Wire & Tool Auction
The Barbed Wire Collector Magazine
Page One: Books
Page Two: Books, Prints & Value Guides
Page Three: Wire Bundles
Being a Collector
Thomas H. Dodge
Isaac Leonard Ellwood
Joseph F. Glidden
During the drought in the summer and fall of 1883, fence cutting became a real problem in Texas. Some farmers and ranchers brought in barbed wire to fence their land. Cattlemen who did not own land wanted an open range as the fences made it difficult to find water and grass necessary for their herds of cattle. This conflict resulted in many shootings and a lot of destroyed fences.
Most of the ranchers owned or leased the land they fenced. At times large ranchers fenced in farms and other small ranches, as well as blocking public roads and cutting off access to schools and churches. These extreme fencing situations caused indiscriminate fence cutting and attracted a rough group of individuals who were hired for the purpose of cutting fencing.
Fence cutting was reported from more than half of the Texas counties. The most common area extended north and south through the center of the state. Most of the cutting was done at night by armed bands, some of which were hired by open-range ranchers. In some cases, the pastures of the fencers were burned. Some of the fencers hired guards to protect their fence often resulting in bloodshed.
Texas newspapers and the general public condemned fence cutting but few attempts were made to settle the disputes. Finally, at Henrietta, Texas, spokesmen for the fence cutters met with Clay County ranchers. The two groups agreed that fence cutting would stop and that fences would be removed from across public roads and from around land not owned or leased by the fence builders. It was also agreed that gates would be provided for public use.
By the fall of 1883, it was estimated that fence cutting
over twenty million dollars and more than one million dollars in Brown
County alone. It was estimated that tax values had declined
30 million dollars because the conflicts discouraged farming and
frightened settlers away. The Texas government tended to ignore the
fence cutting issue. However, on October 15, 1883, Governor John
Ireland called a special session of the legislature to meet on January
8, 1884, to deal with the problem. After a deluge of petitions and
heated debates, the legislature made fence cutting and pasture burning
a felony, punishable by one to five years in prison. The fencing of
public lands or lands belonging to others without permission was made a
misdemeanor and the fence-builders were required to remove the fences
within six months. Ranchers or other individuals that built fences
across public roads were required to provide gates every three miles
and to keep the gates in good repair. These penalties ended most of the
fence cutting, although sporadic outbreaks of fence cutting continued
for the rest of the decade.