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Split Rail Wood Fences: A Brief History Lesson

Split rail wood fences have a rich history and play a fascinating role in the American story.

To many American artists, the split rail fence design is the perfect symbol for the West’s transformation from open cowboy country to farmland. 

Since the construction of split rail wood fences requires little more than nails, a hammer, a wood splitter and timber (and some early split rail fences didn’t even require nails), they were easy for pioneers to erect. Plus, split rail fencing could be built from nearby materials and could be erected on hard, uneven ground. As split rail fences went up across the country, they cut off the rangelands that were crucial to the cowboy way of life. Scan the works of painters Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russel for early examples split rail fencing.

How Split Rail Wood Fences Won the Presidency for Abe Lincoln

American voters like to elect “common man” candidates – those who have a working-class background and can understand the plight of the average citizen. Savvy to this fact, Lincoln’s cousin John Hanks made a sensation at the 1860 Illinois state convention by striding in carrying split rails Lincoln had hewed himself back on the family farm. A banner labeling the presidential candidate “Abe Lincoln the Rail Splitter” sealed the intended conclusion – that Lincoln was a man of the people, not an elitist. His reputation as a builder of split rail wood fences certainly contributed to Lincoln’s ascension to the highest office of the land.

American pioneers appreciated the simplicity of split rail fencing, but modern wood fences can be far more sophisticated. Here’s some of our work featuring other types of wood fences.

Source: ricksfencing.com

Wes Lowry
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