Osage Orange History
The Poor Man's Fence (Osage Orange)
Each wrote with fiery eloquence when deeply stirred, but where Wright was never able to stick long enough to a subject to master its intricacies, Turner was a patient scientist.
Both were mystics, called "cranks" by their neighbors. But, while Wright went no further than the field of ecstatic prophecy about cities and regions, Turner believed in spiritualism and mental telepathy and wrote pamphlets on metaphysical subjects. Wright urged farmers to solve their problems by their own efforts; Turner experimented on his own farm in Jacksonville, studying insects with a microscope, analyzing soils, rotating crops, and inventing farm implements. His was among the first of the mechanical corn-planters, and he took out patents on various weeders and cultivators.
Public morals interested Turner far more than Wright, and the professor's pen flayed the Mormons most intemperately in one of the several pamphlets he issued. Another of his publications assailed Slavery with true Abolitionist fervor. Wright, craving national unity, favored keeping Slavery where and as it was.
Turner courted Wright's favor and made The Prairie Farmer the chief medium for his campaigns for progress in fencing and education.
Some 20 years after his arrival in Illinois, Turner described in Wright's paper how "from the first time I rode over these beautiful prairies for some thousand miles on horseback and kept sometimes on my saddle for a pillow—without food or blanket—I have never had but those two ideas in my head… But two things were needed for this State to make it the very first State in the civilized world, viz.:
(1) Prairie Farmer, March 1852(2) The more he saw of the prairie, the more he "was led to see the utter impossibility of a proper social organization of society, so long as the want of fencing material compelled the people to form broken and scattered settlements on the margins of groves and streams, while all within was left a solitary waste. I then thought that the greatest moral, intellectual, social, and pecuniary benefactor would be the man who should first devise some feasible mode of fencing. Accordingly… I commenced a series of experiments with hedge plants.” (2) (3)4) Like a man possessed, he began filling the acre and a half, which he owned, with whatever plants might conceivably turn out to be the "poor man's fence," anything that might prove "horse-high, bull-strong, and pig-tight." (5)(6) He scoured the agricultural papers, the botanical encyclopedias. He wrote to friends in all parts of the country. He talked to everybody he saw. By 1852, he had tested in succession and found wanting the black locust, the thorn locust, the black walnut, the poplar, cottonwood, mulberry, privet, gooseberry, sweet briar, crabapple, wild rose, English thorn, Alabama rose, Scotch furze, arbor vitae, and several native American thorns.(7)(8) Then, one day in the summer of 1835, when he had been sitting in a camp meeting in Pisgah, IL, God had seemed to come to his assistance. (9)10) Turner had been, like the rest of the congregation, bored almost beyond endurance by the tedious sermon of a formal, broad-clothed, orthodox cleric from New York. Indeed, the young people had slid off the split-log benches and had stolen out in the woods, presumably to pick blackberries. Turner's mind was always impatient with the "over-educated." It strayed, too, and as the long afternoon wore on, he was in the midst of a daydream when a dusty, disheveled, and almost ragged man caught his eye. The fellow was striding up the grassy aisle of the open-air meeting with a worn shoe on one foot and a tattered boot on the other. Assuming the man to be some vagrant blundering into the wrong place, Turner reached out and stopped him. (11)(1) Hedges by Prof. J. B. Turner, Prairie Farmer, November 1847 (1)(2) But even as he did so, the elegant preacher stopped his monotonous lecture and, springing down from the crude pulpit, rushed to take the stranger's hand and then to introduce him as the Rev. Dr. David Nelson, head rider of the circuit of Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri. Led to the pulpit, the famous divine began speaking, the congregation woke up, the young people deserted blackberries and Cupid, and soon the benches were full. For three hours, the people sat spellbound as Nelson warned them of hell and promised salvation. (3)(4) When the service was done, Turner took Nelson home with him, and they talked far into the night. "I expressed my views to him freely," Turner recalled later on, "especially as regards the social and religious advantages of closer settlements among our Western people." Turner explained why he was hunting so desperately for a hedge fence. Had Nelson, in his travels, seen any plant that might possibly serve? (5)(6) "He told me," said Turner, "he had seen a plant in the wilds of the far South, which, if it could be procured and acclimated, he had not the least doubt would answer our purpose." The only trouble was that the old circuit-rider couldn't remember the name