Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Barbed Wire Arrives/Post Material Went Fast

Tri-City Pioneer
Sunday, 2 July 1961, page 22

Barbed wire was invented in Glidden in 1874. He perfected his design so thoroughly that no changes have ever been made. The success of his invention was the barbed spurt wound about two wire strands. The size of the wire used in the spurs and in the strands were a matter of specification. The spurs and wire strands were coated with black tar or were galvanized.

Barbed wire was destined to change the entire economy of a large portion of the United States. It marked the beginning of the end of the open range. This material could be used to fence in the farmer’s crops and fence out the cattlemens’ stock. The federal and state governments passed laws legalizing its use and describing its specifications.

The great plains area of the United States had been home of the buffalo. The unprotected buffalo came near to extinction by buffalo hunters who shot the buffalo for their hides and tallow. The cattleman then grazed their herds on this open range where the buffalo had roamed. When the cattle were fat, the cattlemen drove them to railroad loading points from which they were shipped to the ultimate market.

In 1862 the United States passed the Homestead Act. This Act gave a deed to 160 acres of land to anyone who would file and settle on the land, fence it, make certain other improvements and live on it for a period of five years.

During the period from 1861 to 1865, the United States was engaged in the Civil War which curtailed the settlement of new areas. At the close of the Civil War there was a great rush to the new frontiers. A new conflict arose between the farmers and the cattlemen. The cattlemen had raised their stock on the open range for many years. They resisted its settlement and fencing by the incoming farmers. Eventually the farmers won. The open range was gone. The grazing areas of the United States would raise more grain and less cattle.

The first barbed wire fences in the Tri-City region were built of heavy, long barbed, galvanized wire. This wire was stapled to fence posts made from old discarded railroad ties and driftwood. The posts were set about 16 feet apart to a depth of 18 to 24 inches. Generally three strands of barbed wire were used. The top strand was approximately five feet high. The middle strand 14-15 inches below the top strand. The bottom strand was about 17 inches below the middle strand and the same distance above the ground. Telegraph block and tackle wire stretchers were used to stretch the barbed wire. A barbed wire fence built to these specifications was generally considered a lawful fence.

These barbed wire fences gave their owners so much protection they became very popular. Local fence post material was soon exhausted. Split cedar posts eight feet long were shipped in from the cedar districts of the Puget Sound area. The pioneers charred the portion of the post that went into the hole to prevent the post from rotting.

The eagle is the emblem of freedom, liberty and happiness. The barbed wire could well be the emblem of restraint, imprisonment and suffering. One cannot crawl through a barbed wire fence without paying a toll of torn clothes and wounded pride. It is little wonder that the publishers of the song “Don’t fence me in” were so successful. “Oh give me land, lots of land Under starry skies above Don’t fence me in. Let me ride through the wide open Country that I love Don’t fence me in.”

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