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Legislature makes fence cutting a felony

January
08
1884

On this day in 1884, the state legislature made fence cutting a felony punishable by one to five years in prison. In 1883, fence cutting had become a major source of friction between landless cattlemen who wanted to retain practices of the open range and those who fenced their land with barbed wire. The fence war was precipitated by the drought of 1883, which made it all the harder for the cowman without land of his own to find the grass and water necessary for his herds. Wrecking of fences was reported from more than half the Texas counties and was most common in a belt extending north and south through the center of the state. In the fall of 1883, when damage from wrecking of fences in Texas was estimated at $20 million, Governor John Ireland called a special session of the legislature to meet on January 8, 1884, to address the issue. The ensuing legislation ended most of the fence troubles, although sporadic outbreaks of nipping continued for a decade, especially during droughts.

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