From the Pen of Robert L. Cook
One of the things that I love about outdoor Texas and about our history is the old rock fences that occur out in the country. Many of these old fences were built before Mr. Glidden’s barbed wire was invented in 1873. Many settlers couldn’t afford barbed wire anyway, so they used what they had — native stone and plenty of muscle. There are several old rock fences on our home place on Lost Creek. Through the years I have walked the entire length of these old fences many times. Sometimes I sit on them and think; sometimes I just sit on them. The rock fences of Lost Creek Ranch are mostly fallen down now, in places almost indistinguishable from the adjacent rocky hillsides.
Our rock fence occurs in sections, 100 yards here, 50 yards there, starting and stopping without explanation. I’ve concluded that the fence was built where there were plenty of good fence-rocks. The fence-builder would not have carried these rocks very far. In some places the fence is connected to naturally occurring rock outcrops which, I suppose, served the same purpose of containing or excluding livestock. If there once were connecting rail fences filling in the gaps between the sections of rock fence, which I suspect was the case, they have long since decayed and disappeared, along with our fence-builders.
I have sat and pondered both the purpose of the fence and the people who built it. Hardly anywhere along its irregular route does it stand above waist-high, and I don’t think it reaches a height of four feet high anywhere. It was not built to contain wild cows.
In his classic, Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, Roy Bedichek states that the rock fence near his Friday Mountain retreat “weighed not less than a ton per linear yard.” I’d reckon that the rock fences along Lost Creek would weigh in at about half that amount. The family’s milk cow didn’t care how much the fence weighed; the fence-builder did.
How long did it take to build a mile of rock fence? I’d guess that my great-grandfather, even with his bad arm from the Civil War, and a couple of big strapping boys like my grandfather, could dig, tote, stack and chink maybe 30-40 feet of fence a day if they worked from daylight until dark. The only tools they had were a pick, a pry-bar and a heavy rock hammer. I would speculate that they only worked on this fence on days that it was too wet or too cold to do anything else, and then only after the morning chores were done, the firewood split and hauled in, and the livestock fed and cared for.
Years ago I found a large sandstone metate, a grindstone used by early Native Americans, within a couple of feet of our old rock fence. This metate is slightly larger than a large briefcase. I suspect that my fence-builders paused and rested beside it and wondered about its creators and their lives on Lost Creek. It would have fit perfectly into the rock fence, but interestingly, they did not put it in the fence. My fence-builders could not have known that the grindstone was thousands and thousands of years old, could they?
Texas is wonderful. Outdoor Texas is The Best. You don’t have to hunt, camp or fish to enjoy the outdoors. And, if you ever want to build some rock fence, I know where there are plenty of good rocks.