Tag: Texas Fence-Cutter War

The Devil’s Rope Comes to Texas — and a Giveaway

Kathleen Rice Adams header

young longhorn

Longhorn cattle in the Texas Hill Country

Texas has seen a number of mass migrations since the Mexican government opened the territory to Anglo settlers in the 1820s, but perhaps none were as transformative as the influx that took place immediately following the Civil War. Carpetbaggers, footloose former Union soldiers, and dispossessed former Confederates all found attractive the state’s untamed rangeland brimming with feral cattle called longhorns. Many a man with nothing more than guts and grit built a fortune and a legacy by shagging longhorns from deep scrub and driving the tough, stubborn, nasty-tempered critters north to the railheads in Kansas and Nebraska. Others pushed herds to Montana and Wyoming to begin new lives where the West was even wilder.

Between 1866 and 1890, cowboys drove an estimated twelve million longhorns and one million horses north. A crew of twelve to twenty men could push a herd of 2,000 to 3,000 beeves about ten to fifteen miles a day, reaching Kansas railheads in three to four months.

The development of barbed wire in the mid-1870s — along with an incursion of sheepmen and farmers — put a crimp in the cattle drives by crisscrossing Texas’s wide-open spaces with miles and miles and miles of fence. To protect themselves and their herds from the yahoos who would use Texas range for something besides Texas cattle, wealthy ranchers strung wire around the land they owned or leased, often extending their fences across public land, as well. What once had been open range across which cowboys drove enormous herds of steak on the hoof became parceled off, causing no end of frustration and unfriendly behavior.

Fence-cutting began almost as soon as the first of the wire went up. Small confrontations over “the Devil’s rope” happened frequently, with wire-nipping taking place in more than half of Texas counties.

barbed wireIn 1883, the conflict turned bloody. Instead of merely cutting fences that got in the way during trail drives, bands of armed cowboy vigilantes calling themselves names like Owls, Javelinas, and Blue Devils destroyed fences simply because the fences existed. Fence-cutting raids usually occurred at night, and often the vigilantes left messages warning the fence’s owner not to rebuild. Some went so far as to leave coffins nailed to fenceposts or on ranchers’ porches. During one sortie, vigilantes pulled down nineteen miles of fence, piled the wire on a stack of cedar posts, and lit a $6,000 bonfire.

In response, cattlemen hired armed men to guard their wire…with predictable results. Clashes became more violent, more frequent, and deadlier. In 1883 alone, at least three men were killed in Brown County, a hotspot of fence-cutting activity, during what came to be known as the Texas Fence-Cutter War.

The bloodiest period of the Fence-Cutter War lasted for only about a year, but in that period damages from fence-cutting and range fires totaled an estimated $20 million — $1 million in Brown County alone.

Although politicians stayed well away from the hot-button issue for about a decade, in early 1884 the Texas legislature declared fence-cutting a felony punishable by a prison term of one to five years. The following year, the U.S. Congress outlawed stringing fence across public land. Together, the new laws ended the worst of the clashes, although the occasional fracas broke out in the far western portion of Texas into the early part of the 20th Century.

Texas Ranger Ira Aten

Texas Ranger Ira Aten

The Texas Rangers were assigned to stop several fence-cutting outbreaks, and being the Texas Rangers, they proved remarkably effective…with one notable exception. In February 1885, Texas Ranger Ben Warren was shot and killed outside Sweetwater while trying to serve a warrant for three suspected fence-cutters. Two of the three were convicted of Warren’s murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In 1888, a brief resurgence of fence-cutting violence erupted in Navarro County, prompting famed Texas Ranger Ira Aten to place dynamite charges at intervals along one fence line. Aten’s method was a mite too extreme for the Texas Adjutant General, who ordered the dynamite removed. The mere rumor of the explosive’s presence brought fence-cutting to a rapid halt in the area, though.

