On October 9, 2023, a complete human skeleton was found along the 12000 block of Camp Bowie West, near the westernmost edge of Tarrant County. As the crow flies, about a mile from my home.
Initially thought to be fake or maybe even a Halloween prank, the skeleton was confirmed to be of human origin, and the sheriff stated that the deceased’s remains went unnoticed for so long because it lay in “an area not visible to business patrons or passing drivers.”
Call me morbid, but I decided to find the site, because I was curious to see exactly where the skeleton had turned up. There was an old, abandoned Chevron gas station and convenience store in the vicinity, and the caretakers kept nailing up plywood over the store’s broken windows to keep the homeless out. At some point, at least five years back, someone had spray-painted “EAT THE RICH” in 2-foot-tall black letters on the plywood, and I wondered if that was where the body was found. It wasn’t, and I felt relieved. The graffiti made me smile, and if that kind of graffiti makes you smile or gives you hope, you have to keep your head low.
But it was still heartening.
In 1875, barbed wire came to Texas, but back then, Texans were Texans — not ranch family bootlickers, so as fast as the ranch families (whom many viewed as carpetbaggers) put up the barbed wire during the day, Texans — in assorted groups across the state — sneaked out at night and cut it down.
You see, real, authentic Texans considered the frontier to be communal property, especially since putting up fence lines could be the difference between life and death. Barbed wire fencing denied public access and cut off crucial routes to critical water sources for people and livestock. And water was scarcer then than it is now.
The battle against the partitioning off of the Texas frontier — which the good guys lost — became known as the Fence Cutters’ War. A fascinating sequence of events in Texas history, it culminated in the ranchers poaching Texas Rangers to patrol their fence lines and, quite possibly, the development of the first IED. In 1888, a former Ranger rigged dynamite to blow up would-be fence line saboteurs. Heck, it was illegal to carry fence cutters in your pocket in Austin until 1973.
But let’s get back to the rich.
I don’t know if many Texans knew who Jean Jacques Rousseau was in the late 1870s, but plenty were definitely of the same mind, even if Rousseau was a Genevan political philosopher who’d been dead for over a century. Rousseau’s insights helped shape the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, played a vital role in the French Revolution, and largely contributed to the development of modern political, economic, and educational theory. Translated, of course, he once observed that “when the people have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.”
In 1754, Rousseau wrote a paper in response to a competition sponsored by the Academy of Dijon answering this prompt: “What is the origin of inequality among people, and is it authorized by natural law?” In his treatise, Rousseau argued that private property is the source of inequality, and it was later published as Discourse on Inequality. He’s perhaps better known as the author of The Social Compact (1762), but kudos to Rousseau on his first effort. No matter how much Social Darwinists argue that inequality is justified by natural law, it’s a bald-faced capitalist prevarication (usually espoused or dimly groused about by balding, red-faced misers or aspiring misers). As American novelist and cultural critic Daniel Quinn so perfectly lays out in his Ishmael trilogy, the terribly flawed, remarkably shortsighted and wildly culturally biased worldview driving modern human civilization is leading to the destruction of the natural world. And in Quinn’s My Ishmael, he explains why, observing that the world is full of “Leavers” and “Takers.” The primitive, tribal Leavers base their existence on sharing and sustainability. The Takers see themselves as rulers, consider the world their oyster, and insist the planet’s resources are theirs for the taking (and hoarding).
The Texas fence cutters were Leavers. The big ranchers were Takers — in fact, they often fenced in more than what was theirs. And as big as Texas is, it’s simply a microcosm of the macrocosm. Billionaires and corporate conglomerates around the world are contemporary Takers.
This is why the nod to Rousseau at the boarded-up old Chevron station, now a derelict curiosity, made me smile. It meant that a few folks had paid attention in their history and social studies classes and remembered learning about the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Act, both of which were aimed at outlawing monopolies (howdy, Amazon!) and preventing commercial entities from unfairly restraining or limiting competition (howdy, Walmart!).
Most Republican and Democratic politicians seem to ignore these laws today, which begs credulity, because the Sherman Act was signed 15 years after barbed wire was introduced in Texas. And our political representatives are supposed to be in the business of looking after the American people, not the trust fund set.
All this to say, I sincerely doubt that the skeleton recently discovered along the 12000 block of Camp Bowie West belonged to one of the Takers, the rich, or one of Taylor Sheridan’s righteous, put-upon Yellowstones or King ranchers. I bet you dollars to donuts it was a lost Leaver.
They’re much easier to prey upon and profit from preying upon.
And history will probably place that on our epitaph.
Fort Worth native E.R. Bills is the author of Tell-Tale Texas: Investigations in Infamous History and several other books.
This column reflects the opinions and fact-gathering of the author and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. He will gently edit it for clarity and concision.