of the plant, and, for the next four years, Turner wrote everybody who might know of it, sending letters right and left "both in the United States and Texas." Finally, he saw in an agricultural paper an article by Colonel MacDonald of Alabama on a hedge called the "Maclura." It sounded like the Reverend Nelson's plant, and, writing to the Colonel, Turner procured "one simple remembered for which I paid, I think, one plant as dollar." (7)(8) "The moment I saw it, I was satisfied it was precisely the thing if it could be made to stand the climate and not run up at the top or sprout at the root." (9)(10) Setting out a hedge of the precious plants in 1839, he watched and tended them with passionate zeal, saying nothing about his hopes, however, and waiting, like a true scientist, for proof before he made any announcement. (11)(12) Up in Chicago, John S. Wright, knowing nothing of Turner's experiments, had come upon a description of the same plant in an old magazine and had immediately seized upon it as the thing that might well solve the great problem of fencing the prairie. (13)(14) While preparing copy in the autumn of 1840 for his first formal issue of the Union Agriculturalist, he had spent days, scissors in hand, studying the back numbers of Eastern farm papers. A sentence caught his eye in the Hartford Silk Culturalist, the organ of the faddists who had been caught up in the "Silk Mania"—a dream that the States could become a nation of silk producers, with worms feeding on mulberry leaves all summer in the backyard and surrendering long threads of silk to farm women in attics all winter. (15) (16) The magazine, in discussing various substitutions for the mulberry, mentioned that there might be splendid worm food in the foliage of the Osage Orange, or the Maclura, as it had been scientifically named for its "discoverer," Dr. William Maclure, the geologist. As President of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural History, surveyor, and explorer in the United States, Spain, the West Indies, and Mexico, McClure had, in 1825, made vain efforts to start an agricultural school at the communal colony in New Harmony, IN, so near the great prairies of Illinois.(17)(18) The Maclura was a native of Arkansas, where the Indians called it “Bow Wood” because its branches made tough and spring hunting weapons. The French, passing through the region, called it "Bois d'Arc," a name soon corrupted by American settlers into "Bowdark." Since the plant was of the mulberry family, the hope that it would feed silkworms was only as vain as was the "silk mania" itself. What was important to Wright was that the Horticulturist's article declared, in passing, that the Osage Orange trees, "when set at a distance of 15 inches asunder, make the most beautiful as well as the strongest hedge fence the world, through which neither man nor animals can pass." Reprinting the item in his January 1841 issue, Wright asked, “Can anyone tell us more of this tree?... it seems well-adapted... and if any has been used in Missouri or elsewhere, it would a great favor to have an account of it furnished to us.” (19)(20) There was no response. In the May issue, he printed a description he had found in another old magazine and added, “It seems to be most excellent material for hedges, and, if there is seed to be obtained anywhere or if anyone can give directions for procuring it, I should very much like to have it.” Almost a year later, when farmer B.F. Lodge in Edgar County wrote that he had been trying it out, Wright passed the information on to his readers with the observation, “Ever since the first number, we have been trying to learn something relative to the Osage Orange but hitherto without success.” (21)(22) Even when such authorities as Solon Robinson wrote to him that “Hedges will never fence the prairies; they are too subject to blight,” Wright answered in the March 1842 issue that the critics were talking about their imported hedges. He, himself, was convinced more strongly than ever that the right hedge would be found among the native shrubs. “Our views of its practicability and importance to the West are not changed; we still think it is to be our chief means of fencing.” (23)(24) When one farmer suggested the cottonwood, Wright declared that “something not quite so old-maidish would look better”; the cottonwood had “too much primness and mustn't-touch-me sort of air.” Month by month, he printed settlers’ descriptions of their experiments with many kinds of picket, paling, log, and board fences, finding each a failure because of the same old shortage of lumber. For a time, high hopes were held for a system of earthen ramparts fronted by the deep ditches—sized from foot to crown, but the intrepid “land-shark” hogs went up and over the battlements with the same triumphant flourish of a pigtail that Wellington’s grenadiers had given in the Napoleonic Wars. (25)(26) With the advent of J. Ambrose Wight in 1843, Wright concentrated on educational news, and his associate, for a time, did nothing more aggressive than publish the letters