Visualizing Borderlands: The Devils Rope

The last few weeks I have been working on a project for one of my classes, Visualizing Borderlands, that challenged us to think about how to visually represent a border. Along with my group-mates, Claudia Ojeda and Naren Roy, we decided to use barbed wire (or what the Native Americans call “Devils Rope”) to show “the control, entrapment and genocide of both Buffalo and Native Americans in the US West, focusing specifically on the Lakota people given their connection to the animal.” To do this, we 3D printed skulls of bison, humans, fences; bought fake barbed wire; and laser cut a map of the land-loss for the Lakota Tribe and bison. Take a look at the photos below, and I’ve included background information and sources at the bottom:

Barbed Wire as a historical, genocidal object

  • Barbed wire has long been used as a symbol of division and has aided in many instances the oppression of people, animals, land, and more. 
  •  Barbed wire was used during the US expansion into the the West in the 1800s
    • Used as a tactic to trap cattle (usually cows or buffalo/American bison).
      • This restricted the animals and eventually harmed the Native American populations that depended on them. 
    • Barbed wire caused “The Cowboy Wars”.
      • Farmers were expanding into the West and used barbed wire to fence up their territories and their cattle, clashing with the cowboys, who would cut up the fences with wire cutters as protest.
  • It was ideal for the West because of the vast prairies and open land. 
    • Trapping cattle would ensure they didn’t destroy crops.
  • The barbed wire trapped the Bison, as well as Native American tribes in the West, since it forced them Westward, and for centuries since it would restrict the land they had access to. 

History of the Lakota People and Bison

  • Bison hunters in the West become prominent in the 1870s
    • Legend of Buffalo Bill (which I know everyone heard growing up…)
  • The animals lose their ability to openly graze the land, and they also become more susceptible to being hunted for sport.
    • They were physically injured by the barbed wire too, with many often getting stuck and dying in it.
  • This alters Native American tribes too, since not only do they lose land, but they lost a sacred and essential animal for their way of life.
  • The Lakota people were one of the populations most affected by this, as they considered buffalo a sacred animal given to them by the Great Spirit Wakan Tanka
    • They use every part of the animal
    • Buffalo were integral for commerce
      • Hair, fur, and skins used in goods
    • Central part of all Spiritual rituals; there are usually Buffalo heads or symbols present
    • Main source of meat for the Lakota people
  • As barbed wire and settlers entrapped Buffalo and Native Americans, they were also systematically destroying the way of life for both populations. 

Landmark events:

  • 1871: the Indian Appropriations Act: President Grant’s “Peace Policy” that said Plains Natives should be treated as wards of the state instead of as autonomous nations
  • 1873:  barbed wire becomes a patented design by a man named Joseph Glidden.
    • Patented: Since its creation in the late nineteenth century (specifically 1874), barbed wire became very influential in the political landscape of control, particularly in the ways it delineates space and borders.
  • 1829-1870: Westward Expansion: Farmers were expanding into the West and they needed a way to fence off their private territory, so they used barbed wire. This ended up causing a “war” among cowboys in the West, but there were terrible long term effects on buffalo populations and Native Americans.
  • 1873: That very same year, then-President of the U.S. Grant decides to veto a piece of legislation that could have had the potential to prevent the mass killing of Buffalo 
  • 1879: United States Geological Survey helps to institutionalize and Facilitate this Westward expansion (classified public lands and mines, focused on $$)


  4. Razac, Olivier., and Olivier. Razac. Barbed Wire : a Political History New York: New Press, 2002.
  5. 99% Invisible Podcast episode 157 called The Devil’s Rope
  6. Infographic/Comic by Andy Warner
  14. U.S. Population Density:
  15. Barbed Wire “changing” the West

2 thoughts on “Visualizing Borderlands: The Devils Rope

  1. > Begin forwarded message: > > From: “Press (Duckworth)” > Subject: Duckworth Urges Biden Administration to Take Swift Action on Military Hunger > Date: January 29, 2021 at 3:41:43 PM CST > To: “Press (Duckworth)” > > > FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE > January 29, 2021 > Contact: Rachel Huxley-Cohen, > > Duckworth Urges Biden Administration to Take Swift Action on Military Hunger > > [WASHINGTON, DC] – Combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) who served in the Reserve Forces for 23 years, is urging President Biden to take action to address discrepancies that contribute to perpetuating food insecurity in the military by blocking servicemembers from qualifying for certain federal nutrition assistance. > >


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