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Barbed wire and netting fences are used by ranchers to keep their cattle from straying and certainly to keep deer from invading, but in the early days of Fredericksburg settlement, farmers and ranchers had to build their fences a little differently.
Rocks in a field were a problem for early farmers, and so were livestock getting into the field. It didn’t take the German long who had settled Fredericksburg to figure out they could use those burdensome, heavy rocks to build a fence. It was a good solution, or the best they had at the time. It was after all, back breaking, dangerous work to build a 2 to 3 foot wide by four and half foot tall rock wall that extended around large fields and Hill Country homesteads.
Domingo Sanchez of Fbg, now retired, worked with rocks most of his career, and he is one of the few people still alive who knows how to build a pure hill country rock fence, without help from mortar support from posts and wire.
In fact, he oversaw the building of this fence, an exhibit here at the Pioneer Museum. It may not be the most exhilarating or captivating of exhibits, but there’s no discounting its relevance to the story of how earlier generations of families made a living out of this hardscrabble, limestone earth.
Today, many of these rock fences are crumbling or altogether gone. They have been replaced by wire and often dismantled to use their parts for new structures or fireplaces.
But the reminance of rock fences – some reconstructed, and some untouched, are still seen in the hills and vallies around Fredericksburg.
They are a silent, formidable reminder of the resourcefulness and rock hard resolve of pioneering ancestors.
The base rocks needed to be big and heavy for fence stability, and lifting them from the field, transporting and placing them just right was clearly back-breaking work, especially without tractors, backhoes, skidsteers or flatbed trailers.
And then there are the predators that like to live in these rock crevices – poisonous creatures that can end your life or just bring you to your knees, at a time when medical care was far away — if effective at all.