Mary Walker: Sherpherdess of Elk River Valley deserves to be remembered

From 1926 until her death almost 40 years later, Margaret Duncan Brown, the “Shepherdess of Elk River Valley,” endured the public hostility of her community. Madge, or Mrs. Brown to many, was a middle-aged widow, a hardworking sheep rancher who appeared to be financially successful.

Sadly, the public shaming that she endured is common in history; provincial people in small communities singling out, for their jealous scorn, the unique women who stood out. Even 20 years after my Aunt Madge’s death, I was shocked when one of Steamboat Springs’ most prominent citizens admonished me that, “Over my dead body will that woman ever be awarded for anything in this town.”

Even so, Madge frequently socialized with her closest friends and neighbors, as evidenced by the many social announcements that were part and parcel of the Steamboat Pilot’s Clark section of the time period. She was active in community endeavors, providing childcare for church events and winning first prize at the 1956 Routt County Fair for her tablecloth entry. She was active in the Legioniers or Lady Moose, serving as treasurer in 1929, and she frequently hosted Ever Ready Club meetings, serving as secretary in 1947.

Many of her local community did show its profound admiration. The Routt County Cowbelles 25th anniversary meeting in 1966 featured her writings. “Little Bunch of Sheep,” her First Person Award story from Readers Digest, was often read to attendees at social gatherings and community meetings, including the Ladies Aid Society in 1958.

Former Steamboat Pilot Publishers Charles Leckenby and Suzanne Antinoro Schlicht praised Madge in writing, and she is frequently cited in local, state and national media, professional and scholarly journals and books. After Madge died in 1965, attendees at her memorial included Cris Fetcher, Evelyn Semotan, Thelma Whitmer and Ellen Winchell — very well-known women whose years-long friendships with Madge exemplify the fondness and respect felt by many for Madge.

“Shepherdess of Elk River Valley” stands as one of the signature and beloved books of our community. It is notable for Aunt Madge’s appreciation for her neighbors and friends. I encourage everyone who wants a copy of the few remaining to purchase it at the Tread of Pioneers Museum. 

Mary Walker

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