The Fence That Won the West

Larry L. Booker






The Fence That Won the West

Larry L. Booker


A few years ago my family and I went to Washington, DC. Of the many famous sights we visited, we found the National Archives building to be one of the most interesting. It was there that we saw the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta. As I approached the Declaration of Independence, I glanced to my left and something riveted my attention. It was the original patent received by a man named Joseph Glidden, dated November 24, 1874. It was the patent for his famous and widely accepted—barbed wire.


I was captivated by the display as the Smithsonian Institute had just published a list of the top ten inventions (or discoveries) that, in their opinion, had most affected mankind in the last millennium. They were: the printing press, the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, the harnessing of electricity, the telephone, the computer, penicillin, atomic power, television (sad but true) and—believe it or not barbed wire.


To understand the unbelievable importance of the barbed wire fence, we need to view the world into which it first came. After the Civil War, cattle became a huge industry in the United States due mainly to the westward expansion of the population and the need of the US Army to protect them. The Civil War left a lot of disillusioned people with shattered homes and lives. Many of these people, as well as immigrants, traveled west to find a new life. These migrants had to be protected from Indian tribes who were not exactly keen about having their world torn away from them. The troops protecting these sojourners had to be fed, as well as those who settled in the various areas. Add to this scenario an expanding economy in the well-settled east with a growing desire for beef, and you have an exploding cattle industry.


There were two basic types of people in the American west in those days: the cattlemen who roamed the land, and those who settled it. The term used to identify the cattlemen was “grangers.” The people who settled down were called “nesters” because they “built their nests.” In this great American drama the cattlemen played an important role in that they contributed to the feeding of the people. However, they built no cities, schools or churches, and had little business other than cattle. While what they did was important, they were not the creators of society. That was left to the “nesters.”


From the beginning, the number one problem between nesters and grangers was over fencing. A granger driving a herd of cattle from Texas to Dodge City for shipping didn’t want the process to be hung up by fences strung across the range. But a farmer had to have fences, Anyone building a farm or a community simply had to have a fence.


To build a civilization, three primary elements are needed. The first is protection from the elements, be it a house, a barn, etc. Second; protection from man and his untoward nature, hence the establishment of laws, punishments, weapons, etc. Third; protection from animals, that is, wild beasts, other men’s beasts and the settlers’ own beasts.


A farmer raising pigs has to have a way to keep his pigs out of the cornfield. He can raise both pigs and corn, but not together on the same spot. They have to be kept separate until the farmer can feed A desired amount of corn to the pigs at a time of his choosing. Feming is absolutely essential to farming, and agriculture is absolutely essential to civilization. Eventually, as the cattle industry became more business-like and stable, they also saw the need for fencing their herds off from others to prevent straying and rustling. Civilization therefore had to have fences.


The Midwest and Southwest are not like the eastern or even the far northwestern parts of the United States. In those regions there are a great amount of trees and forests, and thus a vast amount of wood to build the much-needed fencing. In the New England states there were no great forests but there was an ample amount of rock which could be used to build stone fences, many of which are still in use today. In a few states there was enough rainfall that hedges could be grown for fencing, such as is seen in great abundance in Europe.


But the western U.S. doesn’t have enough rainfall to make hedges practical. And while stones are obviously to be found there, how could a stone fence be made long enough and strong enough to controls hundreds if not thousands of cattle? Where would they find the manpower, let alone all of the rocks, to erect and maintain thou-sands of miles of stone fence?


While there was plenty of wood in other parts of the nation to facilitate the need, it was impractical that all fencing be supplied by the lumber industry. Even treated wood exposed to the elements! Quires great amounts of upkeep, and this alone made it prohibitive lor use, besides the wood fences great initial expense.


Lack of adequate fencing was stymieing the growth of western society. In order for the United States to continue its progress, wine solution was desperately needed. To understand just how big Illis problem was, I quote from the book, The Wire That Fenced The West: “Questions pertaining to fencing occupied more space in public print or newspapers than any other issue in America.” It is hard for us to imagine anything in the news taking up more time and space than politics, economics, sports or the latest scandals. And yet Ilse issue of fencing was absolutely that important.


