Monday, January 30, 2023


Pioneer museums and barbed wire, ‘the Devil’s rope’

By Chuck Woodbury

One of my favorite things to do when traveling with my RV is to visit rural pioneer museums. Most are not very exciting, but they are all interesting — old photos, antique plows, a replica of a kitchen from 100 years ago, maybe an old dentist chair complete with barbaric looking tools that always scare the pee pee out of me just looking at them.

But at many museums you can learn a lot about things you might never think much about otherwise. For example, I once visited the Barbed Wire Museum in La Crosse, Kansas. Now, maybe you think that barbed wire is a boring subject. Well, I beg to differ with you! When you drive around the rural American West, you see it everywhere. But what you may not know is how important barbed wire was to the development of the modern West and how its use ended the cowboy era.

Before it was invented, ranchers sometimes planted thorny hedges to keep domestic and wild animals apart. Then, In 1873 Joseph F. Glidden of Dekalb, Illinois attended a county fair where he observed a demonstration of a wooden rail with sharp nails protruding along its sides, hanging inside a smooth wire fence. That inspired him to invent and patent a successful barbed wire in the form we recognize today.

WHEN LIVESTOCK ENCOUNTERED BARBED WIRE for the first time, it was usually a painful experience. The injuries provided sufficient reason for the public to protest its use. Religious groups called it “the work of the devil” or “The Devil’s Rope” and demanded removal.

The Cole Porter song, “Don’t Fence Me In,” sums up the cowboy’s feelings about barbed wire fences.

Another good place to learn about barbed wire is at the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas, which bills itself as the “Largest Barbed Wire Historic Museum in the World.”

This is the type of thing I learn when I am roaming around the countryside with my motorhome. I learn more history on these trips that I learn in books and it’s more fun. I was bored by history as a kid. Now, I can’t get enough of it.


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