Barbed Wire — episode #38
Jason was working for a man wanting to put barbed
wire on his land. At the moment, Jason was loading
large, heavy spools of barbed wire on a wagon. And
he was being watched. A cowboy came into the lobby
of a hotel
looking for a man named Mr. Thorp. He was sitting in
a chair reading a newspaper. “Mr. Thorpe, some big
sod buster over at the railroad station’s got
himself a big load of that new barbed fenced wire. I
thought you’d want to know.”
“Alright, teach him,” Mr. Thorp stated, then went
back to his newspaper.
Two cowboys walked up to Jason, commenting it was
pretty hard work for one man. Jason gave them a
friendly smile. “You folks wanta earn some beer
“No thanks,” the cowboy answered. “What’s it
“It’s called barbed fence writing,” Jason answered,
still not aware there was anything wrong.
“You plan on fencing yourself a couple acres of free
“No, not myself,” Jason answered. He told him he was
helping the man who hired him. “And it’s not just
two acres. There’s two miles of fence to a tub of
wire.” The cowboy didn’t think it seemed possible.
As Jason turned to lift another spool onto the
wagon, the man went to lift one down, stating they
should just pull off a spool and see how much there
A fight erupted. Jason was fighting three men at
once. They were climbing over horses, under horses,
and all over the street. It seemed Jason was giving
these three men a run for his money too! Mr. Thorp
just stood there and watched the fight.
But then a whole herd of horses rode in. Thorp went
over to pull his man off of Jason. “What’s got into
you?” Thorp asked the cowboy he pulled off of Jason.
“I’m not paying you to pick fights with poor
farmers. Get back to the ranch!”
Mr. Thorp turned and complimented Jason on his
fighting abilities. He figured any man who could
fight three to one had a place on his payroll. “He’s
already on mine, Roy Beckwith declared as he greeted
Jason. “I’m sorry we weren’t here to meet your
train. Must have been on time for once.”
“You got here just in time, Mr. Beckwith.”
Mr. Thorp smiled at Mr. Beckwith, making sure there
wasn’t going to be any hard feelings over the
misunderstanding. “Misunderstand my hind foot! Them
hay shovelers of yours…they wouldn’t blow their own
noses except on your order.”
“I never made any secret about the way I feel about
that barbed wire,” Thorp declared.
Beckwith had two of his men finish loading the
barbed wire and told the rest of his men to ride
shotgun back to the ranch. Beckwith offered to buy
Jason a drink, but Thorp said he’d do the honors.
Jason wasn’t sure what to do. Thorp told him that
was fine with him! The three men headed for the
“Would you have had your boys jump McCord if you
knew he was working for me?” Beckwith asked Thorp
later as they stood in front of a picture of an ox.
Thorp tried to evade the question by commenting on
the picture, but Beckwith insisted on an answer.
Again, he discussed the picture that stood in front
of them. He was talking about how the big oxen was
still Lord over everything.
wondered if that was Thorp’s way of threatening him.
“If you fight me, you’ll lose,” Thorp declared.
Beckwith looked at him for a moment. “Thorp, there
was a time when we were good friends. We were cut
from the same leather.” Thorp rudely interrupted
him…something about Beckwith getting fat. “You
oughta get fit for a pair of glasses. Then you’ll
see the old way won’t cut it anymore. The cattle
business is changing it and what’s changing it is
barbed fence wire!”
“Gentlemen,” Jason walked into the room.
Thorp was surprised at his height. “Boy, they sure
did pile you high. How far up do you go?”
Jason didn’t like the way he said that. “If you mean
how tall am I, six foot six, Mr. Thorpe.” Thorp
wanted to stand back-to-back with McCord. Beckwith
interrupted, saying they needed to get going.
Thorp asked Jason if he was related to some other
McCord down south. Beckwith assured Thorp that Jason
was a surveyor and engineer. He’s hired to survey
Beckwith’s land and help him with his place. Thorp
stopped Jason’s forward motion. “Why’d you get taken
with the idea to string a barbed halter around that
open grassland, choking it to death?”
“I’ve seen it work in other places, Mr. Thorp. It
makes the range land grow for cattlemen and
Thorp laughed. “That’s sales talk for sod busters!
