You are on page 1of 8

WHi image ID 3142

The treaties provided the legal foundation for the U. Frost himself voices ambivalence on the subject: “Before I built a wall. provide security. regulate trade and agricultural policies. we consider fences an asset to national neighborliness.” he muses.” Treaties in 1825 and 1827 established boundaries between tribes of the Great Lakes region and allocated to the tribes land they already occupied./ And to whom I was like to give offence. “The Mending Wall” ost of us are familiar with Robert Frost’s oft- M quoted phrase “good fences make good neighbors.S. the Ho-Chunk sold a large portion of their land to the United States. and even build unity. . In the poem it is. “I’d ask to know/ What I was walling in or walling out. borders. and even “emotional” boundaries help us to keep order. Perhaps more than ever. they help us restrict illegal immigration and drug trafficking. we believe that fences.” In many ways. a neighbor who declares that good neigh- bors are made by good fences. Yet to conjure Frost’s line from his poem “The Mending Wall” as a reflection of these values is to mis- quote and misrepresent his larger message. government to negotiate land cessions. In 1829.” Robert Frost. in fact. The Ho-Chunk sold the last of their Wisconsin lands in 1837. Of Fences and Good Neighbors What Our Fences Say about Ourselves by Masarah Van Eyck “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. and avert terrorist threats.

org . Steel posts and wire fencing on animals at twenty-five Wisconsin farms in 2005. however. our lifestyles. and this celebrated icon of the northwoods preyed increasingly industrial farm life. From the beginning of European exploration and settle- ment. demarcate the original line fences. monitoring an individual’s access to themselves constructing new kinds of “predator fences” to pro. keep these publicly cultivated animals off of their private land. and the inte- rior fences of his farm. tect their animals from the burgeoning timber wolf population. domain. Today. by default. as John Locke put it. They still century. Today. That means it is once again legal to kill wolves that what they owned—separate and safe from individual or public threaten livestock or pets. And for some residents of northern Wisconsin. How have we defined ourselves. where deforestation restricted the use of wood by the nineteenth century—and further west where it was naturally scarce—wood has remained a common material for the post and split-rail fences that encompassed Wisconsin farms. Beyond separating livestock from crops. woven wire. the cow lane. Unlike in the eastern United States. Cutting all of the stone using a star drill Danish immigrant Hans Hennigsen carved over 150 fence posts and wedges. fishing and hunting licenses. and our environment. He stands near a piece of the fence with his wife. In once sense. W I S C O N S I N M AGA Z I N E OF H I ST O RY Norman Whitford e encounter fences every day—some decorative and W symbolic. we depend on the Department of Natural fences we build. and often wild. however. liberty. and property” in the just last March the U. others starkly impenetrable. these permits serve tain cattle. and chain link fences. mass pro. A Smithsonian exhibition. have varied depending on the resources and labor available. seizing land from its native inhabitants hinged on the European concept of private property. Is it any coincidence that Thomas Jefferson altered the bers have increased from fifty in the 1950s to 500 today. and the electric fences that con. will prompt visitors to consider the ways in which fences reflect our philosophies. some residents of northern Wisconsin are finding as boundaries themselves. fences have been instrumental in shaping Wisconsin’s identity. today the white picket 46 www. for example. and traditional English phrase “life. our public. hands—secured their very happiness. Fisheries and Wildlife Service delisted Declaration of Independence to read “Life. Caroline. and the wolves from the federal list of threatened and endangered pursuit of Happiness”? If. defined a settler’s private property and. Wild animals. historical lit- erature and—of course—fences. heed neither state nor private barbed wire. evolving technology and needs continue to shape the More generally. reveals just how central the fence is to the American landscape. reflecting an boundaries. for colonists. his independence. scheduled to tour six rural towns in Wisconsin from September 2007 through July 2008. Their num. that’s a good duction machinery had begun to enable the widespread use of thing. say. images. the boundary between species.wisconsinhistor y. more and more Wisconsinites live in places that fall Thanks to a successful forty-year wolf recovery program. by what we wall in? How do we define others by what we wall out? The exhibition’s assemblage of tools. Liberty. however. of course. word. That didn’t stop late-nineteenth-century Danish immigrant Hans Henningsen of Leon to fashion over 150 fence posts out of granite. But rarely do we take the time to think about what they mean. Beyond the invisible fences that surround our Resources to regulate the use of public resources through.S. yards and gardens. and our economies. The materials used. as they timber wolves have crossed the Minnesota border and made strive to carve out a home that is private—in both senses of the their home back in Wisconsin as protected wildlife. By the time Henningsen died in 1899. somewhere between wildlands and urban metropolises. Demarcating space and “mingling” labor with the land. Between Fences. Henningsen made the posts—each weighing on out of granite using a star drill and wedges in the late nineteenth average 450 pounds—as long below ground as above. Now some have also allowed farmers to quickly and cheaply fence (and residents are asking who is responsible for building the fences to therefore claim) millions of acres of land.

