Barbed Wire

This post is for all of the city folk, who have never encountered a strand of piercing, stabbing barbs of twisted wire. May you never have to! Scroll down to enjoy a crossword puzzle activity to download.

See more Blasts from the Past in Andi’s Attic >>

Andi yanked at the wire with all her might to give Riley the slack he needed to overlap the two cut ends. Even through the leather protection, Andi felt the pinprick of barbs. She moved her hands slightly to avoid the sharp points. Scratched and bloody hands would be the crowning humiliation of her appearance tonight. ~ Chapter 3, Courageous Love

“Pinprick” is too gentle a word to describe being jabbed by barbed wire. It scratches worse than a cat’s claws—more like a cougar’s (mountain lion). Barbed wire comes in huge rolls that can weigh up to fifty pounds. If you lose control while handling this type of fencing, the wire will twang and snap and can even wrap itself around your body. It can dig deeply into your flesh. It pays to be careful when stringing barbed wire.

There’s a reason that Mrs. M can make some parts of Andi’s adventures seem real. She has been scratched and “bit” by this tricky wire. It jumps at you without warning and grabs your jeans. Rip! Scratch! Blood oozes. Ouch! Rusty barbed wire is the worst. Make sure you are up on your tetanus booster before clearing out old barbed wire (which is sometimes buried under old grass and dirt).

That is probably more than you wanted to hear about barbed wire. When Andi is pricked, Mrs. M winces. She can feel it. She and barbed wire are NOT friends. I bet you’ve never thought much about barbed wire. If you live in the country, you see it all the time but don’t pay it any mind. If you live in the city you don’t see it and don’t care anything about it.

But barbed wire was one of the more important inventions of the 1800s. Why? Why would anybody invent something so vicious to a person’s hands (even through leather gloves)?

Before the Civil War, the West was wide open. Livestock moved freely, with all ranchers’ cattle mingling. They were rounded up and separated a couple times a year. After the war, with more settlers moving west, ranchers needed to set boundaries. Other types of fencing were horribly expensive or not available (like the rock walls and hedges back East). Farmers in the Fresno area spent $4,000 ($75,000 in today’s dollars) on lumber to erect wooden fences to protect 2,500 acres of wheat from free-ranging livestock. A cheaper method to keep cattle contained was needed.

In the 1860s, Joseph Glidden wanted to invent a durable wire fence with fixed barbs (smooth wire fences did not keep the cattle contained). He and a friend used a grindstone to twist two wires together to hold sharp barbs in place. The invention was a hit, and the first patent was issued in 1867. One fan of this new fencing wrote, “It takes no room, exhausts no soil, shades no vegetation, is proof against high winds, makes no snowdrifts, and is both durable and cheap.”

He summed up barbed wire well. It is still the most popular wire fencing today. Cattle and other livestock respect it. Their thick hides prevent serious injury from brushing up against the barbs. Small farmers jumped for joy when they learned that an effective way to keep the big ranchers’ cattle out of their fields had been invented.

Barbed wire fence. Great for cattle. A no-no for horses!

It is not the best fencing for horses, however. They can be injured much more easily with barbed wire than cattle are, sometimes becoming entangled in a broken fence (from thrashing against the pain). In that rare case, there is little that can be done to extract the horse until it has exhausted itself. Humans can also be seriously injured while working with barbed wire. However, proper clothing and slow, careful movements can prevent the sharp, stinging “bites” of barbed wire. 

This is a close-up of a barb. A machine twists them into place at intervals along a length of wire fencing. This type of fencing is quite effective in keeping livestock enclosed. It is inexpensive and simple to put up. It only requires posts (wooden or metal), the barbed wire, and staples or wire attachments. In the 1800s, many posts were cut from young pine trees of the proper diameter. Today, T-posts are driven into the ground and the barbed wire attached easily with a special tool. Mrs. M has strung her share of barbed wire. It’s not hard, only tricky to avoid getting pricked.

Barbed Wire Crossword Puzzle

Click on the image to download and print out this crossword puzzle about barbed wire (PDF file). Answers to the puzzle can be found in this post.

Published by Andi Carter

I'm the main character in the Circle C Adventures series. I live on a huge cattle ranch in 1880s California. These are my adventures.

38 thoughts on “Barbed Wire

  1. Ouch! My family has barbed wire around our property and I accidentally rubbed my arm against it. Not fun at all!


  2. Ouch! 😬
    I’m clicking on the image for the crossword puzzle, and it’s saying the file is not found…🤔


    1. I wanted to have one every month, but I just can’t this month. Too many things going on with the contest stories (reading until my eyes crossed), and trying to fill in the “blogging” posts. I don’t do prize-related posts so close together, and this week is a character quiz. So the next what am I is in May.


  3. Ouch!
    I’m definitely a part of the city folk, but I can imagine that an encounter with barbed wire is not pleasant XD


  4. Yeah, getting caught in the stuff is not fun. I’ve ripped holes in so many pieces of clothing (and sometimes my skin), more often than I’d like.


  5. My poor younger brother accidentally tripped and sat in some barbed wire once. He had little scratches all over the back of his legs.


  6. Man, I’d rather shimmy through an electric fence than barbed wire. I’ve got so many lacerations and holes ripped in clothes…you’d think after a while I’d find a different way around. *shrugs*

    I won’t. Still faster to go through.


    1. Hmm… I dunno. I don’t much care for hot wire either. Have you ever forgotten it’s there and walked into it head on? I did. Right at forehead height over a gate. Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the ground. Shudder.

      Those were the days when the hot wire was a strand of wire, not the nice big white stuff you see today. Eeks!

      I guess I vote for barbed wire. It is tricky to climb through but if you have a partner it’s not so bad. Lol


      1. Oof. Yeah, I’d probably take barbed wire over that…

        Our electric fence is braided wires and plastic cord, I think. I don’t actually mind getting shocked. Maybe it’s just not juiced enough, or I’m masochistic. 😜


      2. Yes, our daughter’s family ranch use that. You can actually see it!

        In my day, I had to tie plenty of little flags on the wire so the goats could see the danger. That’s how I ran into it at head level. We strung it over the gate into the chix pen for convenience cuz that is where the wire was hooked up to the box. Boy, but I was very careful after that.


  7. ouch!!!!
    I have been blessed to never been tore apart by barbed wire. but I have definitely been close enough to it to risk it. When we were down in Belize (a country my family and I are going to be missionaries in) it is everywhere. People string it up all over the place to protect themselves against thieves.
    So I may have my share sooner than I’d like 😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Did you know that barbed wire is actually easier for animals to see?
    Because of the barbs and twists it caches the light making it to show up better than smooth wire.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A while back one of my sister’s friends lost control of her four wheeler and crashed into a barbed wire fence. She was basically alright but had lots of scratches on her face and arms and she also sprained her ankle pretty bad.


  10. The only times I have been scratched or have riped my closes on barbed wire is when I’m not paying attention. But barbed wire isn’t really dangerous if your paying attention.


  11. I live on a ranch, so I’m surrounded by barbed wire every day, all day. It’s not dangerous as long as are aware of it.


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