History of a couple's passion and the largest Karakul herd in America
September 22, 1861 - April 2, 1937
Alex Albright moved to Archer County in 1890 at age 29, bringing some of the first shorthorn cattle to the area. He opened the first general store in Dundee.
Mr. Albright and his second wife, Marie started their Elm Lodge Ranch southeast of Dundee. Mrs. Albright was from France and had both an interest in and knowledge of sheep. She was an influence upon him as he began sheep ranching. Mr. Albright began with Lincoln sheep. His breeding experiments yielded remarkable improvement in the volume of wool he was able to produce. He produced wool that was 32 inches long, while the average of the time was 20-24 inches long.
Dr. Carl Young in Holliday was the first to import Karakul sheep into the United States. Karakul sheep were safeguarded by the people of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, where they had a monopoly on purebred Karakul sheep. In 1912, Albright purchased a few head from his neighbor, Dr. Young, and went on to create the largest herd of Karakul in America.
Karakul sheep are very hardy animals, possessing the ability to survive drought and other difficult weather conditions. The wool is very coarse and is used in creating rugs and blankets, in addition to use in felting. However, most breeders sought after the Karakul sheep for the lamb pelts. When Karakul lambs are killed within three days of being born, the fur has a very tight curl and maintains its black qualities. These lamb pelts were highly sought after to make coats, which sometimes cost as much as $2,000 to produce. In the early 1930’s, during the Great Depression, the pelts were sold for only $6-8 each, but had, during better economic times, brought as much as $40 per pelt.
It was incredibly difficult to import Karakul sheep during the early 20th century. Dr. Young and Mr. Albright sought President Theodore Roosevelt’s help to import more sheep. The difficulty not only of getting sheep out of Bukhara, but also into the United States limited the number of breeders who tried to import Karakul sheep. Some spoke of Russian soldiers having strapped the sheep to camel’s backs to smuggle them out of Bukhara.
Mr. and Mrs. Albright visited Europe multiple times to learn the latest in sheep husbandry, and they even brought back an experimental flock from the University of Germany at Halle. They both knew multiple languages, Mr. Albright being a son of German immigrants and Mrs. Albright being from France.
Alex Albright started with 320 acres. By the time of his death in 1937, he had acquired 1,800 acres and owned more than 1,500 Karakul sheep. Mrs. Albright continued the business after his death. In an interview at the ranch in 1940, which was published, she stated, “This is the largest flock of Karakuls in the United States. You would have to go to Asia to see another sight equal to this one.”