PENWELL, Lewis (1869-1948) was a Helena, Montana, attorney, politician, and sheep rancher active in the Northwest Development League and the Western Governors' Special Tour of 1911. Penwell was President of the Independent Publishing Co., publishers of the Helena Independent newspaper, and served as U. S. Collector of Internal Revenue for Montana for fourteen years. He was also involved in state politics, and from 1932 to 1937 published The Western Progressive, a liberal farm-labor weekly newspaper. Penwell died in Tempe, Arizona in 1948, and is buried in Helena's Forestvale Cemetery.
The Penwell papers (1883-1959), which include correspondence, clippings, and miscellaneous materials of Lewis Penwell, Clare Avery Penwell, Fred Penwell, Sam Garvin, and Eva Ash Garvin, are located in the Montana Historical Society. In 1916, Charles T. Howland sold the San Clemente Island sheep operation to Lewis Penwell, including 25,000 sheep, stallions, mules, and jacks.When the Navy took over in 1934, the sheep were removed to Delano, California. Goats remained.
In the News~
April 6, 1916 [LAT]: “Third of a million for San Clemente Island. Big cash deal includes twenty-five thousand head of sheep. Famous and romantic ocean rock, home of prehistoric civilization and of pirates and smugglers, is taken over by one of Montana’s biggest ranchmen and will be used for great flocks of blooded wool-bearers. The lease of San Clemente Island, 25,000 head of sheep, blooded stallions, draft mares, colts, mules, jacks, and other property on the island, were sold yesterday by the San Clemente Wool Company to Lewis Penwell of the Lewis Penwell Company & Associates. The consideration, reported as all cash, was $300,000. The deal was made through W. B. Merwin & Co. of this city… Sheep have been pastured on it for more than sixty years, and with the water system and other improvements by the San Clemente Wool Company it has been regarded as one of the best ranches in the country. Charles T. Howland, one of the principal owners of the San Clemente Wool Company, has retained an interest in the new concern and will be on the board of directors… Mr. Penwell and his associates will take possession about the time the sheep are sheared, which will be near the end of the month. The enterprise will be managed by E. G. Blair, president of the Blair-Penwell Company of Montana, which has recently sold its holdings…”
April 11, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “The lease of San Clemente Island, 25,000 head of sheep, blooded stallions, draft mares, colts, mules, jacks and other property on the island were sold April 5th by the San Clemente Island Wool Company to Lewis Penwell of the Lewis Penwell Co. and Associates. The consideration, reported as all cash, was $300,000. The deal was made through W. B. Merwin & Co. of Los Angeles. Charles T. Howland, one of the principal owners of the San Clemente Wool Company, has retained an interest in the new concern and will be on the board of directors. Mr. Penwell is a prominent sheep and ranch owner in Montana. He is owner or part owner of twenty-five big ranches in that state.”
April 28, 1918 [LAT]: “Lewis Penwell, principal of the lease of San Clemente Island and of 25,000 sheep pastured there, has been appointed a director of the War Industries Board, with control of the acquisition of the American wool clip, according to a dispatch received at Helena, Montana, yesterday from Washington. Mr. Penwell and associates purchased the lease, sheep, horses and other stock on the island two years ago from Charles T. Howland of Los Angeles and others, the deal involving about $335,000. The San Clemente sheep ranch is larger than any in California and has fine blooded stock. Mr. Penwell is one of the biggest sheep men in the country. He is owner or part owner of twenty-five ranches in Montana. At the time he purchased the San Clemente flock it was announced that 105,000 sheep had been sheared that year on his ranches.”
October 21, 1916 [PRP]: “The day was twenty-five or thirty years ago when California was one of the leading sheep states in the country. She should come to her own again in sheep production. Los Angeles is one of the greatest lamb markets in the country; and instead of sending to distant states for our lambs, we should raise them nearer home, says Louis Penwell of the San Clemente Sheep Company of California. ‘The sheep business of today,’ he adds, ‘offers the greatest opportunity for profit of any business in the United States… Mr. Penwell, besides being one of the big sheep men of Montana, where his holdings are said to amount to 100,000 sheep, has recently leased San Clemente Island for twenty years. On this island there are 18,000 to 20,000 sheep, hence his views on sheep raising are those of an expert and should carry weight.”
June 2, 1918 [LAT]: “Los Angeles County’s most remote and least known confine is likely to elect itself to a first honor in providing the necessities of war. This situation developed yesterday with the arrival of a boatload of sheep and wool from San Clemente Island, about thirty-five miles southwest of Catalina, and rarely visited by any enthusiastic disciples of Izaak Walton. The initial contribution was not large, but before the shearing is completed of the thousands of sheep on the island there will be wool enough sent over to make uniforms for almost every man in Camp Kearney. Although under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County, San Clemente is owned by the government. Its chief industry is in operation through a lease until 1924, held by the San Clemente Sheep Company of which E. G. Blair of Long Beach is president and general manager; Lewis Penwell, vice-president, and A. J. Huenke sevretary-treasurer… There are between 16,000 and 20,000 sheep on the island which is twenty-two miles long and has an average width of three miles. Except for the agricultural land that is fenced off, the sheep run wild the entire year and see no human beings until the annual shearing time which is in May and June. Each sheep produces annually a little more than enough wool for a single uniform and in addition large quantities of muton are shipped. The animals feed on the natural soil products, but must be supplied with drink, as there is no fresh water on the island. This is provided through a system of cement reservoirs which store the rainfall. The agricultural development of the island is not being done by the sheep company, but under an operating agreement with Earl A. Holcomb and Associates, who already have several thousand acres under cultivation and are planning to cultivate the entire 6000 acres that are tillable. This year for the first time beans are being planted. Experts have declared that the climate of the island is ideal for growing the soldiers’ favorite ration...”