Western Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the Mexican-American War

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How did barbed wire affect development out west?

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In short, the invention of barbed wire spelled the end of the open range. Before barbed wire, if livestock needed a fence, it had to be made out of wood. Wood had to be shipped from the east, making this sort of fence building a costly and time consuming affair. Without fencing, ranchers drove their cattle on open grasslands where they would graze freely and destroy crops such as wheat.

Barbed wire ended this era of cattle roaming freely and greatly hindered open range grazing as public land became overgrazed and barren. Many land disputes ensued as the wealthy land owners began to consolidate all of the power in the world of cattle. Beyond the world of ranchers, barbed wire also hindered the movement of nomadic Native Americans who were accustomed to traveling as they pleased.

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Barbed wire had a dramatic effect on the development of the west.  Barbed wire had a tremendous impact on cattle ranching.  Before barbed wire was used, cattle ranchers practiced something called open range ranching.  With this kind of ranching, cattle were free to roam the grasslands.  Cowboys were needed to keep the cattle moving so the cattle wouldn’t overgraze an area.  The cowboys also had to brand the cattle so their owners could identify them. Additionally, cowboys had to march the cattle on long drives to the cow towns where the cattle would them be put on trains and shipped to the east.  Cowboys played a huge role in the cattle ranching industry.  With the arrival of barbed wire, the role of cowboys would be dramatically changed.  The cowboys didn’t have to worry as much about the cattle wandering away since the barbed wire kept them fenced in a confined area.  They also didn’t have to do the long drives because by the time barbed wire was being used, the railroads had expanded further south to the area where the cattle ranches were located.  Cowboys basically became ranch hands.  Cattle ranching changed from open range ranching to closed range ranching.

Another impact occurred as a result of the use of barbed wire.  Barbed wire put an end to the range wars.  The range wars were battles fought by cattle herders, farmers, and sheepherders over who controlled what land. With barbed wire, there were far fewer disputes over land.

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