Fences Of Old
“Fences are the beginning and the end of the open range.” -Pandion
Faded outlines in the desert, barely discernible now, the earliest fences in Nevada were built of sagebrush, stone, or juniper. Toward them Native Nevadans on the hunt spooked the antelope, half the hunting party hooting and hollering, while the other half shot the animals from behind these makeshift corrals. Sometimes the fences led the antelope into ravines or over small cliffs where the entire herd was trapped and the largest taken for meat. Few native fences survive: weather, animals, and man have tumbled even the stone fences to the ground.
The settlers used fences not to drive animals to death, but to nurture them - horses, cattle, and sheep - by confining them to areas where food and water were available. No longer communally shared the open range was divided into private property by fences.
Ranchers in the 1880’s hired Chinese labor to build their fences; these had holes augured in juniper posts for wire to pass through.
Later, manufacturers devised barbed wire to string between the posts. Straight post material was scarce in the desert, so fences were built of whatever was handy, even bristlecone pine, oldest of trees. Wagon loads of trees were brought down from the mountains to build corrals and loading chutes, and where the Iron Horse ventured, fences were often constructed of abandoned railroad ties. In the arid Nevada soil, many early ranch fences - bleached by the elements, tilted in the wind, square nails testifying to their 19th century origin - are still standing, and standing firmly, throughout rural sections of the Silver State
More recently, the post hole digger has been replaced by the small pile-driver. Steel now marches across the desert, a loss of the picturesque to the functional. And with the growth of cities, homeowners mark their property lines and ensure privacy with fences, both decorative and utilitarian. Perhaps, some day, even steel posts and chain link fences will be nostalgic reminders of the past as invisible shields of laser beams or magnetic force fields keep the herds on the range and screen out pollution and unwanted noises for city dwellers.
(Source: Nevada, November/December 1979)