There was a time when, instead of throngs of winter visitors, the streets of downtown Scottsdale teemed with herds of sheep on their way to Arizona’s high country for the summer, or back home for the winter.

Marjorie Thomas was Scottsdale’s first resident artist and an Arizona homesteader who painted desert landscapes, Native people, and ranch scenes. In 1951 she recounted, “Each spring and fall the sheep drives came through our homestead … we would go out on the desert and pick up these poor, bleating, hungry little lambs, and carry them … the hard life of animals in the early days was something.”

Historian and long-time Scottsdale resident Paul Messinger recalls herds of 1,000 to 2,000 sheep stretching half a mile long slowly moving along Indian School Road. A man in a pickup truck would come through town a few minutes ahead of the herd, honking his horn and shouting that the sheep were coming. Families would form a human shield along their unfenced yards to protect their property and keep the sheep in the roadway. You can read more of Mr. Messinger’s reminiscences about the sheep drives in his recent Arizona Republic column.

Fine Art of the American West: People and Places, on exhibit through September 30, features a painting by Marjorie Thomas and the artwork of 19 other acclaimed artists, both deceased and living.

Photo: Flock of sheep passing a house on Scottsdale Road (date unknown). Courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library