased for the ranches. That year, 90 head of hogs were killed and cured to feed the growing staff.
Andy and Agnes had two daughters and three sons. Two of them graduated from the University of Idaho.
The death of the sheep king
Andy Little died in a Santa Barbara, Calif., hospital in 1941 after several weeks of illness. Hundreds of friends attended his funeral, which was held at the Little home. Rev. J. R. Lamb, pastor of the Emmett Presbyterian Church, had charge of the services. Little was laid to rest at the Riverside Cemetery.
The portrait of Andrew “Andy” Little is displayed along with 347 other livestock industry leaders in the halls of the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., as part of the history of the Saddle and Sirloin Club whose members conceived and continued their respected traditions for over a century.
The sheep king will forever be known for his hands-on operation and unlimited energy that made the sheep industry in Idaho number one in the nation.