The exact history is unknown but here is one version…
Sheepshead, or Schafkopf in German, is an old game that originated in Middle Europe in the mid to late 1700’s. The game is believed to be derived Tarok and Kalabrias. The game was developed by peasants who were fed up with their government and expressed their discontent by giving the King Card a lower rank. To this day, Sheepshead has a very strange order ranking of cards.
The literal English translation of Schafkopf is ‘sheephead’ although the original word has nothing to do with sheep, since it’s “scha*ff*kopf”, not “scha*f*kopf”. The name is believed to originate from the location where it was played: On the lids (heads) of wooden barrels or kegs (Schaffen).
Schafkopf (Sheepshead) led to another card game, Skat. Skat is unusual because we know, more or less, when and, exactly, where the game began. Primitive Skat was developed around 1811 by residents of Altenburg, Germany. It is the descendent and melding of three other games, Sheepshead, Hombre, and Tarot (Tarok in the German spelling), which themselves derive from more remote ancestors.
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