In the late eighteen hundreds, an invention came along that transformed the West. Deceptively simple, it allowed settlers to conquer the vast spaces that had previously defeated them. It was called barbed wire.
Modern ranchers owe a lot to barbed wire. Not only did it allow cattle, sheep and horses to be turned loose one day and found the next in the approximate location where you left them, it gave the fence advocates and the open range proponents all kinds of reasons to shoot each other, thus igniting the range wars and providing John Wayne an entire movie career.
Within a week or so of the first roll of barbed wire arriving on the Plains, the first fence was completed, requiring the invention of the first barbed wire gate. As far as I can tell, the design hasn’t changed since.
Wire gate construction is pretty simple: Drive a post in the ground. Tie a second post to the end of your gate. The bottom of the loose post goes into a wire loop at the bottom of the stationary post. Some sort of wire, rope or chain is employed to tie the two posts together at the top. Like so:
When closed, the gate wire must have a certain amount of tension on it, because even a cow is smart enough to figure out that a gate that sags like your granny’s third chin isn’t going to slow her down much if she puts her tiny little mind to pushing her way through it. Because of this tension, opening and closing such a gate requires that you simultaneously push in on the post and remove the chain from the top.
Given my puny muscles and the amount of tension on the average gate, I have to get up close and personal. Sort of squat down, stick my arm through the gate so I can shove the post with the front of my shoulder while using one hand to assist in pulling the two posts closer together, and the other to pry the chain off the nail whose head is slightly too large for the link that has been forced onto it.
And that’s where the gate hickey comes from.
Nearly all of our gates have chains. And nearly every time I open and close one of them, I manage to catch a pinch of of that tender skin on the front of my shoulder in the chain and come away looking like my husband has an armpit fetish.
Now it is summer. Even here in northern tundra, the temperatures may soon be high enough to go sleeveless. If I were to spend all of my time around other ranch women, there would be no issue. We compare the size, shape, and shade of purple of our little badges of ranch wife honor. Cuss the men who think they need to stretch those gates so freaking tight. Compare horror stories about the time we couldn’t get the gate shut and ended up with yearlings scattered clear to Badger Creek by the time we got back with the fence stretchers.
Normal people require a bit more in the way of explanation. I’m thinking of having something printed on a tanktop: You can always tell a cowgirl by her hickeys.
Or, um, maybe not.