A range war is a type of armed conflict, typically undeclared, which occurs within agrarian or stock-rearing societies. The subject of these conflicts was control of "open range", or rangeland freely used for cattle grazing, which gave the conflict its name. Typically triggered by disputes over water rights or grazing rights for this land, they would involve farmers and ranchers. Formal military involvement, other than to separate warring parties, is rare.
Range wars were known to occur in the American West. Famous range wars included the Lincoln County War, the Pleasant Valley War, the Mason County War and the Johnson County Range War, sometimes fought between local residents and gunmen hired by absentee landowners and influential cattle barons.
Range wars in literature and the arts
Range wars have been the subject of movies and stories. Some examples are:
- A range war is referenced as a reason for seemingly beneficial prices being set for the sale of cattle to a railroad in the third episode of Hell on Wheels (season 3)
- A range war was used as a plot in the 12th season of the TV show Dallas.[episode needed]
- Range War is a 1939 movie (featuring Hopalong Cassidy) about a group of ranchers in conflict with a railway company.
- Shane is a 1953 movie (featuring Alan Ladd) that tells the story of a gunfighter taking the side of the farmers against cattlemen during a fictional range war loosely based on the Johnson County Range War.
- The Virginian a 1902 novel by Owen Wister; filmed four times, also based on the Johnson County Range War, but on the side of the large ranchers and depicting the lynchings as frontier justice for cattle rustling.
- Open Range (2003), in which free-grazers take on a cattle baron who tries to use hired assassins to steal their herd
- To The Last Man: A Story of the Pleasant Valley War is a novel by famous Western author Zane Grey concerning the Pleasant Valley War in 1880s Arizona
- Oklahoma! (1943 Broadway musical, 1955 film) Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a cowboy in love with a farm girl, complicated by a rivalry between local farmers and cowboys over fences and water rights.
- El Dorado is a 1966 movie about an aging gunfighter who goes straight to help his drunken lawman friend after a cattle baron hires him to intervene in a range war.
- Heaven's Gate (1980), loosely based on the Johnson County War.
- "The Range War" by Todd Rundgren focuses on a relationship between a boy whose "uncle runs cattle" and a girl whose "daddy runs sheep" and hints at this relationship fueling this particular range war.
- Chisum is a 1970 western movie loosely based on the 1878 Lincoln County War in New Mexico Territory.
- King of Texas is a 2002 American television movie transposing the plot of William Shakespeare's King Lear into the 19th-century American West.
While in previous centuries violence may have been involved, the term can also be used for nonviolent contention for scarce resources, perhaps between ranchers and environmentalists, or between ranchers and fans of wild horses.
Notes and references
- especially prior to the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 which regulated grazing allotments on public land.
- For example, from the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society site CECILIA RASMUSSEN. "Castaic Range War Left Up to 21 Dead". Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. Retrieved 2004-07-04. (sourced from the Los Angeles Times): "The violent, long-running Jenkins-Chormicle feud, which started in 1890 over a boundary dispute, is a colorful and cruel saga — part fact, part myth — of barn burnings, ambushes and gun battles on horseback. It lasted more than two decades." describes a Southern California range war that started in 1890.
- For example, from the U of Idaho Range Management site telling of conflict in Idaho: " Range wars continue, just as they did a century ago, between those who have grazing rights and those who do not. Today these range wars pit ranchers, with state grazing leases, against the environmental groups that are trying to restore the grazing lease areas to a healthy and pristine land. The weapons have changed from the cold steel of a gun to the amount of cold hard cash a rancher or an environmental group will pay for a piece of land."
- For example, from the MSNBC site, telling of Bureau of Land Management policy changes and impacts: "The mustangs' current troubles come thanks in part to another Western icon: cattle ranchers. There are currently 37,000 mustangs sharing public rangelands with several million head of cattle. The result has been overgrazing, exacerbated by six years of drought. To restore the land, the BLM has cut the number of cattle allowed, and ranchers say the horses and burros have to be pared substantially. "If we don't receive relief, and soon, we'll be out of business," Lemoille, Nev., rancher Kenneth Jones"
- For example, the Irregular Times site describes a disagreement among Democratic Party regulars in upstate New York as a "range war". In this case the "unfenced territory" is an election district, and the hearts and minds of Democratic party regulars
- For example, the Mac Observer site characterises the conflict between IBM and the SCO Group as a "range war". In this case, the "unfenced territory" is the Unix/Linux marketplace, and the hearts and minds of technical, purchase influencing, IT people.