So you might think that all was fine and dandy for the settlers in America – of course, this was not the case. In fact, conflict was common between cattle ranchers and homesteaders, and it’s something you might just need to know about – so it’s going to be right here for you. Ready? Here we go…
It will be unsurprising to you that the cattle ranchers and the homesteaders wanted the same land – the cheap land on the Plains. The homesteaders were growing crops, whilst as the Open Range developed ranchers wanted to move onto the Plains.
Of course, from the beginning there was conflict between the two – cattle ranchers drove their cattle over homesteaders’ land when they were on the Long Drive, whilst the homesteaders wanted them to not do so, fearing for damage to their crops or Texas fever infecting their animals. However, from the 1870s onwards, once ranchers had settled on the Plains, conflict escalated.
These disputes were primarily about access to water and land – the cattle ranchers needed ‘open range’ with access to water for their cattle, whilst homesteaders were fencing off their land using barbed wire, to protect it from straying cattle – potentially cutting off the ranchers access to water.
One of the greatest competitors with cattle for grazing land were sheep – there was some violence from ranchers towards sheep and shepherds, often resulting in the form of killing shepherds, slaughtering sheep and burning the hay of farmers who sold fodder to sheep farmers.
Another point of conflict was the use of barbed wire to fence off land, which originally angered ranchers until they realised they could use barbed wire to fence off their land as well. Eventually, smaller cattle ranchers were being “squeezed out” by the cattle barons who had fenced off land, and would often protest by fence cutting – to avoid being cut off from water.
Eventually, this conflict continued, as small ranchers and homesteaders came into conflict with cattle barons – culminating in the Johnson County War in Johnson County, Wyoming. Cattle barons began to kill those they suspected of cattle rustling, and eventually planned a full-scale invasion of Johnson County, intending to eventually capture the town of Buffalo, kill the sheriff, and then the rest of the men they suspected of cattle rustling.
They cut the phone lines for Buffalo to isolate them from the outside world, but stopped to attack the KC ranch, where they were held out for a day by Nate Champion and Nick Ray, allowing the villagers to find out and prepare for the inevitable attack. The invaders were trapped at the TA ranch, and eventually the US cavalry from Fort McKinney had to come to rescue the invaders. The so-called war ended with 2 casualties – Nate Champion and Nick Ray. The cattle barons were never convicted for their action, but they never had the same power in Wyoming again – allowing the homesteaders and small ranchers to continue their lives in peace.
And that’s about all you need to know about conflict between ranchers and homesteaders! If you have any questions, leave a comment. Hopefully this helped!