The Taming of the American West

Some say that the Colt SAA revolver is “the gun that won the west.”

Click here for photo credit
“Colt Bisley 38-40” by Hmaag – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

Kansans know better. The west wasn’t won by a gun at all. It was won by…barbed wire.

“Barbed Wire 1” by درفش کاویانی – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Yes, barbed wire (also known as bob wire, bobwahr, and barb wire) was the single invention that brought peace to the western frontier. Before that guns ruled, which made it a little difficult to lure settlers to the area.

Before 1855, Kansas Territory was considered Open Range, meaning livestock could roam wherever it chose. (Hence the need for branding.) This was a bit hard on farmers on whose crops the cattle liked to snack. The state legislature enacted the Kansas Fence Law which gave the responsibility of fencing to the farmers. If they built fences according to the law’s requirements, they were entitled to recover damages from the ranchers.

As you can well imagine, regular fences didn’t keep out the livestock very well, so livestock owners paid up. That proved to be incentive to look for other alternatives.

By 1863, several people had created fencing material that could qualify as barbed wire, but they never patented their inventions. A decade later, three men vied for the label of “Father of Barbed Wire,” but Joseph Glidden won.JosephGliddenlossy-page1-328px-Patent_Drawing_for_Joseph_F._Glidden's_Improvement_to_Barbed_Wire_-_NARA_-_302051.tif

Now, how does all this connect to Kansas?

The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum is completely devoted to the history and science of barbed wire. Exhibits, collections, educational programs, and even a convention are just a few of the offerings of this very specialized museum in LaCrosse, Kansas.

Bizarrely enough, there’s another museum devoted to barbed wire in Illinois. Who knew?


4 comments on “The Taming of the American West

  1. Two barbed wire museums! And people think the Midwest has nothing to offer:-) I am seriously loving this blog, with its tidbits about the region I love. Keep it up, everyone.

    • Thanks, Jane! We love the Midwest! There’s definitely more to this region than meets the eye. (Although the eye catches some pretty breath-taking stuff too. 🙂 )

  2. I love this post about barbed wire and I’m adding those museums to my someday-travel itinerary. (The pronunciations were terrific!)

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