Diane Josephy Peavey

Fences in the West

Fences tell the stories of the west. Barbed wire strung across once wild lands cut off Indians from their traditional hunting grounds leading to wars in a last bid for freedom. But barbed wire fences continued usually to contain livestock not to keep people off the land. Hence the signs “close gates behind you.” Sometime early in the 20th century the original owner of our ranch, sheepman James Laidlaw, built a fence around his 4,000 acre meadows so extraordinary that it still stands today needing almost no maintenance. It was built at a whopping cost of $1,000 a mile to keep coyotes away from his prized ewes and lambs but perhaps he fenced in as many coyotes as he fenced out. The history of fences now takes a new turn as multi-million dollar ranches spring up across the landscape identified by their freshly painted white fences, No Tresspassing signs and padlocked gates. And with the growing population numbers those of us on the land begin to lock our gates to limit the recklessly abuse of our ranch lands by new recreational users. It is an isolating gesture between neighbors, friends and visitors as we all attempt to survive and find our place in the New West.