O is for Open Range – Open range provided free access to grazing land for ranchers in the Old West and still does to some extent today. Open range means cattle are allowed to wander on any land that has not been fenced off by that land’s owner. The landowner not the cattle owner is responsible for keeping the stock off the property. This custom originated in Mexico, was taken up by the Texas cattlemen. It eventually became law in most of the West. Open range is the reason for the showdowns familiar to any lover of Western films, as the cowboys rip down the fence a nester (see yesterday’s post on N is for nester) erected around his own property. Open range laws were applied to unfenced Federal lands as well.
As often happened in the Old West, as population grew so did the potential for confrontation. A violent period called The Fence Cutting War started in Texas in 1883. Several men, including a Texas Ranger, were killed. The cattle business was dominated by wealthy land owners in Montana and Wyoming by the mid 1880s. Small ranchers, who had participated in annual roundups with the Cattle Barons prior to the disastrous winter stock kill off of 86-87, began to maverick (brand unmarked calves or steers) to replenish their herds. The large ranchers saw this as rustling and seized the opportunity to eliminate the pesky small land owners through vigilante action. Lynching and murder ruled the day and open range became open warfare.
This violence across the West led to a steady restriction, over the past hundred years, of the open range laws. In most states open range is now limited to public land and not all of that. In most it is limited to particular times of year. The Montana Supreme Court has outlawed it altogether in that state. Arizona still applies open range to unincorporated areas of the state but the forces of civilization are pushing hard to close the range. For now when driving from Phoenix to Tucson you should be careful. Should a rancher’s bovine “steer” into your path you may have to pay for damages to the cattle, and not collect for damage to your car.
The following people have been kind enough to comment on the past few posts:
Sandy – travelingsuitcase.blogspot.com
Elsie – mockturtlemusings.com – AJ’s w Hooligan in A to Z Challenge * Thanks for all your hard work to make A to Z a success.
Victoria – linkingloops.wordpress.com
Ella – erratic Project Junkie
Damyanti – Co Host of A to Z Challenge * Another big thank you for putting this together. What a great event for bloggers.
Gen’O – gno112.wordpress.com