Kansas Barbed Wire Museum – La Crosse, Kansas - Atlas Obscura

Kansas Barbed Wire Museum

La Crosse, Kansas

A museum documents the development of the invention that tamed the Wild West. 


What killed the open range of the Wild West? Was it guns? Horses? Gold? Nope. It was the innovation popularly known as the “Devil’s Rope.”

The evolution of barbed wire transformed the western United States from cattle roaming prairies to regulated tracts of private land. As freedom-loving pioneers became cattle-owning entrepreneurs of the Old West, an important question loomed. Were cattle-herders entitled to freely graze their livestock in the vast expanse of the land, or did new landowners have a right to enclose their property?

The invention of barbed wire created a simple, cheap way to fence in private property and to deny access to unwelcome, intrusive livestock. The spiny fence system evolved from crude homemade contraptions to factory-produced apparatus.  This museum heralds barbed wire as the informal law enforcement of property laws laying to rest any semblance of an open range.

The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum was built in 1990 to permanently house the extensive collections of barbed wire amassed by enthusiasts around the country. Operating through the contributions of private collectors around the world, the museum accommodates over 2,000 varieties of the pointy metal wire as well as antique tools and equipment used in its manufacturing process. The museum showcases its extraordinary collection through exhibits, dioramas, a theatre, an archive, and even a barbed wire Hall of Fame.

If that wasn’t enough, every year during the first weekend in May, LaCrosse, Kansas is home to the International Antique and Barbed Wire Supershow.  The supershow is one of many conventions around the U.S. where wire collectors gather to show off, swap, buy, and sell their prickly products and generally bathe in the glory of their razor-edged collectibles. Ouch.

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