****

Though Civil War battles left few scars on Texas, the war’s aftermath was devastating — and not just because barbed-wire fence appeared. Texas existed under federal martial law for five long years after the war ended, becoming the final member of the Confederacy to repatriate only under duress. During Reconstruction, lingering animosity led some of the occupation forces to plunder and terrorize their jurisdictions. Bearing their own grudges and determined to become an independent republic again, Texans demanded “the invading foreign army” remove its boots from sovereign soil. A U.S. Supreme Court decision finally ran the rebellious Lone Star State back in with the rest of the herd in 1870, at last reunifying a divided nation.

A Kiss to Remember

 

My newest story, The Trouble with Honey, takes place during Reconstruction in Texas: A marshal’s widow can escape a Union Army manhunt only with the help of an outlaw condemned to hang. The novella is part of the trilogy The Dumont Way, which begins a saga chronicling the lives and loves of a Texas ranching dynasty from before the Civil War to the turn of the 20th Century.

The Dumont Way is available in the five-author boxed set A Kiss to Remember. Three other Petticoats and Pistols fillies also contributed to the collection: Cheryl Pierson, Tanya Hanson, and Tracy Garrett.

 

Excerpt:

Boots meandered across the stone floor. The marshal’s snicker slapped Daniel between the shoulder blades. “Injun Creek hasn’t seen this much excitement in a month of Sundays. We’re planning quite a celebration for you.”

One of life’s great mysteries: Had Halverson been born arrogant, or had the skill required practice? “Always did fancy a crowd of folks looking up to me.”

Whistling, the marshal moved away. Daniel stared at the dingy clapboard across the alley. That wall wouldn’t present much challenge. This wall, on the other hand… A barrel of black powder and a lucifer would come in handy right about now.

He rested his forehead against the bars. Daisy would dig up his body and throw a second hemp party if he didn’t show up for the wedding.

The jailhouse door scraped open, and a swirl of fresh air tapped him on the shoulder. Fingering the tender crease running from his eyebrow to his hairline, he pivoted. If Halverson’s lucky shot hadn’t dropped him—

His fingertips stilled. So did his breath.

The marshal ushered in a voluptuous vision and lifted a tin plate from her hands. An abundance of golden hair, gathered in soft swirls at the crown, framed her head like a halo. Curls fell beside rounded cheeks.

“What’re you doing here?” Judging by the pucker in his tone, Halverson had eaten one too many sour apples. “Where’s that old drunk you insist on keeping around?”

“Henry hasn’t touched a drop in—”

“What? Twenty-four hours?”

The angel raised her chin. “He isn’t feeling well.”

Daniel drifted to the front of the cell and slouched onto the forearms he draped over a horizontal bar. The familiar voice… Nectar, fresh from a hive.

Gracing Halverson with a shallow smile, the buxom beauty tipped her head toward the plate. “Chicken and dumplings for your prisoner’s supper.”

Steam rising from the lump meant to be his meal carried a whiff of old socks. Daniel’s thoughts churned right along with his stomach. High point of the day: bad vittles. Now, the lady… She was downright mouthwatering.

****

A Kiss to Remember is available exclusively on Amazon (free for those who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited). I’ll give an e-copy to one of today’s commenters who answers this question: If you had migrated to Texas after the Civil War, would you have settled in town or on a ranch or farm? Why?

Thanks for stopping by today! I’m looking forward to your comments. 🙂

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Just Take Them Sheep Right on Outta Here

Texans are resilient. They defeated the Mexicans—twice—took a beating during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and then chased the Comanche clean out of the state and into Oklahoma. All of those events were watershed moments in Texas history.

And so was the day they came.

ThePlainsHerder_NCWyeth_1909

The Plains Herder, NC Wyeth, 1909

Sheep. Hundreds of thousands of them, munching their way across the land like wooly locusts. The sight of a single woolyback could boil a cattleman’s blood. The critters trampled the range, close-cropped the forage, and left behind an odor neither cattle nor man could abide. They also carried a type of mange called “sheep scab” to which cattle were susceptible.

As if all of that weren’t enough, pastores herded on foot, not horseback. Horses were a status symbol in the Old West. Cowboys figuratively and literally “looked down on” mutton-punchers.

Sheep are not native to Texas, although they’ve been in the state since padres brought Spanish transplants with them in the 1700s. Since the animals provided both food and clothing, no mission was without a flock.

