|John Bull Locomotive with a cowcatcher.
Illinois settlers needed to keep their livestock away from their crops and the railroad tracks. On the prairie, trees were scarce and wood was a precious commodity. Building fencing to contain cattle was an expensive proposition. Split rail fences were expensive, $500 ($12,000 today) per mile. A prairie fire would easily destroy the costly fencing, sending all a farmer’s hard work and money up in smoke. Wire fencing at the time was brittle, not galvanized, causing the wire to rust and easily break. In the early 1840’s, a movement to use these thorny trees as fencing began. Illinois was the first of the prairie states that introduced the Osage orange as a living fence. Young trees and new growth on trees have sharp ½ to 1 inch thorns. Thorns, its dense growth when pruned, and its ability to survive extreme conditions are the reasons this tree came to the prairie.
|An example of the Osage Orange or hedge apple tree fencing.
|A dead hedge fence. Note the trained trunks to keep the growth close to the ground.
|Osage hedges on both sides of an old farm road that were neglected and had grown into trees.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.
 Illinois Property Line and Fence Laws. A summary of key Illinois laws relevant to the property line and fence disputes.
Lawful Fence - IL ST CH 765 § 130/2
- Must be 4.5 feet high.
- In good repair.
- Constructed from rails, timber boards, stone, hedges, barb wire, woven wire or whatever the fence viewers of the town or precinct state is appropriate.
- It must be sufficient to prevent cattle, horses, sheep, hogs and other stock from getting on the adjoining lands of another.
- A division fence is one separating the land of 2 or more persons.
- Each person must make and maintain a "just portion" of the fence.
- A hedge fence cannot be more than 5 feet high.
- Two official Fence Viewers will define the portion of the fence to be built or maintained by each.
- In counties under township organization, the board of trustees will serve as fence viewers in their respective towns.
- In counties not under township organization the presiding officer of the county board, three fence viewers in each precinct.
- It is a violation to cut or cause to be cut any tree unless you have full legal title.
- Violators of the act will be liable for three times the value of the tree.
- Utility providers have a right to cut any tree that interferes with service.