Know Your History: What Were the Texas Fence Cutting Wars?

Due to the scarcity of rocks and lumber, Texas’s landscape in the Old West was vast and uninterrupted by fencing of any kind. However, in 1883, a clash between stockmen occurred that came to be known as the Texas Fence Cutting Wars. It was this conflict that led to the many types of modern privacy fence seen in Texas today.

Fence cutting wars

Barbed Wire

Barbed wire had been available in Texas since the 1870s, but it wasn’t considered to be a durable form of fencing by stockmen, who considered barbed wire to be as useless as the smooth wire fencing which failed to hold their stock.

However, other stockmen realized that this new product could give them the ability to prevent the stock from landless cowmen from wandering in to graze on their property. Knowing this, they purchased grass and water-rich land and placed barbed wire around these plots to protect them.

Stockmen who couldn’t afford money for barbed wire or better grazing land were forced to send herds to graze on the state-owned open range. Because of the increasing number of fenced-in properties, these smaller stock owners often found it difficult to feed and water their herds.

Barbed wire fencing would also cause stock to become injured. These unattended injuries would lead to screwworm infestations, which led to the death of many cattle and lost revenue for stockmen.

Texas Fence Cutting Wars

How the Wars Began

A severe drought in 1883 was especially hard on stock owners. Not only did several creeks, rivers, and watering holes dry up almost completely in the summer and fall of that year, but grass was withering all over the open range. This gave landless stock owners no choice but to move west. Unfortunately, when they did so, they were only faced with more fences.

However, they also met homesteaders, who also disliked the fences because they crossed public roads and prevented travel. Together, they began to protest against the growing number of barbed wire fences. Soon, their protests would reach the Texas Greenback Party, which would also lend its voice to the outcry.

After several unsuccessful meetings, protests, and unanswered letters, landless stock owners decided that the only option left was to cut the fences. Well-organized groups were formed, and the cutting began. As the drought worsened, even legally-installed fencing was cut. Pastures were set on fire, and landowners were threatened.

Lobbying and Mabel Doss Day

The most influential anti-nipping protester was widowed and debt-ridden Mabel Doss Day, whose protests led to the passing of legislation which would punish the act of fence cutting and pasture burning by up to five years in state prison. Unfortunately, the fence-cutting wars would continue until 1889, when Texas Rangers were called to assist.

Effect on Modern Fencing

Today, fencing is everywhere, in several different forms, and stock owners are no longer battling as they used to over land ownership. However, fencing remains one of the most effective means to assert property rights and boundaries. Barrier Fence offers a wide range of products for your agricultural fencing needs; call (512) 709-8467 today to discover your Austin fencing options.

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