Good Fences

by Maurice Tindall, December 4, 2013

One of the things from the past that we pass by every day and pay very little attention to is our fences here in Anderson Valley. Many are over 100 years old and still doing a good job enclosing property and keep­ing livestock where it belongs. Some are rails and others are pickets and the long rows march steadily up over the mountains, mostly on survey lines from an earlier day.

Names like Jonathan O'Neill and Ves and R.E. (Emmet) Donohoe and Monte Bloyd of Anderson Valley are inscribed on many of the corners and some of the roads in the Valley and in the mountains around. All the lines were carefully run and corners established and they will last for all time. Back in the hills is the same except that little fencing was done except on claims taken up for homes with a few acres of tillable soil or a good spring.

Sometimes rough mountains and heavy brush or tim­ber made natural barriers to livestock and fences were not needed.

When the first settlers came in of course there were no barriers of any kind. The Indian people had no need for fences having no livestock, but they had geographical boundaries around areas claimed by each tribe or family and those boundaries were highly respected. There was little if any trespassing without permission. We hardly do as well nowadays.

Maybe we can look back to the time when the first white people came to Anderson Valley having walked or packed in from where Cloverdale is now some 30 or 40 miles east. There was no lack of feed, grass and clover grew high in all the open ground and in the fall there were plenty of acorns and pepperwood nuts. The horses could be hobbled and would stay near Camp, but the cattle had to be guarded against straying or possible harm by bears or panthers. Any seeds that were to be planted would need to be protected.

That first few days on arrival at the home site must have been very busy as some kind of shelter was put up and the stock and supplies unpacked. Then a spring for water was dug and cooking places set up, all of which needed to be done more or less at once.

The first fence was usually a line of brush. Trees or brush were dragged or fallen into rows and connected to any high banks or gulches where stock would not pass.

These brush fences and corrals did serve for a short time but better fencing was soon needed. After the brush came pole fences where fir or redwood poles were avail­able and they could be dragged into position by horses or even by manpower if horses were not at hand. There were few if any crosscut saws at that time, axes were used to cut logs and poles into suitable links for fencing. No doubt saws soon became available but we no longer recall just when it was.

Years ago uncle John Crawford told me about clear­ing land on the ranch at Largo. That was about 1875 or 1880 and he was a young man. There were lots of big old oaks in the fields and they were gradually cut down to clear the land for farming. The trees had to be cut into lengths for burning and all work was done with axes. Those big trees took a lot of chopping and the work was done over a period of years and when other farmwork was not pressing. The work was hard and had to be done by the young and vigorous men.

It has been said by old-timers that one reason oaks were so plentiful was that the squirrels planted acorns and other nuts and then forgot where they put them. I know they filled hollows and trees with nuts for the winter.

Uncle John Crawford also ate and harvested the buck­eye. They were much larger and nothing ate them but squirrels although the Indians did use some of them. They know how to cook the poison out of the meat. It was funny to watch a squirrel run with one of those big nuts, its jaws would hardly reach. The redheaded wood­pecker gathered acorns also and all fall they would go back and forth in their swooping flight from the oaks to the dead tree tops where they stored the acorns. Some­times in the winter a squirrel would climb up to get an acorn and the woodpeckers would raise a big fuss.

About 1885 my father worked there and at that time or soon after the remaining oaks were cut for railroad wood but saws were available by then. The wages were $.75 a day plus board for a full 10 hour shift. I remember when I was small, the long ricks of wood down at the depot.

In Anderson Valley most early fences had to be made of poles cut with an ax. But a few years after settlement saws were brought in and there was a choice of good splitting trees. It split so easily that most of their houses were made of split boards with poles for framing. It was fortunate for the Valley that redwood timber was nearby and plentiful so that pickets could be made.

Most roofs were made of split shakes of course. I have one bundle of shakes I've been keeping for spares. There are a few left but it is doubtful that there is a shade tree left anywhere around here. On the old Tom Edwards placed on Indian Creek which we later acquired the cabin, all the sheds and outbuildings were made of split boards and they were almost as straight and true as if they had been sawn.

When the crosscut saw came to the Anderson Valley an era of permanent fencing began both picket and rail. Early saws were not very useful. They had some teeth and were very short and hand a loop on one end to put a stick through as a handle. Then saws with raker teeth came into use and they were necessary for soaring red­wood logs of any size. Wedges were used mostly for hardwood and axes continued to be used.

Fence rails were about 14 feet and maybe 4x5. The pickets were a various sizes according to the preferences of people but typically they were 1-1.5 x 2 and about six feet long. Some people figured by making them a little wider they would cover ground faster and there was some merit in that.

Pickets were driven about two to the foot on average. Some picket holders used the width of a shoe for a space measurement between but of course that varied up or down hill. Range fence would have more space between pickets than field fence. For sheep and cattle pickets could be wider apart than four hogs.

The rails could be zigzag but it took more land and rails to do it that way so the favored way seemed to be in a straight line, especially along roads. In that case poles would be set at each link and wired together. Some peo­ple drilled holes in the posts and fastened them together with wooden plugs. ¥¥

 

                To be continued.

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