Sheep to Shawl part 1: from an article in The Yarn Shop at Nob Hill newsletter:
Sheep in New Mexico, Part 1 How and when did sheep arrive here
by Karen Christensen
In 1598, Don Juan de Ornate, was awarded the contract to settle New Mexico for the Spanish government, he brought approximately 5,000 Iberian sheep called Churras to what is now the state of New Mexico. These animals were the earliest domesticated farm animals in North America and are the forefathers/mothers of the contemporary Navajo-Churro sheep breed.
The sheep population thrived under Spanish and Territorial rule. These sheep became important to the Spanish economy. Many of the sheep raised in the territory were exported to Mexico trading posts for food.
During Spanish rule, the Spanish basically abandoned their cows and became sheep and wool raisers. The Spanish preferred the taste of Churra meat over beef as it was sweeter tasting. Also, because cattle were easier to drive long distances after a raid as compared to a flock of sheep, the beef herds were less likely to be raided.
Only the Navajo were interested in the sheep the Spanish brought with them, especially for their wool. The Navajos would raid the Spanish flocks because they wanted their wool. The Navajo were highly skilled weavers at the end of the 18th century. The blankets and rugs that were created by these artisans were of superior quality and sought after by many traders in the territory.
Up until 1821 there were more sheep in the territory (now New Mexico) than cattle and humans. Once numbering in the millions, the Churra breed almost became extinct in the 1860's. The United States Government at this time considered the Navajos an enemy of the government and destroyed their livestock, crops and orchards. In 1868, the Navajos were allowed to return to their homeland with a few Churras and they rebuilt their flock, hence the name change to Navajo-Churro.
Sources she used: New Mexico History website, Navajo Churro Sheep Association website, Santa Fe New Mexican article, Chimayo Weavers website, Wikipedia, American Sheep Industry website, The Sheep Industry of Territorial New Mexico - Wallace and the Slow Food website.