Monday, January 12, 2009
Frost says that good fences make good neighbors. Maybe. I know that out here fences can be the inspiration for feuds and bad blood that last for decades. Despite the absence of "No Trespassing" signs, crossing a fence without permission can bring armed response and unpleasant consequences. This is especially true for neighbors who don't get along, and often for very good reason. We still have rustling, and with the economy the way it is it looks like we're going to get a lot more of it. Basically, there's "no law north of the river," as the nearest LEO is thirty-some-odd miles away in the county seat. As long as I've lived here I have never seen a county or state officer up here. It's just not patrolled. People tend to take care of their own problems.
In the old days there were no fences. The big ranchers ran cattle on "accustomed ground" and had claims on the good water sources, either in their own name or that of their hired hands. The few small farmers who tried to make it found out pretty quick that it couldn't be done and pulled out, often signing over their small claims to area ranchers.
With some exceptions, the country is pretty much fenced over now. Going cross country, if you have permission, is a matter of finding and opening gates, usually just wire constructions, every mile or two. On average pastures are a half or a whole section. One big landowner runs buffalo on his spread and has been removing the cross fencing to make ever larger ranges for his critters. His pastures run to ten or twelve thousand acres. As I understand it, his goal is to remove all cross fencing on his whole place, about ninety thousand acres and growing.
Of all the white-man concepts that the Indians had trouble understanding, fences were probably the most difficult. Fences say in no equivocal terms "I own this and you don't!" Something the Indians had no concept of. Makes you wonder what might have happened if the Indians had fenced their hunting grounds, somewhere between 100 and 400 million acres. One heckuva pasture. It would also have been a mighty good test of Mr. Frost's dictum.