Barbed wire was important in Vandalia history

It has been my good fortune to meet other "history-minded" people, such as myself, during my forays into the history of Fayette County and her people.
One of these was the late Emory Meador who, from time to time, would loan me newspaper clippings and books that he thought would interest me. One of the books was titled, “The Barbed Wire 111 Bible” by Jack Glover.
This was one of the most unusual books I had ever seen, and my first thoughts were: "Why someone would write a book about, of all things, barbed wire? And how in the world did the author get enough information to fill not just one book, but three?
Five hundred and sixty-six types of barbed wire, with date of patents and patentee, are illustrated in the book, along with various tools used to stretch, strain and splice the wire. A brief introduction places the first patent for an actual barbed wire as being filed in 1867.
There is an Illinois connection here, in that the earliest patentees were mainly from Illinois and Iowa. Joseph Glidden of DeKalb has been credited with having the earliest design of barbed wire in 1872. However, Mr. Glover’s research has uncovered earlier patents.
On the Western prairies, as well as in our area, the thorny, thick-growing Osage Orange was planted in hedgerows and proved to be a useful fence for livestock. In fact, this tree was the inspiration for barbed wire. These "living fences" of Osage Orange trees can still be seen around our county.
Let’s take a step back into history and focus on what it was like in Vandalia and Fayette County in the 1830s, 35 years before barbed wire.
In Vandalia’s early years, cattle foraged at will on the Public Square, where the old capitol building now stands. On busy market days, the town cows – as they were called – treated themselves to the goodies from the backs of the farmers' wagons.
This, in turn, caused tempers to run high among the farmers, who filed numerous complaints with Vandalia’s city fathers.
A cow might be tethered at night, but was left to its own devices during the day. In 1859, it was reported from Vandalia “floors have been stolen [from the old capitol building] and horses, cattle, mules and sheep…and perhaps a few fleas and varmints,” intermittently inhabit it.
In our early history, hogs were left in the woods to forage and were fattened in the fall on the mast (acorns and nuts).
Each spring, men would enter the woods in search of litters of pigs. A man would earmark any pig, which could not be identified as belonging to another, with his personal mark; a combination of crops, slits, holes and underbits.
In 1857, at the time of my great-great grandfather’s death in Washington County, listed among his goods and chattels were “seven hogs in the woods” valued at $5. By this, we know the practice of free ranging went on for some time.
To prove ownership, his mark would have been filed with the clerk at the county courthouse. John Haley was the first in Fayette County to file his mark, a swallow-fork and underbit on the right ear and swallow-fork on the left ear. His cattle carried a brand of "JH" on their hides. Both of these marks were filed on April 24, 1821.
Of the 23 people who recorded marks and brands the first year of county organization, half filed a brand as well as a mark.  These people comprise the very foundation on which Fayette County’s history is built.
The mark of the widow Elizabeth Thompson consisted of crop and swallow-fork. In 1818, she was hired by Frederick Hollman to sew bedclothes and act as housekeeper at Vandalia’s first inn.
Hollman’s employer, Ferdinand Ernst, whose colony from Hanover, Germany, was one of the largest to arrive on America’s shores, filed both a brand and mark, as did Robert Blackwell (Illinois’ first state printer), Barnet Bone, Richard Brazil and Revolutionary War veteran Henry Ginger, to name a few.
We have come a long way from cows grazing on the Public Square; a long way from leaving hogs in the woods to forage…all thanks to barbed wire.

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