Gates left open, ones that were found closed on approach, have been an
ongoing issue in ranch country for more than a century. 


In 1897, a New Mexico state law was written levying a penalty for leaving a
gate open. The fine was to be not less than $5 and not more than $10. In
1919, the law was amended and the misdemeanor crime came with a stiffer
penalty of not less than $10 and not more than $25.

Obviously the law was put in place because people were as disrespectful
about another man's business as they are today. Somebody was leaving the
ranch gates open causing untold issues with escaped or lost cattle. 

Barbwire, sometimes referred to colloquially as "bob wire or bobbed war,"
was invented in the late 1860s and followed by as many as 570 patents for
additional "improved" versions.

The "devil's rope," hated by some, sought after by others, was a highly
effective tool that quickly became the fencing method of choice. As it
worked its way to the West, it impacted life in that era as dramatically as
the telegraph, windmills and the railroad.

With fencing came the necessary gates. Anyone that has ever had to figure
how to open a well-constructed barbwire gate can attest to the difficulty
that can be built into it. 

Generations of skilled fence builders, in my opinion, focused more on making
sure the gate was impossible and impassable than on the function for which
it was intended. This reasoning comes from years of needing to get through
gates that required practically dismantling the gate in order to open the
portal it guarded.

However, certainly not all of them earned a reputation for that level of
difficulty. And in that was born the problem of the gate left carelessly
open by some unknown soul who either didn't know better or didn't bother to

And so, a law was written to address the crime but the financial penalty
changed nothing.

So 114 years later in 2011, the issue was again before the New Mexico state
lawmakers. House Bill 391 was introduced and ultimately signed into law by
the governor, thereby enhancing the penalty for leaving a gate open. 

Should outlaws, renegades or thoughtless idiots running the back roads of
New Mexico ranch lands leave a gate open, they can be fined not less than
$250 and not more than $1,000. However, as in the century preceding, the
process of enforcement is almost impossible and/or non-existent. 


The litigious society we live in mandates the effort. Livestock let loose as
a result of a gate left open can put motorists in a life and death
situation.  A collision with livestock causing injury or death to a roadway
motorists could result in not just the economic loss of livestock to the
rancher, but financial liability for damages for the Department of
Transportation. It's simple economics.

Ranch kids are ingrained from birth to "shut the gate." No questions asked,
no discussion. They walk, talk, eat, breathe and shut the gate. It's part of
life. The penalties for not doing so are quite unpleasant. They often go
hand-in-hand with witnessing the destruction or loss caused by that simple
failure to follow that cardinal rule.

My suggestion would be, if in fact you can catch the culprit and prove that
he did it, to give him the same punishment universal to ranch kids
throughout the millennium. 

A good swift kick in the pants is cathartic for the giver, and if
administered with proper skill, is quite memorable for the receiver. Instant
gratification and not a lawyer in sight. 


Julie can be reached for comment behind a closed gate at
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