Gold, Silver and Barbwire in Westward Expansion


The practice of gold and silver mining furthered the rapid development of permanent frontier settlements.  While below ground large scale mining efforts depleted the extensive natural tunnels of gold and silver ore, taverns, casinos, saloons, hotels and townships changed the landscape above.  Once sparsely populated frontier territory developed nearly overnight following discoveries such as the Comstock Lode.  Unfortunately, much of the profits made from such natural treasures, finite treasures mind you, went to the large mining corporations and their associated ventures and concerns.  The silver lining being that many of the projects the mines initiated or brought to their respective areas as a means of working were beneficial to townships and communities; such as new infrastructures such as roads, tracks and other improvements that likely added accessibility and to the quality of life for settlers.

Barb wire appeared as a means to separate individual land holdings and other property.  In theory, this was a good idea.  Sadly, the application of barb wire to the existing and very popular open-range philosophy of agriculture, in which cattle and other livestock has unlimited access to an ever-changing and naturally occurring range of land.  Barb wire posed such a challenge to frontier (and west of Mississippi R.) agrarian life that its use was responsible for a near livestock genocide in 1887.  In terms of landscape, it was likely very difficult to go very far without seeing a barb wire fence.  Because it was so popularly used as a means of conserving one’s property, the land was in virtual barb wire shackles.

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