History of Farm
by Leroy Jones
When our land consisted of thirteen colonies along
the Atlantic Coast, our forefathers simply used the materials at hand whenever
they wanted to fence their land. In the East the lumber was plentiful so
many fences were made of rails. Colonial Virginians began to build fences
of split rails, laid in panels, eight rails to a panel, and zigzagged so
that the ends of the rails interlocked at an angle of about 60 degrees. This
form of fence became known as the Virginia worm fence.
The rails were cut about ten feet long, but a panel
reached only seven or eight feet owing to the interlocking and the zigzag
pattern. Another fault was that the fence occupied a great deal of ground,
and it required much labor on the part of the hoe hands to keep the corners
clean. Another fault was that livestock could push the top rails off the
worm fence and make breeches into the field. This was prevented by setting
up across the interlocking corners two rails (posts) which served to hold
the other rails in place. This was called a stake and rider fence. This fence
could be made straight, thus avoiding many of the defects of the worm
In New England many stone walls were made for fences.
These stone fences were also found in Texas; in fact to some extent, wherever
rocks are available and timber is scarce. There were also hedge fences. Up
to 1860 or 1870 these were the primary fencing materials. But when the frontier
left the timbered region and came onto the Great Plains with their open prairies,
the pioneers found neither timber nor stone. There was nothing with which
to fence their land.
In the 1870s, with the people moving west to
claim their 160 acres promised them under the Homestead Act of 1862, the
Great Plains saw a great influx of Homesteaders moving into land heretofore
used by the cattle ranchers and the buffalo. The cattlemen wanted open range
for his stock; the farmer wanted open fields for his crops . The cattlemen
claimed that the farmer should fence his fields against the cattle; the farmer
maintained that the cattlemen should fence his range and leave the fields
open. The newspapers were filled with editorials and with letters from farmers
and cattlemen arguing the pros and cons of not only this question, but what
materials should be used for the fencing. Where there was neither stone nor
timber, any method seemed destined to be and expensive one.
In some areas of the plains the osage-orange (bois-d'arc)
hedge became prominent, being used for all the fences in Cloud County, Kansas
in 1870. Hall County, Nebraska reported that year that one fourth of the
fences were made of earthen walls three and one half feet high. These mud
fences, which were not uncommon throughout, the northern prairie states,
seem to have added little to the beauty of the landscape. The best known
token of their existence and of their aesthetic appeal has been preserved
in the folk expression "as ugly as a mud fence. " At one time, Kansas farmers
could plow a furrow around his field and call it his fence, and dare any
cattleman to cross it.
Although many farmers had tried something like it
on their own, Joseph Glidden, of DeKalb, Illinois seemed the one that really
set it in motion. The IT was a wire with barbs twisted around it to make
cattle respect it. He made his first in 1873 and sold the first piece in
1874; from there business boomed. By 1880 they were making and selling an
estimated 80 and a half million pounds for the year.
With the great use of barbed wire for fencing the
farmers fields, the cattlemen soon saw that the old days of the open range
were disappearing fast. First, it was the farmer fencing his fields, then
in 1883 the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association erecterst product of the
Industrial Revolution to be adopted by the West; and these were both invented
by New Englanders, but barbed wire was invented by one or more practical
farmers dwelling in the prairie region when faced with the necessity of finding
some affordable means for restraining stock, and for protecting their gardens
and farms. Some men loved it, some men cursed it but sooner or later most
all came to use it.
They say that Heaven is a free rangeland,
Good-bye, good-bye, 0 fare you well;
But it's barbed wire for the devils hat
And barbed wire blanket down in Hell.