Dispelling the ‘Cattle Guard’ Story

There is a story finding its way around Facebook claiming President Obama and Vice-president Biden are a couple of rubes, who know nothing of the West. Though funny, it isn’t true.

“For those of you who have never traveled to the west, or southwest, cattle guards are horizontal steel rails placed at fence openings, in dug-out places in the roads adjacent to highways — sometimes across highways — to prevent cattle from crossing over that area.

For some reason the cattle will not step on the “guards,” probably because they fear getting their feet caught between the rails.

A few months ago, President Obama received and was reading a report that there were over 100,000 cattle guards in Colorado. The Colorado ranchers had protested his proposed changes in grazing policies, so he ordered the Secretary of the Interior to fire half of the “cattle” guards immediately!

Before the Secretary of the Interior could respond and presumably try to straighten President Obama out on the matter, Vice-President Joe Biden, intervened with a request that — before any “cattle” guards were fired, they be given six months of retraining. ‘Times are hard,’ said Biden, ‘It’s only fair to the cattle guards and their families be given six months of retraining!

And these two guys are running our country.”

The original “cattle guard” piece was simply a joke that more than a few credulous readers were willing to believe as a true story. Where the tale actually began is anybody’s guess, but a February 1995 article took a stab at identifying its putative origins:

The Pinedale Roundup, Pinedale, Wyoming became the latest newspaper to fall for a joke originated in the Billings Gazette.

Gary Svee, opinion editor for the Billings Gazette, said the paper ran the item in a section reserved each Friday for puns and jokes. But believes someone picked it up and ran it seriously.

Svee said he has heard the item had run in numerous papers throughout the West.

Others say it a take-up of a joke from the early 1950s. And this could very well be true.

Former Texas state senator Kent Hance, for example, has been known to tell the following story:

“I was on a ranch in Dimmitt during my high school days, and a guy drove up and asked for directions to the next ranch. I said, ‘Go north five miles, turn and go east five miles, then turn again after you pass a cattle guard.’

As the guy turned around, I noticed he had Connecticut license plates. He stopped and said, ‘Just one more question. What color uniform will that cattle guard be wearing?'”

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