In 1800, 5,000 head of sheep lived in far south Texas, along the Rio Grande. By 1870, 700,000 woolies had moved in, primarily with Germans and other Europeans who immigrated to central and western Texas. By 1890, the state was home to 3.5 million of the critters. Of the 30 million sheep in the U.S. in the middle of the twentieth century, one-third were in Texas. At that time, the state produced 95 percent of the country’s Merino wool.

Due to market fluctuations, drought, and some disastrous government programs, in 2012 the entire ovine population of the U.S. stood at only 5.345 million; 650,000 of those, still the largest bunch by more than 100,000 animals, were in Texas. To this day, mutton, lamb, and wool make a significant contribution to Texas’s economy.

SheepRaidInColorado

Sheep Raid (Harper’s Weekly, Oct. 1877)

Ranchers in the mid- to late-1800s never would have believed such a thing possible. In fact, they went to great lengths to prevent the possibility. The notorious clashes between sheepmen and cattlemen that scarred the entire West began on the Charles Goodnight range in Texas. Between 1875 and 1920, one hundred twenty serious confrontations occurred in Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, and Colorado. Across the four states, at least fifty-four men died and 100,000 sheep were slaughtered.

Real and imagined problems led to the sheep wars. Texas cattlemen already were becoming testy with one another over grazing and water rights. Add sheep—which, as a means of finding other flock members, scent the ground with a noxious substance excreted by a gland above their hooves—and the range got a little smaller. Add sheep “drifters,” who grazed their flocks on other folks’ land or public property because they owned no territory of their own, and the situation became volatile. Add barbed-wire fence…and everything exploded.

The Texas legislature outlawed grazing sheep on private range without permission and on public land at all. Cattle and horses faced no such restrictions. Consequently, sheepmen were among the first to throw up fences in order to keep their flocks in and other animals out. Sheep fences lit one of the first matches in what became the Texas Fence-Cutter War, which erupted across more than half the state for about a decade starting in the 1870s. The cattlemen erected their own fences, and soon everyone was at someone else’s throat. The fence war died down, for the most part, when the state legislature criminalized fence-cutting in 1884.

Merino_Sheep

Texas Merino Sheep, courtesy Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

Not long thereafter, most Texas cattlemen were shocked—and somewhat relieved—to discover good fences make good neighbors. They also discovered mutton and wool sold even when a mysterious disease known as Texas Fever made driving cattle to the railheads in other states well-nigh impossible.

Today, many Texas ranchers run sheep and goats right along with their cattle, and all the critters get along just fine on the same property.

Of course, had stubborn Texans on both sides of the fence paid attention to the native Indians who’d run cattle and sheep together for a hundred years before the trouble started, they might have spared themselves considerable aggravation.

In my debut novel Prodigal Gun, sheep and a barbed-wire fence touch off a war in the Texas Hill Country, bringing an infamous gunman home for the first time since he left to fight for the Confederacy. The book releases tomorrow in both paperback and digital versions, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and .

There’s an autographed print copy up for grabs! I’ll let Random.org draw a winner from among those who are kind enough to comment today. Please leave me a way to get in touch.

PGCover_v3A dangerous man. A desperate woman. A love no war could kill.

Widowed rancher Jessie Caine buried her heart with the childhood sweetheart Yankees killed on a distant battlefield. Sixteen years later, as a Texas range war looms and hired guns arrive to pursue a wealthy carpetbagger’s agenda, Jessie discovers the only man she ever loved isn’t dead.

At least not yet.

Embittered by a brother’s betrayal, notorious gunman Calhoun is a dangerous man, come home to do an unsavory job. A bushwhacker’s bullet nearly takes his life on Jessie’s land, trapping him in a standoff between the past he tried to bury and the infamy he never will. One taste of the only woman he ever loved puts more than his life and her ranch in the crossfire.

With a price on his head, a debt to a wealthy employer around his neck, and a defiant woman tugging at his heart, Calhoun’s guns may not be enough to keep him from the grave. Caught between his enemies and hers, Jessie faces an agonizing choice: Which of her dreams will die?

Petticoats & Pistols © 2015