It aims to fence our cattlemen out!”
“It’s what it fences in that’s important,” Jason
stated. Jason said it lets them import new breeds
and keep them separate.
“We’re doing fine with the breeds we got.” Jason
said they could do better. “Not me! But I don’t aim
to close myself in with a bunch of barbed wire. And
you sure picked yourself a man-sized job trying to
do it for Beckwith.”
“You try and stop him, Thorp. You’ll trigger a range
war,” Beckwith threatened. With that, they left
That night at the Beckwith ranch, Jason was going
over the map of the land. Jason thought the North
forty was the best place to begin a survey. “No,”
Beckwith stated. Beckwith wanted to start with the
land that bordered Thorp’s section. If he was going
to fight them, Beckwith wanted to know it right
So that’s what Jason did. He and another men went to
work on the survey. While camping over an open camp
fire that night, Mr. Thorp men came up to him.
“How’s the survey coming?”
“You oughta know,” Jason’s assistant answered. After
all, he’d been watching them all day. Jason then
offered Mr. Thorp a cup of coffee. Jason told Thorp
he didn’t live in this country much. He’d just done
some garrison work when he was in the army.
Thorp began talking about the land and his love for
the open range. “These hills have been my wife and
children for thirty-seven years,” Thorp declared.
“I’ll protect them like they’re my own flesh. You
got many ties like that?”
“No,” Jason answered.
“Then get out.”
“I contracted to do a job, Thorp.”
“Well, it’s plain to see why Beckwith brought you
in,” Thorp declared. You don’t shy off. I like a man
who’s six foot six and top heavy. Like them on my
“Same there has to be two sides,” Jason commented.
“It is Beckwith’s land. He’s got a right to fence
“Beckwith’s land…And he’ll be buried on it if he
doesn’t stop stringing up fence.” Thorp stood up.
“Well, you don’t scare off, so I reckon you don’t
The next day, Jason and his men were working on
surveying and fencing the land. Jason had the map of
the land out on a board studying over it when
Thorp’s main man took a shot at him. Jason and his
men ran for cover while Thorp’s men continued
shooting. That’s a warning, plow pusher! Next time
“Wait ‘till the boss hears about this,” one of
Beckwith’s men commented.
“Before he does, I want one more chance with Mr.
Thorp.” But he didn’t think it would do Jason any
good. He’d hang Jason before he listened to reason.
Thorp was doing some blacksmithing when his hand
came in to tell him Jason was coming. “Then let him
“Seems this is the kind of ranch where the boss sets
the pace,” Jason commented after walking into the
“If you want a job done right, you do it yourself.”
Jason said that’s what brought him over there. “Is
that right? I thought you came over about those lead
calling cards my foremen sent over your way.”
“You knew about that?” Jason asked as more of
Thorp’s men came into the barn.
“I guess ever man’s entitled to one fool question.”
“Look Thorp, why fight barbed wire? Make it work for
you.” Thorp laughed. “Use it to build a calves pen,
protection around a poisoned water hole, protection
for a bean field or an orchard or a herd of blooded
stock. But get used to it, Mr. Thorp, because it’s
the future of the cattle business!”
“If I let them build one fence today, tomorrow there
will be a hundred. And a farmer behind everyone of
them plowing grass upside down!”
“And if you don’t,” Jason argued. “There will be a
range war with no purpose because you can’t win it,
“Big man talks tough, huh boys?” Mr. Thorp asked the
men who were gathered around him. “He claims he’s
six foot six. Let’s see who stands highest around
Mr. Thorp put his back against Jason’s. His foreman
admitted that Jason was taller than him, but only by
a whisker. “Well, we’ll have to cut him down…Won’t
we, Jason McCord? If you grasshoppers ever read the
newspapers, you’d know that he’s the army officer
that ran out on the Bitter Creek Massacre. Do you
“I never have,” Jason answered honestly.
“This is the kind of scum Beckwith has been bringing
in to build his fences because no decent man will
touch it. “Alright Kilgore…” He nodded to his
foreman. Kilgore turned and walked out. He said he
was going to continued running his cattle the way he
always had done. “Through your fence, under it, or
over it.” Kilgore brought in some barbed wire. Thorp
declared he was going to make an example of him.
