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 money?”
“No thanks,” the cowboy answered. “What’s it called?”
“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 grass?”
“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 was.
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 saloon.
“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. Beckwith 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 farmers.”
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 Thorp.
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 away.
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 side.”
“Same there has to be two sides,” Jason commented. “It is Beckwith’s land. He’s got a right to fence it.”
“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 buy off.”
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 men die!”
“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 come.”
“Seems this is the kind of ranch where the boss sets the pace,” Jason commented after walking into the barn.
“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, Mr. Thorp.”
“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 here.” 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 deny that?”
“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 right away.
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. Beckwith 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 desperately.
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 answered.
“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 objections.”
“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 declared.
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.

Barbed Wire ― Cast

Next ― Yellow for Courage

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*Thanks to Michelle Palmer for writing this episode!

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