Bells: Connecting Animals, People, and Land: North America
. . . From East Coast to West Coast . . .
. . . from Handmade to Mass-Produced . . .
“Bells are artifacts of a very simple agricultural system; where people and their animals lived directly off the land. People were totally dependent on the land. It made me think about my own family and how we lived; my own country and how this country developed; and, how the livestock industry developed in North America.”
Where did it start? Early colonists originating from English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish lands settled primarily on the East Coast. With them came their artifacts, including bells. These farms had small numbers of livestock running loose; animals adorned with bells were essential to help farmers find their livestock when they needed to be milked, used for plowing and hauling, going to town, or just general recreational riding. Livestock bells were handmade by individuals, their designs reflecting the maker's country of origin.
Keep moving! From East Coast settlements, people traveled further west into western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. They were landless people pulled west by the dream of owning property. With each war, grants fed this common hunger for land somewhere farther west.
Imagine bells of all types: church, sleigh, school, boat, and even livestock! The Bevin brothers of East Hampton, Connecticut, opened a foundry to manufacture different kinds of bells for a growing nation.
Keep going! Settlers moved into the Mississippi Valley and merged with Livestock operations moving northward from Texas; thus began the range livestock industry. Texas and Mexican cattle and New Mexico sheep flocks, both originating from Spanish and Portuguese bloodlines, helped form the original range heards when cattle and sheep trails start northward. Rich grasslands, incread demand for meat, and new rail lines supported these growing western livestock operations.
How do you keep track of your animals? on open range, herders belled their livestock. The demand for bells skyrocketed! Bell factories cropped up along trail corridors like Collinsville, Illinois, near St. Louis, Missouri, to provide bells for a rapidly growing western livestock and wagon train industry. Joseph Moore, a talented blacksmith, migrated to Collinsville where he established a shop to service growing lumber and mining industries. Moore's business was overwhelmed with requests for bells, and soon his brother, James, joined him in bell making.
The western livestock movement started right after the Civil War. With our country torn up, people picked up and moved west. The land was raw and untamed, and most importantly, unfenced. Bells were a way to keep track of animals moving on open land.
A talented local tinsmith originally from Germany, Christian Blum, purchased the Moore bell business. Blum invented a way to bend sheet steel around a bell form and rivet along the side, thus creating the modern bell manufacturing process.
"I grew up grazing different types of livestock on ranches in central Texas. I learned later in range management that common use grazing—using several kinds of animals together—is good for the land. We always grazed animals together. They didn't go in different pastures. Cattle were mostly grazers, but they ate some forbs or broadleafed plants some people call weeds. Sheep like the broadleafed plants best; but they would also eat grass. The goats like to browse or brush better. With these different combinations, you could get a more uniform use of vegetation. Central Texas was a area where a lot of woody vegetation grew. One of the big problems of ranching was keeping the brush down. The easiest way to do it, and do it eonomically, was using goats to eat and kill the brush."
“We sheared goats twice a year and sheep once a year. At shearing time, we removed the bells. We took the bells off as we penned the animals. The shearers didn’t want to be bothered with taking bells off since they sheared by the piece (or each animal). We’d take all the bells off and hang them up. As a boy, this was part of my job. I’d look the bells over and take out those that were no longer satisfactory. If collars needed fixing, I’d do it.
“The bells didn’t always get back on the same animal which sometimes resulted in some interesting reorganization of the pecking order. But the ewe’s were fastidious, smelling each lamb just to make sure their lamb was by their side.”
"The history of American livestock agriculture was one of people moving west looking for land. These people were mostly farmers, they grew crops to live on and the animals were simply there to support farming.
"Belled animals helped people survive in the earliest settlements and throughout the westward expansion of our young, rugged country."