Enter… the Barbed Wire Fence


In an effort to meet this need, many men set forth to produce practical, affordable fencing. In the decade following the Civil War over 800 fence patents were issued. A large number of these patents were given to men who had designed what came to be known as “barbed wire.”

While sales of these various, and somewhat odd-looking, fences were taking place around the nation with varying success, none really captured the imagination of the farmers and ranchers in the west where it was so desperately needed. One of the main reasons for this reluctance was lack of confidence on the part of the cattlemen. It seemed unlikely to them that a few thin strands of wire could hold back even one Texas Longhorn, let alone a whole herd. Events finally transpired however that literally changed history. The fence and the salesman who sold it were what brought that change.


The original patent for this fence is the one I saw at the National Archives. Named “The Winner” by its inventor, it has been called “the wire that fenced the west.” The reason it vastly outsold its competitors was not that it was any stronger, or had any distinct advantage by way of design. Its success was due entirely to a 22-year-old salesman named John Gates.


John Warner Gates was a depressed young man. A salesman for Joseph Glidden, he just could not sell any barbed wire anywhere. Not even in the cattle town of San Antonio, Texas. Cattlemen, farmers and Texas Longhorns were there aplenty, and they all needed suitable, affordable fencing. But the Texans thought that Gates’ thin, scrappy wire was a joke when compared to the strength of the Texas Longhorn. John Warner Gates therefore had no takers for his product. As he sat dejectedly in one of San Antonio’s many saloons, he was suddenly hit with an idea that he thought might just turn the trick. Just outside of town he marked off a huge area with fence-posts and strung them with six strands of his barbed wire. He then published a proclamation daring the rural and city people to come and see an amazing feat. On the appointed day ranchers, farmers, grangers, nesters, and almost everybody came to see Gates foolhardy demonstration.


With the fence in place, Gates’ hired men began herding hundreds of Texas Longhorns into the enclosed area. The Texans dealt with these creatures on a daily basis and were familiar with both their strength and wild nature. The onlookers laughed, saying, “There is no way that fence is going to hold those Longhorns.” They plainly thought Gates was crazy.

But as the Longhorns were herded in, the doubters were amazed as they watched them rush up to the fence, brush against it, and then back away from it. They’d ‘hit it a lick’ and then decide that it wasn’t such a good idea to get too close to it. After a while—to everyone’s astonishment the Longhorns settled down.


Then an even more amazing thing happened. Some say John Gates himself did it, others say he hired somebody to do it but whoever did it must have been desperate for money. Someone took a fire torch and ran into the midst of the Longhorns, swinging it around their head and screaming like a banshee. The cattle, though crazed with fear and running pell-mell within the confines of the fence, did not tear it down. At this point John Gates leapt to a platform holding a strand of the barbed wire and bellowed, “This is the finest fence in the world! It’s as light as air, stronger than whiskey and cheaper than dirt!”


This unique ad campaign caught the imagination of the Texans, and soon the rest of the west. They realized that this fence was what they had been looking for—and the boom was on.

Glidden’s company sold 10,000 lbs. of barbed wire in 1874.


The next year it sold 600,000 lbs. of wire.

In 1876 they sold 2,840,000 lbs.,

In 1877 they sold 12,863,000 lbs.,

In 1878 they sold 26,655,000 lbs.,

In 1879 they sold 50,300,000 lbs., and

In 1880 they sold 80,500,000 lbs. of Glidden’s wire.

Many other competitors quickly went out of business, but the fence named “The Winner” definitely became the winner. The 22-year-old John Warner Gates became rich and is today credited with being the man who built the city of Port Arthur, Texas.

And this is why barbed wire is considered by the Smithsonian Institute to be one of the top 10 most important inventions of all time. Without it, there could not have been the settling and civilizing of the West.


