Lincoln County officially became a Kansas county in 1870. Early settlers staking their claims and fencing their property lines needed an affordable material to build their fences. In this area of Kansas, near the soil surface, is a layer of limestone rock that is easily quarried and breaks into manageable chunks. Long lines of Post Rock fence posts are still seen today bordering the pastures.
(From Kansas Historical Society article)
In 1862 the Homestead Act opened the way for the settlement of the plains. People with varied backgrounds were drawn to the dream of relatively free land. The fact that much of central Kansas was treeless created numerous problems for early settlers. A significant problem was finding a means by which to enclose portions of the free range.
The area known as “Post Rock Country” stretches for approximately 200 miles from the Nebraska border on the north to Dodge City on the south. The limestone that is found here comes from the uppermost bed of the Greenhorn Formation. It was out of necessity that settlers in the late 1800s began turning back the sod and cutting posts from the layer of rock that lay underneath. By the mid-1880s limestone fence posts were in general use because of the widespread use of barbed wire.
At the time of settlement, most of the communities in central Kansas had at least one man who had learned masonry in the Old Country. Since post rock cutting was generally a community task, others learned the technique as well. In this way the traditional skills have been passed down for several generations.
The limestone itself is found close to the surface and is usually uniform in thickness. One of its greatest attractions is that it is soft enough to shape when freshly quarried but hardens with exposure to the air. The feather and wedge method is most commonly used to remove the stone. A rather modest set of tools is required, often made by the local blacksmith. A drill, a hammer, a chisel, and a set of feathers and wedges are needed. After the soil is removed, holes are drilled into the limestone about eight inches apart. Feathers and wedges are placed in the holes and the wedge is hit with the hammer to split the rock.
After the rock is quarried it must be moved to the site of the fence. The posts are then set in the ground about 10 steps or more apart. They are then prepared for the wire fence. Several methods can be used but perhaps the most popular is to notch the post’s edges to hold the barbed wire after which smooth wire is wrapped around the post to hold the barbed wire in place.
Although an occasional new post rock fence is constructed today, the popularity of this type of fence began to decline in the 1920s when it was no longer cost effective. During the Great Depression, however, the Federal Works Project encouraged the cutting of the native stone. The limestone known as post rock has had many uses other than for the construction of fence posts. The material’s durability makes it an excellent building material. Traditionally homes, churches, businesses, barns, bridges, sidewalks, and even grave markers have been built of the native stone.
Although the popularity of working with the stone has declined somewhat over the years, the tradition has never stopped. There have always been at least a few post rock cutters in the state who not only do repair work on old structures but also help build an occasional new structure. Recently post rock has become a cultural symbol of central Kansas, representing both the land and the people who settled it. This symbolic use of the post rock has caused a renewed interest in this Kansas folk art.