The History of Barbed Wire
The lands settlers encountered in the mass western migrations of the mid- to late 19th century were unlike any other they had seen before: vast, treeless expanses of open prairie bereft of any distinguishing features, an ocean of grass and wildflowers as far as the eye could see. With no trees for fences and no stones to build walls, the homesteaders needed more practical ways to contain their livestock and fence their property.
Some planted hedgerows, stock-proof living walls of thorny trees and bushes, such as the Osage orange hedgerow planted by Daniel Freeman in the early 1870s, which demarcates the monument’s southern boundary. However, prior to 1874, most homesteaders simply allowed their cattle and sheep to freely graze on the open prairie, sharing pasture and water resources with other settlers. These were the days of the “open range,” when cowboys drove cattle long distances to eastern prairie markets, when nomadic Plains Indian tribes followed the vast buffalo herds, and when thousands of pioneers bound for the far western territories set out on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails.
Ask a Ranger for our Fencing on the Great Plains brochure so you can discover more about the history of barbed wire.