of farmers who kept up the struggle to find the right fence. (27)(28) When Charles H. Larrabee, later a judge in Wisconsin, stopped in at the Prairie Farmer office one day late in 1844 and handed over some Osage Orange seed, saying that he had seen it growing in Arkansas and that it would be, “a good hedge for Illinois and Wisconsin,” Ambrose Wight planted the seed near the office but neglected the plants when they came up, and they soon died. Furthermore, that same year, Wright visited Turner’s home in Jacksonville and saw the progress the Professor was making with the Maclura but failed to be impressed. A born conservative and a narrowly religious man familiar with the controversies which plagued his friends, the orthodox clergy on the frontier, he was not one to be sympathetic with a “rebel” and possibly a “heretic” like Professor Turner, who, that year, was quitting Illinois College and the ministry because both seemed too reactionary. (29)(30) Ambrose Wight had already settled upon the buckthorn hedge as his candidate for the honor of fencing the prairies, and he was probably offended at Turner’s decision that it wouldn’t do. (31)(32) Turner, himself, was not ready for publicity on his experiments and, as late as December 1845, was telling The Prairie Farmer readers that, while he had proved the Osage Orange would stand the northern climate, he wasn’t yet convinced the plants would “grow close enough together to form a good hedge.” And he held to his refusal to endorse the Maclura even though a storm of requests for seed poured in on him following his December article. His scientific soul must be satisfied. (33)(34) That he was depending upon Wright’s paper as his medium was indicated by a letter he wrote on December 1, 1846, to Augustus H. Higgins of Petersburg, IL: “The Prairie Farmer is the only journal of education published in Our State, so far as I know; it is issued, as you are aware, from Chicago; and, aside from its department on education, it is one of the best agricultural papers in the Union and the only one I know take.” (35)(36) Through 1846 and ’47, he kept trying to stop the rush of the curious by informing them through The Prairie Farmer of his inability to yet assure them the hedge would stop the rapacious razorbacks. He told them how he had sent to Texas for two million seeds in ‘47 and how these had all come up in ‘48, giving him enough plants to complete the enclosure of some 12 or 13 acres. That year, he sent for enough more seed to equip eight Illinois nurserymen, making them promise first that they would sell to the public at $5 to $10 per thousand—no more, no less. Three or four years before, the price in the East had been $500 per thousand but had now fallen to $12 since various Eastern agricultural journals had begun recommending the plant to farmers. (37)(1) Turner Letter, Illinois State Historical Library(2) Turner in Prairie Farmer, August 1848(1)(2)(3) Never had Turner “been able for one moment to persuade himself that the beneficent Creator had committed the obvious blunder of making the prairies without also making something to fence them with... and if all men should fail for a hundred years to come and make the discovery, I should still believe that God had somewhere on this continent produced a shrub which he designed especially for the purpose of fencing the prairies.” (4)(5) By August 1848, he was telling the paper’s readers that Osage Orange “is that shrub and the greatest blessing ever introduced upon the farms of the West,” and, in the November number, he announced he was now ready to sell plants at a price that would permit the fencing of 80 rods for not more than $15. The minimum for “a good post and board fence” built at a point remote from timber was put by one correspondent at $100 for a similar distance. So rapidly did seed pour into the country that Turned advised Prairie Farmer readers in the October 1853 issue that the price was now down to a point where 80 rods of Osage Orange would cost only $7.50 as against $75 in either rail or picket fencing. Moreover, if a rail fence escaped the prairie fires, it would still wear out in 12 years, whereas the Maclura fence, if trimmed with a “splasher” (half a mile a day by green hand, a mile a day by an expert), would be stronger than ever at the end of 12 summers. (6)7) “I now write,” Turner told the readers of that October issue, “with my eye resting upon a hedge four years old... on the public street through which thousands of mules and wild Missouri steers, hogs, and sheep are driven each year, and all the stock of this village runs at large. And Pharaoh of old knew what a starved town cow was.” Behind this hedge lay all Turner’s fruit trees and gardens, yet “the wild Missouri steers will not throw it down or bulge over in droves... as they used to do every year before I had a hedge.” (8)J.G. in Prairie Farmer, April 1855
Now that it was established, he proposed that it be called just “The Prairie Hedge Plant” since “it is our plant—God made it for us, and we will call it by the name of our “green ocean home.”
