Mountain Musings

Much of the back country is wired — barbed wired

The CambrianOctober 9, 2012 

— All over the West where there are cows or horses, you’re likely to see barbed wire. From the early days of Western ranching and homesteading, barbed-wire fencing has played a critical role. It’s helped ranchers keep track of their livestock and define the boundaries of their land.

The first person to get a patent for barbed wire was Michael Kelly in 1868. Over the years, other people improved on the original design to create what we see today. Barbed wire has provided an innovative and relatively inexpensive solution to fencing the broad expanses of the Midwest prairies and the meadows and rugged, brushy mountains further west.

The Chumash people inhabited the Santa Lucia Mountains here in Cambria’s backcountry before there were fences, sharing the land with each other and the local wildlife. Once ranchers and homesteaders started moving into the area, up went the fences, just like in other parts of the West. The evidence of a long tradition of barbed-wire fencing is visible all over our mountains, even in very rugged areas where you wouldn’t think anyone could build fences.

There are miles of barbed wire up here attached to wooden fence posts, metal fence posts, broken fence posts, and tree trunks. Early settlers had very little money, so they attached barbed wire to anything available to make every fencing penny count. Because barbed wire degrades over time, gets loose, rusts and breaks, there is an awful lot of it on the ground, no longer attached to anything, plus there’s a lot buried deep in old trees.

Every time I see a wild turkey or deer limping by our house, I wonder if it got caught in some of the old wire. From the time we moved here, I’ve wanted to clean up the barbed wire so none of our grandchildren would get cut on it.

The day my husband John came in to enlist my help untangling our ride-on lawn mower from some barbed wire hidden in the tall grass, I decided it was time to get going on the project. Actually, I decided it was time for John to get going on it. Identifying projects for John is one of the things I do best. However, he wasn’t on board with the idea until he fell into some rusty barbed wire and cut his hand.

Slowly, over the last couple of years, John has managed to remove almost all of the old barbed wire surrounding the meadow where we live. The sharp barbs have left his work clothes full of holes that he has repaired with duct tape. How “guy” is that? There’s still a nest of barbed wire across the dirt road from our driveway and some down by the creek, but most of the immediate area where we live is clear.

If you come to our house and decide to go stumbling around in the dark, you’ll no longer have to worry about getting bitten by barbed wire. No guarantees, though, when it comes to other things that go bite in the night.

Marcia Rhoades’ column is special to The Cambrian. Email the resident of Cambria’s mountain community in the Santa Lucia range at ranchers7733@yahoo.com.

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