Saturday, December 10, 2022

“I Believe in Myself” - The Sheep Queen of Idaho


By Suzanne Norquist

“I believe in myself.” That’s how Emma Yearian responded when the banker asked her why he should lend her a large sum of money for hay during a drought. She seems to have built her life on this statement. A reporter once dubbed her the “Sheep Queen of Idaho,” and the title stuck. Her story inspired one of her grandsons to write a semi-biographical novel titled The Sheep Queen.

She never set out to earn that moniker. As a young woman, she followed in the footsteps of those before her. She went out West to teach school and married a cattle rancher.

Emma Russell was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1866. Soon after, her parents moved the family to Illinois. There, she attended high school and Southern Illinois Normal College. Upon graduation, she went West and eventually found herself in the Lemhi Valley in Idaho, along the Montana border.

During the week, she taught in a one-room, sod-roofed schoolhouse. On weekends, she played piano for local dances. That’s where she met fiddler player and cattle rancher Thomas Yearian.

She married him in 1889, and the couple set up housekeeping in a log cabin with a sod roof. They had six children, and she decided to earn money for their education. She noticed that sheep ranchers made more money than cattle ranchers. So, she tried to convince Thomas to give up the cattle and buy sheep. Instead, he allowed her to add sheep to the existing stock.

She took out a loan and drove 1,200 ewes from Montana to Idaho with her husband and son. Neighboring ranchers didn’t appreciate her decision. Cattle and sheep owners were long-time enemies. She was supposed to keep her sheep at least two miles away from other ranch properties, an impossibility when driving them from one area to another. She was often summoned to court, but never convicted. And no one ever pointed a gun at her.

Emma ran the operation, and everyone thought of it as hers, although Thomas managed the cattle portion of the business. In 1910, they replaced the little cabin with a modern six-bedroom house, including electric lights and indoor plumbing.

She followed national events and predicted World War I years before it started. Realizing the army would need wool for uniforms, she took out another loan to increase production. Then she bought sheep with extra-thick coats. The investment paid off when the United States joined the war.

Through droughts and the Great Depression, she kept the ranch operating. By 1933, she had 2,500 acres and 5,000 head of sheep.

However, ranching wasn’t enough for her. She participated in professional organizations and became a state legislator, running as a Republican even though her husband was a Democrat. She served one term in office.

In her later years, she continued to work with the sheep, using a walking stick. In 1951, she passed away at the age of eighty-five.

Her legacy lives on because she believed in herself and lived life to its fullest.


"Mending Sarah’s Heart" in the Thimbles and Threads Collection

Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting. 

Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist

Rockledge, Colorado, 1884

Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?

Suzanne Norquist is the author of two novellas, “A Song for Rose” in A Bouquet of Brides Collection and “Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection. Everything fascinates her. She has worked as a chemist, professor, financial analyst, and even earned a doctorate in economics. Research feeds her curiosity, and she shares the adventure with her readers. She lives in New Mexico with her mining engineer husband and has two grown children. When not writing, she explores the mountains, hikes, and attends kickboxing class. 


  1. Thanks for posting today, and Merry Christmas! I love stories like this. How did you run across this one?

    1. Thanks Connie. And Merry Christmas. I have a book of Wild West Women. I get the idea from there and then look for more information. If her grandson hadn't written the book, I think her story would have been lost.