That Turner should be hailed as the “father” of the sensational discovery irked Ambrose Wight, and, in the June 1855 number, he declared, “it is perfectly ridiculous to assert, as many are in the habit of doing, that this or that man introduced the Osage Orange as a hedge plant.” Going back across the files of the paper, he was able to show how John S. Wright had begun the agitation for it and how often his columns had discussed it before Professor Turner had made his appearance in print. He thought Alexander J. Downing, writing in his Horticulturalist, an Eastern publication, had made the plant a national sensation by commending it along with the buckthorn in February 1847, and that a wealthy Ohio horticultural zealot, William Neff, had made the first “extended and accurate experiments.” Professor Turner, he admitted, had “undoubtedly done more than any other man to get it to the notice of the farmers of our State” due principally to “his elegantly written articles” which “were put forth in the columns of this paper.”
Neither Wright nor Turner took official notice of the controversy which ensued, with champions of the latter snowing Ambrose Wight under the facts and arguments supporting the general belief of the farmers that it had been the Professor who had given them the fence which was destined to be one of the major reasons for Illinois increasing its population more than 100% in the decade of the ‘50s—rising from eleventh place among the states in 1850 to third in 1860.
Ambrose Wight was in no frame of mind to do Turner justice, for between them had risen still another issue—the Agricultural University, which, like the Osage Orange, John S. Wright, the editor, had first suggested for the prairies and which Turner, the practical experimenter, had more recently made his own project.
Among the countless agricultural inventions in the 1850s and ‘60s was this elaborate machine for husking corn—ingenious.
The genus Maclura contains about 12 species native to North America, with the rest in tropical America and Africa. The genus name Maclura is after William Maclure (1763-1840), an American geologist, while the species epithet, Pomifera, means bearing pomes or apples in allusion to the large, spherical fruits.
Maclura Pomifera-Bodare Us, Bodark, Bodeck, Bodock, Bois d’Arc, Bow Wood, Geelhout, Hedge, Hedge Apple, Hedge Plant, Horse Apple, Maclura, Mock Orange, Naranjo Chino, Osage, Osage Apple Tree, Root Wood, Wild Orange, Yellow Wood
Drying and Shrinkage
Legends of the Longbow: A Complete Set of 29 Vols.
These volumes are so pristine that each one is still protected by bubble wrap inside its original, individual, corrugated cardboard shipping box. Covers and spines are of dark green leather. Front covers have bright gilt, blind-stamped lettering, decorative rules, and an illustration of a Robin Hood-style longbowman. Spines have bright gilt, blind-stamped lettering, decorative rules, an arrow, and a miniature version of “Robin Hood,” e.g., Decorative eps have a repetitive pattern of the miniature longbowman. These were “A Limited Edition of One Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty Copies.”
- Archery by Longman and Walrond
- A Study of Bows and Arrows by Saxton Pope
- The Witchery of Archery by Maurice Thompson
- Target Archery by Robert Elmer
- Archery, the Technical Side by Hickman, Nagler, and Klopsteg
- Toxophilus by Roger Ascham and Archery, its Theory and Practice by Horace Ford
- Turkish Archery by Paul Klopsteg and Modern Methods in Archery by Reichart and Keasy
- Book of the Longbow by Robert Elmer
- Hunting the Hard Way by Howard Hill
- Wild Adventure by Howard Hill
- Archery by Robert Elmer
- Hunting With the Bow and Arrow by Saxton Pope
- American Archery by Robert Elmer
- Fred Bear’s Field Notes by Fred Bear
- The Archer’s Craft by Adrian Hodgkin
- The Book of Archery be George Hansard
- Sagittarius by Bob Swinehart
- The Complete Book of the Bow and Arrow by Howard GilleIan
- Ishi in Two Worlds by Kroeber
- A Bibliography of Archery by Lake and Wright
- The Grey Goose Wing by E.G. Heath
- The Adventurous Bowmen by Saxton Pope
- Ye Sylvan Archer, Vol. 1
- Ye Sylvan Archer, Vol. II
- Ye Sylvan Archer, Vol. III
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- Ye Sylvan Archer, Vol. VIII
- Ye Sylvan Archer, Vol. VI
- Ye Sylvan Archer, Vol. VII