Sheriff’s research finds 1905 election approved stock law and closed range

Open range vs. closed range. It is a concept that has been fought over and debated since the early days of trail drives and cattle barons in the 1800s.
Texas is an open-range state, which means just that, livestock owners are not required to fence in their livestock to prevent them from roaming at large. However, there are two exceptions: The passage of local, county-based stock laws and the development of U.S. and State Highways, which have changed large portions of the state from open range to closed range.
Earlier this year an informational meeting on fencing laws raised questions about Montague County’s status as open or closed range. County AgriLife Agent Justin Hansard said they had about 50 people attend a May 10 webinar on fencing laws and those present, including himself, thought Montague County was open-range.
With the answer still not clear, Sheriff Marshall Thomas began researching the issue digging through county records to finally discover a 1905 election that approved a stock law in the county making it closed range, contrary to previous perception it was open.
Landowners in closed-range areas have a duty to prevent their livestock from running at large, usually by maintaining a fence to keep their livestock on their property. In an open-range area it is up to other landowners to put up a fence to keep animals out of their property.
Thomas said while he does not want to put additional hardship on those who have cattle, horses or other livestock, his officers deal with an average of 700 stray cattle calls a year. Time they could be on the street handling calls from citizens.
“My job is to keep people safe and use the money this office is given the most efficient way possible. My guys carry fence repair stuff and we will do it, but that is not our job. However, we also don’t want the animals on the road. I have seen too many get hurt,” said the sheriff.
The commissioner’s court minutes from Aug. 16, 1905 show a petition was presented by M. Webb and 190 others as “freeholders” (landowners) throughout Montague County. The petition asked for an election to determine whether horses, mules, Jacks, Jennets and cattle shall be permitted to run at large in the county.

Read the full story in the mid-week News.

A Cowdex sign posted on a sign indicates the landowner’s registration in the county sheriff’s electronic database of livestock owners. (Courtesy photo)