The availability of farm and ranch land at low prices was a major draw for settlers in Kansas Territory. Optimism abounded that Kansas would become a favored agricultural region. Many of the Bogus Legislators listed themselves as farmers on the rolls and interest in agriculture was high among them. Without any opposition, they passed an "Act to Encourage Agriculture in the Territory." [House Journal, 297] Nothing came of the effort, however, nor of the free-state "Kansas Agricultural Society" founded in Topeka in 1857. Persistent unsettled political conditions, and a severe drought of 1860 that caused 30,000 settlers to leave the territory, delayed serious efforts at agriculture in Kansas. Agriculture continued at a subsistence level until well after statehood. The Kansas State Board of Agriculture, as part of the state government, was not established until 1872. [Blackmar, History, Vol. 1, 39]

Great Seal of the State of Kansas,
Adopted in 1861.

Agriculture is represented as the basis of the future prosperity of the state by a man plowing with a pair of horses.

Several bills in the Bogus Legislature concerned livestock. An act to control stray cattle was passed [House Journal, 225] as was an act to control stallions running at large. [House Journal, 300] However, a bill to establish a system of marks and brands was rejected. [House Journal, 298] Also rejected by a vote of 17 to 8 in the House was a bill to "Encourage the Destruction of Wolves, etc." [House Journal, 86] Although predatory wolves and coyotes posed problems for Kansas ranchers, bounties were not offered until 1869 and no general legislation was passed until 1877, when bounties were set at $1 for the scalp of each wolf, coyote, wild-cat or fox killed and five cents for each rabbit. [Blackmar, History, Vol. 1, 220]

Grazing land was the subject of two bills. An "Act to Prevent Non-Residents Grazing Stock" was passed, after an amendment requiring all stock brought into the territory have a herder. [House Journal, 179, 262] Transient cattle were fattened on the rich bluestem grasses of the Kansas Flint Hills by importation of steers and heifers from outside the region for the pasture season at least as early as 1856. [Hoy, Cowboys, 5] The grasslands of Kansas became very important after the Civil War as railroads pushed west and cattle were driven up from the southern plains. As many as 600,000 cattle per year were shipped from Abilene to Chicago between 1867 and 1871. [Ham, Rise of the Wheat State, 74]

A second grazing bill, to "Prevent the Firing of Woods, Marshes and Prairies" failed passage in the House, after an amendment in the Council to "allow a person in good faith (to fire) around his own farm, for the purpose of protecting same, so that such firing can be done with proper care." [House Journal, 220] Deliberate burning of old grass to encourage healthier growth with fewer weeds and woody plants was a controversial practice in the 19th Century because of the danger of wild fires. In the early 20th Century, agronomists opposed the spring burn, but it continued as a folk practice in the Flint Hills. Research by Kansas State University scientists at the Konza Prairie Biological Station has now definitely established the benefits of prairie firing. []

"An Act Regulating Enclosures" was passed requiring all fields and enclosures be fenced and specifying how a lawful fence was to be constructed. [House Journal, 225] This statute, referred to as the Kansas Fence Law, adopted a so-called fence-out policy, because the landowner had to construct a lawful fence around his property before he could collect damages from the owner of wayward livestock. If the landowner did not have a legal fence around his land, he could not recover damages. The fence-out policy made sense in 1855; Kansas was an open range and it was more practical and less expensive to fence in small fields of growing crops than to attempt to fence in large herds on the open prairie. If livestock did trespass within a lawful enclosure, the stock owner was strictly liable for damages.

In 1929, a "Kansas Herd Law" was enacted establishing a fence-in policy. Sanctions were imposed against owners allowing animals to run at large. Thus the battle swung in favor of the farmer and against the rancher. No longer could a stock owner allow his animals to roam at large with impunity. Parts of Kansas continued to follow the earlier Kansas Fence Law, however, until 1986 when the Kansas Herd Law was made the uniform law of the state. [Brownback, Kansas Fence Laws, 15]

Charles Clark