What were the major issues between ranchers/farmers and railroaders?
The issues between farmers, ranchers, and railroads mostly centered around the issue of fencing off the land. As more farmers settled in the Great Plains and the West, they were encouraged to construct fences. By doing so, they were indicating that they were intending to settle the land for the long run. This contradicted the unofficial "open law of the range" that ranchers supported. Ranchers needed large open spaces for their cattle to graze. This was especially true during long cattle drives. By fencing off the land, usually with barbed wire, farmers were endangering the livelihood of ranchers.
The role of the railroads made these issues even more complicated. While they helped ranchers and farmers by providing a way for them to bring their goods more quickly to market, they also created certain problems. By the 1870s, various railroad lines crisscrossed the American West. Railroads led to the death of many of the ranchers' animals that found their way onto the tracks at unfortunate times. The railroads also disrupted the ecology of the land in certain places and destroyed fields. Railroad companies often built their lines directly through fields and pasture lands that had been established for use by farmers and ranchers. Railroad fence-lines proved particularly devastating to wandering cattle.
As railroad use increased, more and more issues between farmers, ranchers, and railroad companies arose. There were attempts to settle this with legislation to assign liability when property was damaged and destroyed. In Kansas, the Stock-Killing Act of 1874 assigned liability to railroads whenever livestock was struck by trains. However, it made exceptions for cases in which railroad property was properly fenced. Other states and territories had similar laws. This was small comfort to ranchers whose livestock were maimed by the barbed wire.
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