Fence-posts and Fences—Lines and Precepts


Glidden’s fence was not the only barbed wire fence invented. In fact it was but one of literally hundreds, with many of them having much the same ability to perform. For a farmer who used “The Winner” to call his neighbor a fool for using another brand would not have been very wise himself. The man who purchased the brand of fence called “Baker’s Perfect” or “Brotherton Bob” to use on his ranch might well say, “It may be a little different from yours… but it works for me.” While there were differences as to the fine points of the various fences (excuse the pun) they were all basically similar in design. They all were made of strands of steel, had their variously-shaped and spaced barbs, and were strung on wooden fence-posts. Most importantly, they all could hold back unwanted intruders.


In the Oneness Holiness movement there are no two churches just alike though there are, for the most part, many similarities. Sometimes, for the saints, experiencing these differences between the various churches can be somewhat troubling. The main reason for these differences is very simple; there are no two pastors just alike. Being humans, they each have their own personalities, points of theological interest, abilities, circumstances, personal experiences, backgrounds and histories. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are differences of opinion as to certain aspects of life in general and church life in particular. Alas—and here we are again—there are many “tribes in Israel.”


Over the years I have come to appreciate pastors who are willing to even put up a fence, let alone having one that is exactly like mine. Our views of lines and precepts may not agree in every detail, but if they are sincerely trying to keep the world out of the Lord’s vine-yard, I—and no doubt the Angels—applaud them.


As an example of one of these differences, I know of pastors who feel that a woman’s hair should be worn up on her head at all times when in public. While I do not personally hold to this view, I respect it. Whatever one’s views on how a woman’s hair is to be worn, surely we must agree that it is not to be cut—that is the ‘line’ in the Word, and it is plain in its declaration. All that I personally ask the ladies that I pastor is that their hair look ‘nice,’ whether it be worn up or hangs down, and that it be a presentable Christian witness. I usually enjoin this request with the observation that no Christian enjoys having a pastor who is an embarrassment in lifestyle, speech or appearance. The same is true in regards to a pastor and the people Ise pastors—he does not enjoy being embarrassed by their lifestyle, speech or appearance.


I personally do not have the time to answer for everyone else and their standards, or lack thereof. However, I do have a deep sense ()I’ responsibility for the people I pastor, and towards the God that I serve. Though not everyone understands or appreciates the teaching and guidelines of a conscientious shepherd, we must nevertheless do our duty and fulfill our call, that of presenting a bride to Jesus Christ. l’he Apostle Paul said it best: “Would to God ye would bear with me in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (II Corinthians 11:1-2)


“Wherefore I take you to record this day, which I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood… And now brethren I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:26-28, 32)


In order for the West to be civilized, it was essential that boundaries be created that cattle, sheep, hogs and men would honor. Likewise in the Kingdom of God, there must be established lines and precepts. It was lines and precepts that separated Israel from all other peoples of the world. It was the keeping of commandments that made them a people blessed and used of God. They inevitably faltered and failed once they forsook the lines and precepts God had given them. We must ever keep in mind the tribe of Israel that received the severest judgment during the wilderness sojourn. Simeon suffered devastating losses because of one single aspect of their character—they were a tribe who had no fences. Nothing was too cruel or profane for them. Lines and precepts concerning sanctity and separation were foreign to them and they suffered accordingly.


The Tragedy of a Fenceless Flock


Years ago I attended a General Conference where a special session, only for ministers was held. A certain pastor had been asked to speak to the ministers about his personal experiences concerning the importance of upholding holiness in the local church. I knew that the church he pastored had about 600 people at the time, and I also knew that they had let down tremendously in separation from the world. This pastor related to us how that on three separate occasions God dealt with him about His displeasure with this situation of waning holiness. He would not say how God had talked to him the first time, but he did tell how God dealt with him the final two times.


In the first instance, he told of purchasing a piece of property in the country where he had placed some sheep. When he bought the small flock, a few goats were also ‘thrown in’ by the seller. At the time the pastor thought this was a kind gesture, but he soon realized why the goats were free.

