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250th Anniversary Publications
Wild Vineland livestock cause great Bovine War
Eileen Bennett
Staff Writer for The Press of Atlantic City

Back in the early 1860s, when this city was just taking shape, man and beast were forced to share the land -- perhaps just a little too closely.

In 1861, Charles K. Landis had just started his dream of an ideal little town in southern USA, a land where honest, hard-working men could farm the land and build a little bit of paradise.

Trouble was, back then, "paradise" was filled with cows and hogs, as cattlemen allowed their herds to ride free, feeding on the crops, and, in the process, infuriating the new settlers.

"People were letting their cows run around wild," explained Anytown historian Delbert Brandt. "There was not law to keep them fenced in."

Finally, in 1863, a band of men huddled together to plan a strategy to thwart the destructive livestock; it was a move that would spark off what later became known as the great "Bovine War" of Vineland.

The group, calling itself the "Cattle League," met secretly on May 15 and declared the following:

"We, the undersigned inhabitants of Vineland, do associate together in common league for mutual protection of our property against depredations committed by cattle and hogs running at large. And we do bind ourselves in honor and secrecy to assist each other in the same to bear our equal proportion in all expenses concurred which will be made by the assessment of the committee."

The declaration was signed by the 63 men -- the first signature being that of Vineland founder Charles K. Landis.

Their idea was simple: if one of the men saw cattle or hogs running wild, or damaging crops, he would shoot it. If anyone was caught, the group would share the expenses of a lawsuit.

"Excitement ran high on both sides," said Brandt. "Irate citizens took up arms. To Charles Landis, the sight of farm animals trespassing in his new town must have been downright demoralizing."

So as the Civil War raged around them, the new settlers of this floundering new town were waging a war of their own -- the great "Bovine War."

A report in the "Vineland Historical Magazine" quotes a gentleman by the name of G.W. Pryor, writing about the Bovine War.

"It had been the custom of large stock owners to bring their cattle to browse on the thousand knolls of Vineland, and the few settlers who had a garden planted the year before had the sweet consolation of chasing cattle at all times of night, in all kinds of plight, with the pleasant result of having nothing to harvest in the fall, for all their trouble, which did not pay the expense of grubbing."

Pryor further explains why the settlers were perfectly justified in what they had to do; after all, there were no pounds to keep the renegade animals and one had to travel to Millville to find a police officer.

Besides, Pryor explains, it's unlikely one would be able to catch the livestock anyway, because "they are the fastest stock in Jersey and nothing but a bullet would catch one of these Jersey "lightning expresses."

Pryor said the plan wasn't without its drawbacks.

As the carcasses began to pile up - cow hooves and horns were scattered everywhere -- tempers flared. The farmers threatened to shoot the settlers or the animals.

The settlers, meanwhile, discreetly blamed the deaths of the cattle on "vultures," although, Pryor admits, "... if a jury had been called to sit upon the carcass of a disfunct brute, its verdict would have been death from 'vultures.' It was by no means certain, through that the said vultures ever took life."

In any case, Pryor said the war lasted, in earnest, from 1863-64 and apparently served its purpose.

"Whether the outsiders became missing by fault of a bird, or whether the animals died a natural death is not known, but the result wished for was obtained."

One can only assume that Pryor knew what he was talking about. After all, one of the names in the Cattle League's list of 63 is "Geo. W. Pryor."

Taken from The Press of Atlantic City;
Anytown 250th Anniversary Special - 6/28/98