Famed cattleman Charles Goodnight established one of the first ranches in the Texas Panhandle, the JA Ranch, in 1876. Later that year, Thomas S. Bugbee established the first cattle ranch in Hutchinson County.
As a result of soaring beef prices cattle ranching proliferated in this region of the U.S. in the 1880s. The Texas Panhandle, with its open range and expansive grasslands, became the preferred winter grazing site for cattle migrating south from Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas. This seasonal influx of cattle disrupted the practice of area ranchers who went to great lengths to respect adjacent ranch boundaries.
Members of the Panhandle Stock Association pooled their resources and in 1882-85 erected barbed wire barriers along a 200-mile stretch of the Panhandle including Hutchinson County to prevent cattle from drifting south into the fertile Canadian River Valley.
The "drift fence" worked too well in the winters of 1886 and 1887 when thousands of cattle moving south ahead of strong storms stalled at the fence line and froze or were trampled to death. The staggering losses prompted federal and state legislation which limited fencing on public lands and the "drift fence" was removed or incorporated into private ranch fencing.