Five Varieties of Early Barbed Wire

The fence that ended the open range

Print Page

It's no wonder historians call barbed wire the tool that tamed the Wild West. This simple invention changed the course of Texas history. The lack of stone and wood on the rugged frontiers of West Texas made it impossible to build fences. All attempts at any kind of containment system, such as ditches, hedges, and mud walls, ended in failure. As a result, thousands of free-range cattle roamed in a near-wild state. The cattle roundups were colorful and exciting (as well as dangerous), but the land could not be used for agriculture as long as the cattle were free to eat and trample the crops.

Beginning in 1868, a series of patents was issued to several inventors for strong, mass-produced fencing made from interlocking strands of wire. These wires were outfitted with sharp barbs that kept even the toughest cattle from muscling through it. The varieties of barbed wire seen here include: the Kelly "Diamond Point" right twist (1868), Burnell four-point (1877), and Glidden two-point, (1874), H. B. Scutt "Y" plate (1878) and T. V. Allis "Buckthorn" (1881). Barbed wire ended the open range and with it the cattle drives and the range lifestyle that created the Texas cowboy legend.   

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Five Varieties of Early Barbed Wire Artifact from Oldham County
Browse All Stories

Read stories from people across Texas

Browse All Stories