“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.