WINTER 2007–2008 47 . W I S C O N S I N M AGA Z I N E OF H I ST O RY WHi Image ID 49110 Predator fences protect domestic animals from the growing timber wolf population.S. The wolves have increased in numbers to the point of being delisted from the U. Fisheries and Wildlife Service’s federal list of threatened and endangered species.

Now former neighbors may literally be divided on either side of a concrete thoroughfare. geo-political. and the preservation of natural resources for years to and Wisconsin Highways 24 and 100 divided the village come. We continue to relate to our neighbors with our fences— whether personal. Take. their construction also requires— as always—that we continue to ask what we are walling out. These two towns—known col- lectively as “Sauk Prairie” for their geographical setting—ami- cably share municipal resources like a police department and even a school district. Others feel that the individuals who own the land have the right to do what they choose with their property. 48 www. secure a more certain future. recent changes to the landscape have philosophically divided some neighbors who have differing visions for the future. lakeside devel- opment is also causing soil erosion and phosphorous runoff pollution that result in algae blooms and fish kills. as new and extended highways serve as conduits for greater connection to people. are at once seamlessly connected. this provision was included in article IX. for example. how- ever. some fifteen miles from Mil- waukee. When Wisconsin became a state in 1848. and to whom we are like to give offence. other places in Wisconsin. The Chain O’ Lakes in central Wisconsin. they also erect physical barriers not unlike the prover- bial railroad tracks of our past. has recently been divided into four sec- tions by Interstate-894 and highways 100 and 24.wisconsinhistor y. Notes 1. and/or change the quality of the waters themselves. Meanwhile. national. In other parts of the state. today’s fences (and fence disputes) reflect new issues about the protection of land. the regulation of public health and environmental Bird’s eye view of Hales Corners before Interstate 894 quality. W I S C O N S I N M AGA Z I N E OF H I ST O RY Hales Corners Historical Society fence continues for many to embody the American Dream. for example. and wildlife. has seen the number of buildings along its shorelines more than double since 1965. The village of Hales Corners. and yet preserve their distinct identities. However. is testament to the fact that community can be defined and redefined beyond the dictates of walls. resources. Beyond privacy and security. is the “main street” for both downtowns! Still as Wisconsin’s population grows. or conceptual. while erecting new barriers may help us to into four sections. Water Street. While the Public Trust doctrine incorporated into the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 establishes the navigable waters in our state as “common highways and forever free. and economic oppor- tunities. And while Oak Street divides the villages from one another. the growth of private development along . section 1. for example. obstruct views. of the Wisconsin Constitution. such as Sauk City and Prairie du Sac. Now some residents believe that the government should protect these waters (and the fish that live there) with limitations on new developments. water. The strong local identity that persists despite these physical barriers.”1 new lake- front properties can limit public access to lakes. Yet.

Hales Corners retains its local identity. long lost to highway construction. W I S C O N S I N M AGA Z I N E OF H I ST O RY Hales Corners Historical Society Despite the recent physical Hales Corners Historical Society barriers imposed by highway construction. WINTER 2007–2008 49 . Hales Corners street crowded with horses and buggies. The hotel in this photo is the Neusel.

yet preserve their individual identities. 50 www. 1870. which were selected through a com- petitive application process. community centers. Each community will celebrate the Smithsonian coming to town with related events and programs. LaFarge. Sauk Prairie. Hales Corners. For more information.wisconsinhistor y. The exhi- bition will be hosted by small museums. Sauk City and Prairie du Sac are collectively known as “Sauk Prairie. Bird’s-eye view of Prairie du Sac. and Cable. will spend six weeks each in Waupaca. and historic sites. W I S C O N S I N M AGA Z I N E OF H I ST O RY WHi Image ID 51275 22695 WHi image ID WHi image ID 12077 Bird’s-eye view of Sauk City in 1883. a traveling Museum on Main Street exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution. The towns of Prairie du Sac and Sauk Prairie are geographically . ca.” The two communities share municipal resources and a school district. The Smithsonian is coming to a town near you! Beginning in the fall of 2007. Clear Lake. Between Fences.wisconsinhumanities. www. contact the Wisconsin Humanities Council: 608-262-0706.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Masarah Van Eyck holds a PhD in French history from McGill University. program officer at the Wis- The building of the Monona Terrace Community and Convention consin Humanities Council. ca. Private development along shorelines often divides residents with differing visions for the future. She served as the public scholar to Wis- consin’s Between Fences tour during its inception. 1920. Research for this essay (and the accompanying exhibition kiosk) was conducted with Jessica Becker. Center was a controversial use of Madison shoreline. W I S C O N S I N M AGA Z I N E OF H I ST O RY Photo by John Nondorf New bridge dedication in Sauk City. WINTER 2007–2008 51 .