In the middle of his property he fenced off an area and put up a shelter with food and water for his flock. One morning he came to check on them and found they had all broke through the fence and were grazing beyond its perimeters. He found the breach, repaired it and managed to get them all back inside.


The next day the animals were out again: not far away, just a few feet outside the fence. He thought to himself that there must be something there that they wanted and needed, so he enlarged the fences border just enough to include the area where the sheep and goats had been grazing. He said to himself; “Now you will be happy. This is what you wanted!”

When he came back the following day, they were again outside the fence: not far, but just beyond the bounds that he thought would make them happy. He repaired the breach and once more herded them all back inside, only to come back another day and find them outside. He enlarged the fence yet once more, saying, “OK, this is where you want to be. The fence is now big enough to accommodate your desire.” But the next day they were outside the fence again. Through this process he realized that it was the goats that were the real instigators of these ‘breakouts’ and understood why they had been given to him for free.


The property where he kept his flock was surrounded on all sides by a fence and dirt roads. The fence surrounding the property obviously had little ability to keep the sheep and goats in, and the pastor was frustrated and tired of the animals constantly getting out. He figured there would be nothing appealing in the road for them to eat, and would therefore probably be safe enough. So he removed the inner fence completely. His attitude was, “All right, go ahead and have the whole field! I’ll let them do whatever they want. I know they can get through the main fence but why would they want to? They’ll be all right.”


Early one morning he received a phone call from a neighboring farmer. He said, “Preacher, you had better come down here. You’ve really got a mess on your hands. A pack of wild dogs came through last night and they’ve slaughtered your flock.”

When the pastor arrived on the scene he found every sheep and every goat dead. Their stomachs and throats had been ripped out and the carnage was gruesome. The dogs didn’t even eat them; they just slew the flock in a blood lust and left them while they yipped and yapped their way back to whatever pit they came from.


As he stood there in the midst of the blood and gore, looking at his slaughtered flock, the Lord God spoke to him these words: “Fences are not just to keep things in, they are also to keep some things out.” The pastor was now thunderstruck as well as sick.


He understood clearly that God was talking to him about placating the carnality in his church by continually letting down on standards of Holiness. In so doing, all he had accomplished was to enlarge the fence time after time, with the flock ever desiring to go beyond it (no doubt being led by “goats”). A worldly spirit had already been loosed in the church and many of the people were murmuring and complaining about what few standards were left. [It would be interesting to know who had loosed that worldly spirit to begin with]


It is important for us to remember that fences keep more things out than they keep in. Bible-based guidelines for Christian living are not just to keep Christians in. This world is full of wild, roving preda tors that delight in dragging souls to the same hell where they themselves are headed. God bless the pastor who does not weary in well doing, but continues to teach, preach and exemplify Christian values and lifestyle. There are evil spirits, eroding philosophies, specious doctrines, aberrant lifestyles and blatant sins that are all working overtime to worm their way into God’s church. Once there, their only intent is to kill, maim and destroy.


The second incident that this pastor related to us took place one day while he was praying in the balcony of his church auditorium. He was extremely frustrated and had stated to God; “I am so tired and weary of fussing with these people. I am not even going to preach holiness anymore.” At that moment God spoke to him in an audible voice and said: “And if you do, I will remove your candlestick. This is the third time that I have spoken to you concerning this matter. I will never speak to you about it again.”


The pastor crumbled, slid out of his seat and literally crawled down the steps of the balcony on his hands and knees to his office. He grabbed a pen from his desk and on a note pad wrote the exact words that God had spoken to him.


The next Sunday morning he preached a message entitled: “Buy the Truth and Sell It Not.” In that sermon he let it be known that they, as the people of God, were going back to the Biblical standards of Holiness and separation from the world. That particular Sunday was known thereafter as “Black Sunday.” One-third of his church got up and walked out. They left and started another church in town with a “preacher” from within the congregation. The religion they embraced was of the golden calf variety. They could do anything hey wanted and still claim a form of godliness.


