Every so often you will hear somebody give out that well-worn gripe—that they’re always complaining about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it. Or maybe the gripe is taxes.
Well, this story isn’t about the weather or taxes. Instead it’s about a fellow who did something about a thing that a lot of people were apparently interested in but nobody seemed to be doing anything about.
And now, five years later, quite a few people are already showing their gratefulness for the patience and dogged determination shown by this fellow in securing the information they wanted but didn’t quite know how to go about getting it.
Thirty-eight year old Cliff Waterman of Blue Lake is a shipping foreman for the Simpson Redwood Co at Korbel. He came to Humboldt County from Los Angeles in 1949 and first went to work for one of the local lumber companies and it was shortly thereafter that he became interested in the McNab Shepherd.
He was impressed by the dog’s handsome appearance and while he had never seen one before, he was moved to attend regularly the Annual Ferndale Sheep Trials to watch them work. He learned they were and still are, being widely used in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties as highly regarded handlers of cattle and sheep.
Waterman further learned of the McNab’s gentle characteristics with children; that they were good watchdogs; that they were successfully used and deer dogs as well as with hounds for tracking bear.
He came across knowledge of several hundred of McNab Shepherds in this area. “It seems that there is at least one to every ranch in the three counties” he says.
But when he sought to learn about the dog’s history, he drew a blank. Scores of owners were unable to tell him very much. Generally the answers were different. Each owner had his own story. A four year search failed to turn up a “book” on the breed. There were no kennels or persons known to be continuing the strain by breeding. Sports and dog magazines and internationally recognized kennel clubs had no light to shed on the question.
One magazine wrote back it had never heard of the McNab, that there was no such breed. Another said there might be such a breed. A kennel club said it had heard of the breed but had never been able to get any information on it.
Late in 1955, however, Waterman, in a chance conversation, learned of a McNab Ranch just south of Ukiah. He needed no urging to extend his letter writing campaign to just one more. The following letter from Robert W. Scott, a San Francisco attorney is the fruit of Waterman’s patience and efforts.
Mr. Cliff Waterman
P.O. Box 141
Blue Lake, Ca.
My Dear Mr. Waterman:
My mother in law, Mrs. John L. McNab, has asked me to reply to your November 21st (1955) concerning the McNab Shepherd. John McNab died in 1950, but his daughters (my wife and her sister) now own and operate the McNab Ranch just south of Ukiah. I have been familiar with the ranch for thirty years and knew the history of these dogs.
Actually, the dog which is known through the West among stockman as the “McNab Shepherd” is the Scotch Border Collie, the origin of which is unknown, but existed in Scotland for centuries.
John L McNab, one of five brothers and a sister, was the son of Alexander and Susan McNab. Alexander came to this country from Glasgow about 1868 and settled on which is now the McNab Ranch. The following year his wife and children (except John, who was born on the ranch here) also came over, and brought with them the first Border Collie on the ranch. Sometime later this dog died.
In the fall of 1885, Alexander McNab took a trip back to Scotland for the express purpose of obtaining new sheep dogs. In the Grampian Hills of central Scotland, he purchased two border Collies, Peter and Fred. Peter came back to the United States with Mr. McNab, Fred was left to have his training completed, but was sent later.
Peter worked either lead or drive, while Fred was strictly a lead dog. These two, breeding with select females, originated, in the United States, the line of McNab Shepherds.
The original stock was supported from time to time by importation from Scotland. The ranch ultimately came under sole ownership of John McNab, and to my knowledge, he made two separate importations of these dogs, both male and female, from Scotland during the twenty years prior to his death. Importations also took place prior to the time I first went to the ranch in 1925.
Border Collies are of two varieties, a long-haired and short-haired, The long hair type is particularly adapted to the severe weather of Scotland, but the dry steep ranges of Mendocino County required the short-haired dog, both because of the summer heat but also on account of the burrs, foxtails and stickers which are not picked up so easily by the short haired dog.
For these reasons, the importations by the McNab family have been mostly the short-haired type, although I remember at least one of the long-haired male, “Reddy” coming over in the early nineteen twenties.
A McNab differs markedly in appearance from the usual English Collie. A McNab is medium size, alert and cat-footed, has a black coat with white markings-white muzzle with a white streak running up the head between the eyes, usually a white neck and chest, white tip of the tail and one or more white feet.
Its ears are medium sized, and somewhat pointed, usually the upper half of the ear flops over. The tail is not bushy. These dogs have been bred primarily for performance in working stock – not for color or confirmation – although experience has shown the best performance usually is obtained from the original type.
McNabs should not be confused with the Australian Kelpie, which is a reddish brown, short haired dog of the same size, but with fully erect ears and often a bushy tail. The origin of the Kelpie seems to be in dispute – one school of thought contends it is a cross between the Border Collie, imported to Australia from Scotland, and the Dingo, or Australian wild dog, a second contention is the Kelpie is a development, in Australia, of the Scotch Border Collie, without the infusion of the Dingo blood, while still others state that the Kelpie originated in the Fox Collie which was found in the north of Scotland and which was different in every way from the Border Collie.
At any rate, if you see a Kelpie you will see immediately, primarily from its color, that it is not a McNab.
The McNab Ranch never bred dogs for trials, all the dogs raised there were developed for range and corral work. However, many of them, raised by others, have been used in the show ring.
Very Sincerely Yours,
Robert W. Scott
Since receiving this letter, people from ranches at Pepperwood, Bull Creek, Mattole and Crescent City have contacted Waterman seeking the information it contains.
In this day of “registered” dogs, none will maintain, least of all Waterman, that the letter will serve as “paper” for the McNab Shepherd, However, they are grateful to Waterman who sought and found a substantial background for a highly regarded dog.
As for Waterman, he had a McNab pup several years ago but had to give it to a rancher since he felt he had no right to confine this ranger to the smallness of a yard.
By Al Tostado, sports editor for The Times Standard, Eureka, California