N.R. Stegall to Ireland, March 31, 1884

A drought hit Texas in 1883, bringing to a head a long-simmering conflict between the landless cattlemen of the open range and those who were establishing permanent ranches fenced in with barbed wire. Cowmen began to wreck the fences to get access to grass and water for their herds. They were joined by others who resented the practice of some ranchers of fencing off public land along with their own, and by blocking access to public roads, schools, and churches with their fences. Soon, fence cutting was reported from more than half the counties in Texas, and at least three people were killed as ranchers defended their property. By the fall of 1883, fence cutting had caused $20 million in damages, lowered property values by $30 million, interfered with farming, and discouraged prospective settlers from coming to Texas.

Governor Ireland called a special session of the legislature on January 8, 1884, to deal with the fence-cutting issue. The legislature made fence-cutting and pasture-burning crimes punishable with prison time. At the same time, they regulated the fencing. Ranchers were required to remove any fences from public land or land belonging to others and to provide and maintain gates in any fences that crossed public roads. The new laws largely ended the fence troubles.

This letter is from N.R. Stegall, the Adjutant General of Texas, who held responsibility for verification of veterans' land claims.

"The Wild West"

Letter from adjutant general on fence cutting wars

Austin, Texas, March 31, 1884

To His Excellency

John Ireland


Sir - In conference with Interested

parties in Burnett on or about Feb. 12th or

13th I stated that I thought the free &

liberal use of money the only true &

sure means of bringing Fence Cutters to

justice. I deny most emphatically asking

of any one to contribute moneys. Only

stating to some, that I believed that I could

secure the aid of one or two men unknown

who would be of great service to me in

getting at matters sooner than I would

otherwise be able to do, and further it

was understood that I would not take one

dollar of their funds unless that I was given

discretionary powers in the expenditure of the

same. The balance of unexpended funds

are to day in my possession which I will turn

over to any person authorized to receipt for


Yours very respectfully

N.R. Stegall

"The Wild West"

N.R. Stegall to Ireland, March 31, 1884, Records of John Ireland, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Page last modified: March 30, 2011