James F. Hoy



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With this study the cattle guard joins the sod house, the windmill, and barbed wire as a symbol of range country on the American Great Plains. A U.S. folk innovation now in use throughout the world, the cattle guard functions as both a gate and a fence: it keeps livestock from crossing, but allows automobiles and people to cross freely. The author blends traditional history and folklore to trace the origins of the cattle guard and to describe how, in true folk fashion, the device in its simplest form—wooden poles or logs spaced in parallel fashion over a pit in the roadway—was reinvented and adapted throughout livestock country. Hoy traces the origins of the cattle guard to flat stone stiles unique to Cornwall, England, then through the railroad cattle guard, in use in this country as early as 1836, and finally to the Great Plains where, probably in 1905, the first ones appeared on roads. He describes regional variations in cattle guards and details unusual types. He provides information on cattle-guard makers, who range from local blacksmiths and welders to farmers and ranchers to large manufacturers. In addition to documenting the economic and cultural significance of the cattle guard, this volume reveals much about early twentieth-century farm and ranch life. It will be of interest not only to folklorists and historians of agriculture and Western America, but also to many Plains-area farmers, ranchers, and oilmen. Description Jim Hoy is professor emeritus of English at Emporia State University, where he also directed Center for Great Plains Studies. Hoy is the author of numerous books about cowboy life, including Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales from the Tallgrass Prairie and My Flint Hills: Observations and Reminiscences from America’s Last Tallgrass Prairie. With a New Preface by the Author. This Kansas Open Books title is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Program.



Publication Date



University Press of Kansas


xx, 234 pp.


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© 1982, 2021 by the University Press of Kansas. The text of this book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License.

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Open Access

The Cattle Guard: Its History and Lore