06 September 2012

Where Were They? When barbed wire was invented.

Barbed wire.

What we now think of as a simple and standard tool around the world was truly a life changing invention at the time.

According to Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbed_wire), the first patent was issued in 1867 to Ohio based Lucien B. Smith. Another patent, this time in 1874, was given to Joseph F. Glidden, who made his own modifications. As the "first technology capable of restraining cattle", it had a profound impact after becoming largely available across the continent, and especially the plains. Easy to use, easy to manage, and affordable. Of course, it was also used in combat, prisons and concentration camps; and electrified.

Where Were They?

My family tree holds several farmers and a hand full of dairy farmers. Certainly the addition of barbed wire would have made an impact on their operations, right? Let's find out. I'm going to base this off of the year 1874, after the new invention became available to the masses.

Oscar F. Brown

1874 was the year Oscar F. Brown married Frances E. Lawrence in Nebraska. He had yet to settle on his military homestead in Colfax County, but had been in Colfax County since 1870. The census record lists him as a farmer, with real estate property valued at $1000.00. On 1 Jun 1875, Oscar filed his homestead certificate, and started building on the property he would live on for most of his adult life. I would have to imagine that barb wire played a part in this farming operation, but the important part is that he farmed - not ranched - so perhaps his use of this technology was limited.

Eilert Heerten

My focus ancestor on my maternal side was only about five years off the boat from Germany in 1874, and had settled in Illinois. In 1870 he was in Menard County, and in 1875 married in Tazewell County another recent immigrant, Amke Dirks Rademacher. What happened to the family between 1875 and 1900, when we find them in Keya Paha County, Nebraska, is at this time at least, unknown. Were they farming? Were they in transit, trying to find the best place to settle? They had seven children: the first two were born in Illinois, the next two in the "USA" and finally the last three in Nebraska. Due to the various misspellings and mispronunciations of their surname, the census options are numerous and difficult to weed through. I'm not even sure that Amke's name is correct. The version I have here is what is on her tombstone and the majority of records, but the marriage index displays it as this:
Anka D RODEMACHER
They've turned into a tough crowd to track down during those years. So, did barb wire affect the Heerten family? I'm sure it did. Oral history tells us they had more livestock than the Brown's, so certainly their efforts to contain the animals would have been much more prevalent.


Harley Brown, grandson of Oscar, on his tractor in Washington State.
Dairy farmer.
Photo property of author.


Those dairy farmers I mentioned? That started in Pierce County, Washington in the 1940's, so that certainly would have made an impact to the operation. The family really started farming in the area as the farm manager for the Orting Soldier's Home & Colony, and the son's branched out and ventured into their own operations.

Those of you with roots in states like Oklahoma and Texas may want to look into this further... did your ancestors purchase more land around this time? Or did the lose property? Perhaps one of their neighbors found more success in controlling their livestock and were able to expand.

Barb wire. A genealogical research opportunity. Who knew?



You can learn more about this topic from The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, located in La Crosse, Kansas.