Sunday, June 24, 2012

Scottish Shepherd Comes to America

Bill Millar with horse and buggy on the Seely Ranch east of Mt. Pleasant

The following tells how Bill Millar  from the village of Eagle in Renfrewshire  Scotland came to America.

NEBCA News - Volume 28, Issue 4.  December, 2010


Pioneering Scottish shepherd in New England by Joe Evans   
At the turn of the last century, The New England Farm Stock Company established itself in Greenfield, Mass -  seemingly a cooperative of investors and farmers. 
Organized by the Greenfield Board of Trade, the company owned 7,000 sheep, mostly Rambouillets.  The ewes were  shipped from the West as were some of the rams that were crossed with others imported from Scotland.  These sheep “were placed on shares with farmers in western Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.”  The company made the initial capital investment, the farmers received “their share of the wool and increase for caring for the flocks.” The American sheep industry watched this experiment with interest.  One of the principle challenges was to prevent losses to packs of uncontrolled dogs that terrorized the sheep-farming communities in New England at the time. Massachussetts law determined that farmers should be compensated by the counties for sheep killed by roving dogs out of funds generated from the dog license fees.  The problem lay in the farmers’ lack of success in collecting their compensation as claims were subject to investigation that were mostly inconclusive. 

The New England Farm Stock company believed they could solve this problem by importing a professional shepherd and his highly trained sheepdogs.  (It was a commonly held misconception that Border collies could act as guard dogs as well as herders.) 

The man they chose was William Millar from the village of Eagle in Renfrewshire just south of Glasgow in Scotland.  In 1906, Bill Millar with two of his Border collies and a beardie emigrated to the Leyden hills of Western Massachusetts between Bernardston and Greenfield. 

Like his father and grand-father before him, Mr. Millar was born a shepherd.  Whistling and commanding collie dogs was integral to the Millars work.  Millar’s brother, Alexander was the International Supreme Champion in 1925 as well as the Scottish National a number of times. 

Millar’s arrival was keenly anticipated.  His expertise was to support the effort to bring prosperity to the blighted hill town sections of the region. Whether he succeeded in that is not clear.  However, Bill Millar became something of a local  celebrity in the agricultural community.  His leading sheepdog was Pate (renamed Pete over 
here), a talented two year old dog worth $60.  His bitch Fleet was valued at $50.  He also worked with his bearded collie, Bruce. Millar was dismissive of local sheepdogs.  He felt they were “practically good for nothing for caring for sheep.”  In his opinion, some were only good “as pets. You have to have the right breed and the right training in order get the right kind of shepherd dog.” His ability to work with his dogs, Pete in particular, attracted much attention. He was featured in a lengthy article in The Boston Globe in 1906. It didn’t take Millar long to establish himself on the nascent sheepdog trialing circuit either.  At the 1907 Vermont State Fair he beat Walter Burns, a stockyard worker who had dominated trials and exhibitions in both eastern Canada and New England.  Millar’s arrival heralded a greater concentration on breeding and training Border collies for the tasks of shepherding and trialing. 

Millar stayed in New England for seven years before moving to Idaho as a shepherd and a “fitter.”  In those days, fitters were the superstars of the sheep world, their primary task being to prepare rams for shows and auctions.  Their activities often set high prices for  their charges -  a Rambouillet ram fitted by Millar fetched a record $6,200 at a Salt Lake City auction in 1918. 

Millar lived a long life training, working and selling sheepdogs right up to the 1950s.  No doubt his legacy can still be felt here in the northeast. 

Acknowledgments: Penny Tose, Mr. & 
Mrs. Bert William “Bill”  Sorensen family 
papers, The Boston Daily Globe, July 8, 

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