The Open Range & Stock Laws
By Harold Graham
Mississippi became a state in 1817. The early settlers who came before and after this date (and primarily from the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia), were mainly farmers and brought with them livestock consisting of cattle, horses, swine, sheep, and other animals.
There were no fences. This was not a great issue as long as the state was sparsely settled, but as new settlers continued to pour into the early counties of Wayne, Marion, Lawrence, and Franklin (in particular), officials decided they must do something to reduce the problem of livestock from trespassing  on the property of landowners. The Board of Police Commissioners (the forerunner of the Board of Supervisors) adopted a system of marks and brands. Each livestock owner was to mark or brand his livestock and to register these marks and brands with the Board of Police Commissioners. Needless to say, while this system helped to identify the owner of a rogue cow, it did not solve the problem. Cattle and swine continued to roam at will.
Although a costly and time-consuming process, the only viable alternative to prevent livestock from roaming at will was the construction of fences.
Most of the first fences were made completely of wood, one of the most favorite being the split rail fence. Wood was plentiful in Mississippi when stone was not; therefore, few fences were made of stone.
Many of the early farmers resented the notion of having to build fences. They also often showed a disregard for public roads, often building fences across them. When told that they had to build gates to allow for passage on the road, some of the landowners showed their contempt by building the required gate, but charging a toll for anyone who wanted to pass through the gate. One early traveler through Lawrence County mentions having to pay toll eleven times as he crossed the county.
It was well after the Civil War that barbed-wire fences became common in Mississippi. This new-fangled fence grew in such popularity that by 1900 most of the farming land in Mississippi (well, almost) was under fence. There was always, of course, the maverick farmer who chose to ignore the system.
There was also a prevailing practice of most farmers to turn their livestock out in the fall and winter to forage in the woods and fields. If the livestock wandered onto someone elses property the animals were either returned or boarded for a fee. While this system created in most cases a minimum of animosity, sometimes it resulted in violence. We share such a story with you next.
Hyatt Remanded to Jail Without Bond
Man Who Killed P. A. Jeter Recently Must Remain
In Prison To Await Action of Grand Jury 
A special to the Picayune from Hickory gives the following account of the tragedy which occurred north of Hickory several days ago, brief mention of which was made in this paper last week, and the result of the preliminary trial.
The trial of T. J. Hyatt, charged with killing P. A. Jeter, was concluded here yesterday, and Hyatt was committed to jail to await the action of the Grand Jury. The trouble which led to the killing arose over some stock belonging to Jeter which was taken up by Hyatt some time in the early part of the fall, for which Hyatt assessed damages against Jeter.
Last week Jeter took up some hogs belonging to Hyatt and notified him at the same time that he had done so, and asked him to send and get them. Hyatt went immediately to Jeters house and asked him where the hogs were, when Jeter replied that they were in a stable.
Hyatt then told Jeter to turn them out, when Jeter asked him where his dollar was. Hyatt told him that he had plenty of money and could pay him. Jeter told Hyatt that he had been lying to him all the year. Hyatt drew a gun on Jeter and told him he must not call him (Hyatt) a liar. Jeter called to his wife to bring him his gun, but before she could reach him Hyatt stopped her, and Mr. Carpenter, a friend of both men, told them that neither of them needed a gun, and Hyatt then dropped his gun and went home.
Ira Jeter, a 10-year-old son of Jeter, testified that he and his father were in Hickory Saturday, the day of the killing; that on their way home that afternoon they were overtaken by Hyatt and two of his sons, that Hyatt drove up to their wagon and got out of his buggy, and walked to the side of Jeters wagon, when Jeter asked him what he was doing there. Hyatt replied that he was going to kill him, at the same time firing one shot, which took effect.
The trial was held before Justice of the Peace Leroy Dease, with George C. Tann representing the defendant, and J. L. Hopkins, an attorney of Chicago, and M. P. Foy, of Decatur, representing the prosecution. Several witnesses were introduced for the state and they testified that Jeter was not armed when they reached him.
 Yes, we know that livestock do not understand trespassing, but that does not change the consequences of their actions.
 The Newton Record, January 2, 1907. Thanks to Patsy Gary for sharing this story with us.