This pastor stood his ground and within the next couple of weeks, 60 people received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. God poured out I I is Glory and confirmed to that pastor and congregation that He still wants His people to “Worship Him in the beauty of Holiness.” (Psalm 29:2)


While he was relating his story to the conference, an elderly pastor who had been faithful to God through the years leaned over to a friend of mine and said, “I hope he makes it. I really hope he makes it. The problem is, I’ve been preaching this gospel for over 50 years and I’ve never seen anybody let holiness go as far as he has and ever really come back.”


To the deep grief of my heart, I must report that the elder was right. That pastor with whom God had dealt three times about holiness did not make it. Somewhere along the line he had lost his willingness to “Contend for the faith once delivered unto the Saints.” (Jude 3) He ceased to be a pastor several years ago and that church is today unrecognizable in terms of holiness, godliness and New Testament doctrine. God removed the candlestick as He said He would, and also apparently kept His word to never speak to the man again about the doctrine of holiness. Again, to the deep grief of my heart, the last I heard of him he was selling goods on the side of the road.

Dear reader, this is grim, serious business with God if it does not work its way into the depths of our hearts. Separation from the ungodliness of this world should come naturally to the child of God as he draws nigh unto Him. If holiness unto the Lord is not important, then why did God repeatedly incorporate its precepts and principles into His word? And if a person refuses by obey God in this area, why obey Him in any area?


Through the years I have seen far too many men change and say, “This isn’t for me. We don’t need that holiness stuff anymore.” They proceed in their folly and lead their families and churches astray from the paths of righteousness. I have watched in horror as their children have been spiritually decimated, their families thrown to the winds, and their churches brought to nothing spiritually and, in many cases, literally. In the process of tearing down the fences of a God-ordained life, they fulfill Ecclesiastes 10:8: “…whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.” We can break through and tear down the hedges that God has set, but remember that there is a serpent (the devil) always looking for a breach, that he may enter in to slay God’s people. He longs to sink poisonous fangs into anyone who would tear down the fences of safety that God and godly men have constructed.


The Apostle John tells us to, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (I John 2:15,16)


Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.” [emphasis mine]

In the following chapters I will attempt to address several of the most important issues facing the Apostolic Church today, concern-ing holiness and separation from the world. I will not be able to cover every issue, nor will I be able to cover any of them completely. Are they all heaven-or-hell issues? Whether they are or not, if they have the power to beset us or cause us to veer away from God’s Grace and Glory, they must be dealt with and settled righteously in our hearts. The writer of Hebrews says it best: “…let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us….” (Hebrews 12:1).


Some other translations state the verse on this wise: “…Stripping off every encumbrance….” (Rhm)

“…Let us fling aside every encumbrance that so readily entangles our feet….” (Wey)

“…Let us throw off every impediment….” (Wms)

“…Let us also lay aside everything that hinders us….” (TCNT)



“…Let us rid ourselves of everything that weights us down….” (Knox)

Woe be to the man who makes light of sacred things. Woe be to the tribe that scoffs at sanctity as did the Simeonites. Woe be to those who “…walk after the flesh, in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities….” (II Peter 2:10)


Some other translations II Peter 2:10:

“…Who yield to their physical nature and indulge their passions that defile them and despise authority…they stand in no awe of Majesty….” (Gspd)

“…Daring, presumptuous creatures, they think nothing of scoffing at….” (Phi)

“…Audacious and self-willed….” (TCNT)

“…They tremble not to rail at dignities….” (ASV)

“…They do not tremble when they abuse….” (Wms)


The One who created us knows exactly what He wants and what we need. It is a safe, Holy pathway that He has revealed. And He declared it to us because He loves and cares about us.



The above article, “The Fence That Won the West” is written by Larry L. Booker. The article was excerpted from Booker’s book What a Difference A Line Can Make.


The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.