Monday, July 12, 2010

Good fences, good neighbors

When settlers arrived with their cattle, sheep and horses, farmers were required by territorial law to fence their property to keep their animals in and others out. Architectural historian Tom Carter says that in 1876, the Mormon community of Grouse Creek, Box Elder County, pole fences were made of Douglas fir or willow. Forty miles east in Park Valley, junipers (locally called cedar), were hewed to fence in meadows and build stockades. Before there were fences in the Intermountain West, there was open range — lots of it — free forage, unrestricted competition, loose land policy and little range science. Cattlemen, sheep men, free-range speculators and small ranchers moved herds from seasonal pasturage on both private and public lands, and sometimes ran into trouble. Sheep wars, cattle disputes, raids, stampedes, killings and conflicts over rangeland and water use, illegal fencing, land ownership and public domain discrepancies are well branded in frontier history. When the Homesteader Act of 1862 came into existence, and people were “legitimately tied to the land with rights on the federal range, they started fencing,” Gary Rose, Park Valley rancher and past president of the Utah Cattlemen’s Association, told me. “Improving upon the land, they then pushed the Forest Service to divide up their land into grazing districts.”...more

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