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A Timeless Walk

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What is seldom recalled or recounted, though, is the fact that the Brass Ranch was a large working sheep ranch, and had been, off and on, since the early 1900s. The same is true for the Lane Ranch south of Ketchum and several places out Warm Springs Creek. Yes, there was some summer tourism in this region, but after the bust in silver mining in the late 1800s, the backbone of the economy in this area was sheep—lots and lots of sheep. Wool and lamb chops kept the Wood River Valley—and its environs north to Stanley, east to Mackay, and west beyond Fairfield—alive for close to half a century. And it was sheep that kept the trains running, long after the last ore car had clickity-clacked its way down-valley.

The hub of all this activity was Jack Lane’s Mercantile in the heart of Ketchum, where Starbucks now resides. The store was a clearinghouse for everything, and everybody, passing through town. A general outfitting store of the pot-bellied stove and pickle barrel variety, it supplied everything from sausages to saddles to “Doctor in a Bottle” snake oil. They cashed checks, held stakes, and handed out free directions and advice to all and sundry. Tourists and trappers alike patronized the place, but the bulk of the business went to ranchers and herders, whose far-flung operations in the mountains were in constant need of supply and re-supply.

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