Lee's Summit Journal

Sheep shearing, 19th century fun delighted families at Missouri Town

Danny Smith of Kingsville finishes shearing a sheep as Lee's Summit residents Georgia Gustafson, 11, and Anna Gustafson, 6, watch Saturday afternoon at Missouri Town 1855.
Danny Smith of Kingsville finishes shearing a sheep as Lee's Summit residents Georgia Gustafson, 11, and Anna Gustafson, 6, watch Saturday afternoon at Missouri Town 1855. Special to the Journal

You wouldn’t want to wear a wool coat in the summer, so why expect sheep to suffer the heat?

That’s why Saturday all 15 sheep at Missouri Town 1855 found themselves sheared — in front of an audience.

The Children’s Day event in Lee’s Summit was a combination of 19th century sheep shearing and children’s activities of the same era. Missouri Town has been operating as a historic site since 1965.

“We try and represent a period of Missouri history, including animals and livestock, as our forefathers would have had them at that time,” said Mary McMurray, superintendent of historic sites and outdoor education for Jackson County Parks and Recreation. “We want families to see that and see the entire process — not just the shearing but the washing and the carding (of the wool).”

About every 30 minutes, a group gathered to watch Kingsville resident Danny Smith gently wrestle with a sheep as he sheared off their wooly winter coats — mostly in one piece. Sheep shearing is his profession, and he’s been doing it for more than 20 years at Missouri Town.

“It’s not much different than getting your own hair cut,” Smith said. “If you don’t shear them, then they can die of heat stroke.”

Kara Phillips brought her son, 3-year-old Ryker, from their home in Wellington.

“He was excited to see the sheep. We’ve never seen the shearing, but we have a lot of neighbors who have sheep,” she said.

Once the wool was off, a group of re-enactors helped visitors wash it and spread it out to dry.

Grain Valley resident Alicia Hunt came to check it out with her 6-year-old grandson, Oren.

“His first response when he saw them shear the sheep was that the sheep are naked,” she said.

She was pleased to see him not only learn how to wash the wool but then turn around and show another child how to do it.

Another group was carefully carding the dry wool to comb out its impurities, while still more were showing the historical way people took that clean wool and spun it into yarn.

“It’s a craft that unless you see it you take for granted the work that goes into it,” McMurray said.

Sibley resident Gordon Tompkins has been spinning wool for 40 years and loves to come out to Missouri Town to demonstrate his craft.

“It’s very relaxing and a lot of fun to do. I can do it all day and not get tired,” Tompkins said.

Wool aside, old-time chores and games were everywhere for visitors to try. Craft-wise, there was the art of tin-punching and the knotty job of rope-making. Especially popular with the kids was sawing circles of wood from a thick branch using an old wide-toothed handsaw.

Throughout the day there were three opportunities to get a taste of 19th century culture — literally. Pie-eating contests found kids and adults face-first in apple and cherry pies.

Eight-year-old Eva Franke, who came to the event with her Girl Scout troop, was victorious in one of the contests.

“She does try to practice eating without hands sometimes,” said her mother, Kara Franke of Lee’s Summit, with a smile.

Also on offer were various toys and games of the time, including a pole and wheel game re-enactor Jay Clasen called a “walking the dog” toy.

The day brought back memories for many attendees.

“I used to come here when I was a kid. I remember all the games especially,” said Renee Van Quaethem of Leawood.