You Just Can’t See Him from The Road

“Ridin’ Fences” refers to the requirement to continually check the condition of the fences that keep the cattle from wandering off on ranches in the American West.

Ranching has long been a business with narrow margins. If a few or many cattle get out of the often very-large fenced-in pasture, they may never be found again because there’s so much empty space for them to get lost and so many opportunities for predators, both animal and human, to make them disappear forever.

Losing or not losing a handful of cattle may be the difference between a narrow profit or a large annual loss for the rancher.

In the United States, a lot has been written about rural poverty in Appalachia, throughout the South, etc. However, there’s plenty of poverty in the rural American West. It’s just harder to find because the empty spaces are so large in many parts of the West. You can’t see the poverty from the road.

As examples, Wyoming has six people per square mile and Montana has seven people per square mile. Each of these states has cities where the population density is much higher on a square-mile basis, so rural population density is much smaller.

Looking at rural counties, Loving County, Texas, had a population of 64 and a population density of .095 people per square mile in 2020. The only community in Loving County is its county seat, Mentone, Texas, which had a population of 15 in 2000 and 19 in 2010.

Mentone consists of a courthouse, two stop signs, a gas station, a post office, and a school building which has been closed since the 1970’s. The reason for the school closure was that student enrollment had fallen to two students.

Loving County, population 64, covers an area larger than the City of Houston, Texas, the fourth most-populous city in the United States.

The City of Houston has a population of a population of 2.3 million residents. The Houston metro area has a population of over 7 million. The only larger US cities are New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Once you get out of Mentone, you can drive a long way without seeing another human being.

4 thoughts on “You Just Can’t See Him from The Road”

  1. It takes something like twenty acres to support one steer in Loving County, TX. I can practically guarantee you, though, that there are more oil wells than people in the county. (Full disclosure: I own something like .0001% interest in an oil lease in Loving County, inherited from a grandfather who was a driller there in the 1930s. Every other year or so I get a check for something like five bucks. This officially makes me an Oil Baroness.)

  2. I’ve lived in a few small towns, but nothing like that. The closest I ever came to that isolation was visiting my father’s relatives in rural WV, where the lack of population has more to do with the geography – hills, and a lack of good roads. WV is a part of the country where people have homes far from employment (many run small farms or travel a long way to work). These people still tend to be mostly self-sufficient.
    The younger people, as always, look to greener and more populated pastures. My own father left rather young (A big factor is that he was running moonshine as a teen dropout, and the gang that he was associated was coming uncomfortably close to getting arrested. He took off for Cleveland to live with his sister while the heat died down. He never returned, except for short visits.)
    The problem of rural poverty needs to be addressed at some point. I don’t know of any program that has had any serious on either rural or urban poverty (both of them come from similar roots – lack of employment, poorly educated population, drug addiction, fractured families, a local dialect that impedes communication with the wider culture).

    • Rural poverty gets swept under the rug these days. Out of sight, out of mind.
      The media doesn’t help anymore, either. Small towns are presented, if at all, as HALLMARK bastions of civility and good cheer.

      The only halfway accurate representation of the plight of small towns I’ve seen recently came in, of all places, the new (excellent) SUPERMAN TV show where he moves the family to Smallville to let his teen sons experience the idylic lifestyle he remembers growing up with only to find a dying town, with people leaving for lack of jobs, stressed families, bored boozy teens. Problems he can’t fix with a good punch. (Surprisingly good writing balancing fantasy with real world challenges.)
      And that’s about it.

      Generally it’s as if rural lives don’t matter.
      Mostly they’re on their own, which can’t go on.
      Change is way overdue.

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