Fences, Cows, and the F-Bomb

barbed wire fence

Ann’s blog about front porches and how they can foster connections with neighbors brought back memories of another American landscape icon which purportedly affects social relationships with neighbors – fences; in this case, barbed-wire fences.  

I had no appreciation for just how significant barbed wire fences were for the development of the American West until I started doing some research for this blog.

Eleanor Cummins’  A brief history of barbed wire  provides a nice overview of the evolution and significance of such fencing. In brief, before the Homestead Act of 1862, the American West was pretty much open land, although certainly not without its human and non-human residents (consider that Native Americans had lived on the land for at least 15,000 years).  Nevertheless, the Homestead Act gave each citizen the right to claim 160 acres of public land.

barbed wire patents

Joseph Glidden’s mechanically-produced barbed wire revolutionized the fencing industry.

One of the most practical challenges these families faced was drawing boundaries—keeping people, crops, and cattle in (or out) of the new claimed land – which meant that constructing fences became imperative.  And it was the introduction of barbed wire that ultimately shaped the pervasive settlement patterns that define what we know as the West today.

Jump forward from 1862 to 1973 and to my first serious experience with barbed wire fences.  It occurred when I was in grad school and Ann and I were living on her family’s farm just outside Fort Collins.  A barbed wire fence encircled the 80 acre farm and ran between the  pasture where Ann kept her horses and the neighboring farmer’s field where some cows grazed (see more about Ann’s horse background here). 

Screen Shot 2020-07-12 at 2.35.07 PM

Our Aussie, Marcus, running our barbed-wire fence line


I used Ann’s family pickup truck for such things as hauling hay for the horses and driving the fence line to make sure there were no breaches from the neighbor’s cows, which to my irritation seemed to happened too often.  


cow and fence for blog

Watching for an opportunity to breach our fence?

Truth be known, I actually got a kick out of acting like an honest-to-goodness rancher.  I harbored an idealized notion of the rugged rancher out on the prairie developing and defending his land.  Our dog Marcus would often sit next to me on these circuits and I would sometimes take our 3-year-old daughter, Sara, along.  She liked to stand up in the seat next to me and point out to me what she saw (note: this was prior to seatbelt protocol for kids).

Marcus and Andy in pickup

Our dog Marcus and I hauling hay in the red Chevy pickup

One day, when we were driving along the fence we came upon one of the neighbor’s cows in our pasture.  Sara blurted out:  Look daddy, there’s a f___ing cow!


Our sweet little girl at about the age when she dropped the f-bomb.

I was dumbfounded.  Where did our sweet little girl learn such language?  Of course, the  answer obviously had something to do with what she had heard from the person driving the pickup (i.e., me).  I suppose I should have felt a bit of pride in the fact that she was emulating her father. After all, there are worse things than being a role model for your children, even if it results in embarrassing outcomes.  But what should I say to her?

In the end, I said nothing and acted as if I didn’t hear her. It turns out that this may have been the best course of action.  According to a parenting website dealing with how to handle children swearing,

Your reaction will influence whether your child swears again. Staying calm is the key. This will go a long way towards preventing further swearing.

As far as I know, our daughter didn’t drop the f-bomb again (at least as a child or in our presence).  I must confess that to this day, the f-word has remained in my repertory of expletives to use only as necessary, although I try to be more discrete when innocent little ears are nearby.

Now, whenever I drive our red Subaru by a barbed-wired-fenced field with a cow or two grazing, I sometimes imagine that sweet little girl standing next to me on the front seat of that red Chevy pickup, saying, “Look daddy, ……..”.


    • theRaggedys says:

      You’re correct that I used that story in my classes, although I’m not sure how many students were regaled. I must have used it when Charley and I were team teaching an honors intro class, hence your knowledge of my wit and brilliance. And, good to know about “bob war.” Very funny actually. Always good to hear from you.


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