“You and everyone else who thanks the ranch needs to
have a crown of thorns.”
Jason started fighting the men, but there was no way
he was going to win. Finally, three men held him
while Thorp came toward him holding up the barbed
wire. “You wear this back to Beckwith. You tell him
if that fence ain’t down by sunset, I’m running my
herd through there.”
Sure enough, Jason came wondering back into
Beckwith’s ranch with barbed wire wrapped all around
him. He was really hurt and suffering. He fell to
his knees in weakness and Beckwith ordered someone
to get the wire cutters. “Listen to me…” Jason
mumbled in a quiet voice. “Thorp said you’ve got
until sundown to…tear down that fence…or he drives
his beef straight through it.”
They cut the wired off of Jason and got him all
patched up. It didn’t take long for him to fall
asleep on the couch. He startled awake when he heard
some noise and called out to Beckwith. The cook came
out to offer Jason some hot soup, but Jason wanted
to know where Beckwith was. The cook told him he’d
gone out to wait for Thorp at the fence. His
daughter had gone too.
Jason told the cook to give him his coat and hat
Thorp ordered his men to do exactly as he had told
them to do. His men started running the cattle
toward the fence as Thorp watched. As they watched
the cattle come, Beckworth’s daughter rode up to
him. “Do you have to be as stubborn as Thorp? Those
men are driving the cattle right toward the fence!”
“Nah. I’ve played poker with that buzzard long
enough to know he’ll fold when the stakes get too
high. Neil, you get back to the house right now!”
But Neil didn’t listen. Instead, she grabbed wire
cutters from the back of the wagon and rode up to
the fence. As the cattle came, Neil started cutting
at the barbed wire.
Thorp and his man saw it, and Beckwith saw it as
well. Thorp worried that she’d be trampled soon.
ran toward her to get her back.
But when she snapped the barbed wire, it coiled
around her father. He fell to the ground hurt as the
barbed wire tightened around him. Neil ran to her
father. She started trying to cut the wired off of
him. “Neil, get out of here!” her father cried
Just then, Jason rode in like a knight in shining
armor. He rushed up to the Beckwith’s and grabbed
the wire cutters from Neil, ordering her to get
back. In one quick snap, he cut the wire, allowing
Beckwith to run out of the line of the cattle.
It was over. Jason met Roy Beckwith for a drink.
“Well, you finally got that drink,” Beckwith stated.
“No cause to celebrate, is there Roy?”
“What time does your train leave?” Beckwith
“Look Roy, I don’t have to go…” Jason started.
“What can you do here? I’m not going to build any
fences here for quite awhile.” He said the fight was
gone. He was amazed and scared at how far Thorp was
willing to go. Thorp, of course was gloating. He
wanted to hang the barbed wire on the wall as a
trophy. “That is if Mr. Beckwith doesn’t have any
“You’ve got no reason to crow,” Jason muttered.
“I whipped him!”
“Whipped him,” Jason mocked. “One battle is not a
war. And it was a long, vicious battle…friend
against friend. You proved that yesterday.”
“I done what had to be done.”
“What’d you do? You
patched a hole in one fence. It’ll be patched up and
more will be strung.”
“Then I’ll punch another hole in it,” Thorp
Jason was angry. “Now look, Thorp…Barbed wire is
the future of the beef business. You can accept
that, or you can fight it and soak the range with
blood and fill the cemeteries.” He said he had lots
of room for cemeteries. “But you’ll still lose,
Thorp. Because post holes can be dug faster than
graves and no man in history has yet stopped new
ideas and new ways, you remember that.” Jason
counted that conversation closed. He turned his
attention to Roy Beckwith. Jason promised him he’d
be back when he was ready to rebuild.
Yep, Thorp had shown his true colors. Not only did
Jason and Beckwith leave the room, but all his men
as well. All the yelling he did in the world
couldn’t convince his friends that he would win. Now
they knew the truth.
*Thanks to Michelle Palmer for writing this episode!
around The McCain Ranch