The "Bovine War"

An Episode During the Settlement of Vineland

Previous to the settlement of Vineland, the farmers of this section and those across the Maurice river had been free to turn their cattle, hogs and sheep loose to graze where best they could, that being their only mode of subsistance during the summer months. This habit proved disasterous to the early Vinelanders whose unprotected gardens fell ready victims to these half wild creatures. Unable to erect fences and all remonstrances being laughed to scorn by the cattle owners, the men of Vineland, on the 15th of May 1863, formed an association called "The Cattle League", the members of which, when petitions were utterly disregarded, after posting printed warnings to that effect, began shooting the trespassers until so many had paid the penalty, that their owners became convinced, if not of the error of their ways, at least of their judgment, and shut up their cattle.

Although those once so bitterly opposed to the confining of their cattle necessitated by the no-fence system (which long since has become a law by special act of Legislature) are now its best friends, at the time it caused feeling to run dangerously high, and was known locally as the "Bovine War."

We print a copy of the paper drawn up by the Association with a list of its signers, together with one or two extracts from reports of it written later by two members.

Vineland May 15, 1863 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 and to bear our equal proportion in all expenses concurred which will be made by the assessment of the committee.

Chas. K. Landis
Joseph Rollins
H. Z. Ellis
J. E. Fuller
Jethro Sowle
J. C. Parsons
H. B. Merrill
Lorenzo N. Sage
A. S. Hall
Chester P. Davis
George Pearson
James Chance
F. Allen
Pardon Gifford
Wm. Webster
James McMahon
G. H. Smith
John C. Ulrick
Andrew B. Hathaway
Geo. W. Pryor
Charles Mathews
James Beacham
Chas. H. Clark
David M. Leedham
John Gibson
Nelson Stephens
John Robbins
Sylvester G. Linnell
Richard Tregale
Samuel Tregale
John H. Haswell
Douglas W. Barker
Henry Stratton
Geo. E. Deming
P. Laurence
R. H. Hodgdon
Wm. P. Anthony
Soloman Howland
Wm. A. Morgan
A. J. Hamilton
R. C. Sykes
T. W. Collins
Chas. A. Boynton
James Stuart
John Dennery
Edward Dennery
H. M. Holbrook
W. W. S. Holbrook
Edw. Dowling
J. R. Kuns
John W. Snyder
C. C. Gifford
D. C. Jenkins
B. D. Stuart
J. L. Kuhns
Justin H. Loomis
Wm. O. H. Gwynneth
Joseph Wilder
A. G. Warner
Arthur McGliney
G. Corlies
E. H. Impson
H. Collins

Report on the "Bovine War" in Vineland, 1863-4

Your Committee on "The Bovine War" would respectfully report, that the early settlers in this place were troubled with the aggressions and plunder of stray cattle of surrounding sections. As immediate protection by fencing was impossible they finally made war on the cattle themselves.

This war. to be known in history, as "The Bovine War" was commenced by express authority of God and Nature, for it was for self-protection. 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; so, taking warning from the past, and, as fencing was out of the question, the next best thing was to be sought,-which resulted in calling a public meeting. It was thought best to give ample notice, by means of hand bills to all the surrounding country, that cattle, running at large, after such a date, would not be tolerated. A league was then formed, and each one of its members, was to share the expense of any law suit that might follow taking care of cattle in a summary way.

This may be looked upon as an unjustifiable way of fencing. But when it is considered that the setttlers had no pounds, or proper officers, short of Millville to whom they could apply for the redress of grievances, provided we should succeed in impounding one of the stray creatures, or cattle, the case presents a different aspect, and further it was not at all likely the cattle could be caught, for they are the fastest stock in Jersey and nothing but a bullet would catch one of these Jersey "lightening expresses."

Your committee does not pretend to say what was done to this stock, but in many parts of the settlement there was a great stench, and the buzzards were seen to hover over many places, and cow horns and hoofs were found scattered thereabouts, and if a jury had been called to sit upon the carcase of a defunct brute its verdict would have been death from "vultures" It was by no means certain, though, that the said vultures ever took life.

But hunger knows no law. The wrath of the old inhabitants generally was great for they had never heard that people had no right to let their stock run at large and said we had better beware as they would shoot the individual that injured their stock, or would shoot down their Vineland animals when the owner was driving them along the road. But the Vinelanders escaped. Whether the outsiders became convinced that cattle were missing by fault of a bird, or whether the animals died a natural death is not known, but the result wished for was obtained, and our gardens though without fence escaped the depredations of the previous year.

G. W. Pryor

"There are many incidents connected with the "Bovine War" * * * it may be safe to state one or two, which will be found to be strictly true, although names are withheld.

Some of the owners of stray cattle pushed the war so ferociously as to meditate violence and death to settlers. One of the oldest citizens states that frequently he was aroused at night by cow bells, and on one occasion arose and carefully looked about and through the timber saw the form of a man, with a bell ringing away to decoy the settler out, it is supposed, within shooting range. The settler was not decoyed-but lives to tell the story. With others, however, he was accustomed to watch all night to protect his property. A neighbor of his stated that he shot one animal dead, and another came to smell his fallen comrade, and the settler popped him over, and so on until two or three cattle laid piled up.

Another settler was firing away at the moving kine, but his piece failed to go off. He snapped two or three times in vain, and meanwhile an owner of the cattle suddenly emerged from the woods, and shouted, "For God's sake don't shoot my cows!" It was about this time the cattle owners began to desist. The stench of their dead animals taught them the consequences of pushing an unjust raid on the defenceless settlers."

A. G. Warner