Range war
A range war is a type of (typically undeclared) conflict that occurs in agrarian or stockrearing societies. Typically fought over water rights or grazing rights
Grazing rights
Grazing rights is a legal term referring to the right of a user to allow their livestock to feed in a given area.- United States :...

 to unfenced/unowned land, it could pit competing farmers or ranchers against each other. Formal military involvement, other than to separate warring parties, is rare.

Range wars were known to occur in the American West. Famous range wars included the Lincoln County War
Lincoln County War
The Lincoln County War was a 19th-century range war between two factions during the Old West period. Numerous notable figures of the American West were involved, including Billy the Kid, aka William Henry McCarty; sheriffs William Brady and Pat Garrett; cattle rancher John Chisum, lawyer and...

, the Pleasant Valley War
Pleasant Valley War
The Pleasant Valley War, sometimes called the Tonto Basin Feud, or Tonto Basin War, was commonly thought to be an Arizona range war between two feuding families, the cattle-herding Grahams and the sheep-herding Tewksburys...

, the Mason County War
Mason County War
The Mason County War, also called the Hoodoo War was a cattle rustling dispute between German-American settlers and the non-German ranchers in Mason County, Texas.-Background:...

 and the Johnson County Range War, sometimes fought between local residents and gunmen hired by absentee landowners.

Range wars in literature and the arts

Range wars have been the subject of movies and stories. Some examples are:
  • A range war was used as a plot in the 12th season TV show Dallas.
  • Range War
    Range War
    Range War is a 1939 film starring William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy. It was directed by Lesley Selander....

    (IMDB entry) is a 1939 movie (featuring Hopalong Cassidy
    Hopalong Cassidy
    Hopalong Cassidy is a fictional cowboy hero created in 1904 by the author Clarence E. Mulford, who wrote a series of popular short stories and twenty-eight novels based on the character....

    ) about a group of ranchers in conflict with a railway company.
  • Shane is a 1953 movie (featuring Alan Ladd
    Alan Ladd
    -Early life:Ladd was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He was the only child of Ina Raleigh Ladd and Alan Ladd, Sr. He was of English ancestry. His father died when he was four, and his mother relocated to Oklahoma City where she married Jim Beavers, a housepainter...

    ) that tells the story of a gunfighter taking the side of the farmers against cattlemen during a fictional range war loosely based on the Johnson County Range War.
  • The Virginian
    The Virginian (novel)
    This page is about the novel, for other uses see The Virginian .The Virginian is a pioneering 1902 novel set in the Wild West by the American author Owen Wister...

    a 1902 novel by natalie bell; filmed four times, also based on the Johnson County Range War, but on the side of the large ranchers and depicting the lynchings as frontier justice for cattle rustling.
  • Open Range
    Open Range
    Open Range is a 2003 American Western film co-starring, co-produced, and directed by Kevin Costner, based on the novel The Open Range Men by Lauran Paine. Starring alongside Costner are Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, and Michael Gambon....

    (2003), in which free-grazers take on a cattle baron who tries to use hired assassins to steal their herd
  • To The Last Man: A Story of the Pleasant Valley War is a novel by famous Western author Zane Grey
    Zane Grey
    Zane Grey was an American author best known for his popular adventure novels and stories that presented an idealized image of the Old West. Riders of the Purple Sage was his bestselling book. In addition to the success of his printed works, they later had second lives and continuing influence...

     concerning the Pleasant Valley War
    Pleasant Valley War
    The Pleasant Valley War, sometimes called the Tonto Basin Feud, or Tonto Basin War, was commonly thought to be an Arizona range war between two feuding families, the cattle-herding Grahams and the sheep-herding Tewksburys...

     in 1880s Arizona
  • Oklahoma!
    Oklahoma! is the first musical written by composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. Set in Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906, it tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance...

    (1943 Broadway musical, 1955 film) Rogers & Hammerstein musical about a cowboy in love with a farm girl, complicated by a rivalry between local farmers and cowboys over fences and water rights.
  • El Dorado is a 1966 movie about an aging gunfighter who goes straight to help his drunken lawman friend after a cattle baron hires him to intervene in a range war.
  • Heaven's Gate
    Heaven's Gate (film)
    Heaven's Gate is a 1980 American epic Western film based on the Johnson County War, a dispute between land barons and European immigrants in Wyoming in the 1890s...

    (1980), based on the Johnson County War
    Johnson County War
    The Johnson County War, also known as the War on Powder River, was a range war which took place in April 1892 in Johnson County, Natrona County and Converse County in the U.S. state of Wyoming...

  • 'The Range War' (song) by Todd Rundgren
    Todd Rundgren
    Todd Harry Rundgren is an American multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and record producer. Hailed in the early stage of his career as a new pop-wunderkind, supported by the certified gold solo double LP Something/Anything? in 1972, Todd Rundgren's career has produced a diverse range of recordings...

     focuses on a relationship between a boy whose "uncle runs cattle" and a girl whose "daddy runs sheep" and hints at this relationship fueling this particular range war.
  • Chisum
    Chisum is a 1970 Warner Bros. Technicolor western motion picture starring John Wayne, Forrest Tucker, Christopher George, Ben Johnson, Glenn Corbett, Geoffrey Deuel, Andrew Prine, Bruce Cabot, Patric Knowles, and Richard Jaeckel....

    is a 1970 western movie loosely based on the 1878 Lincoln County War in New Mexico Territory.


While in previous centuries violence may have been involved, the term can also be used for non violent contention for scarce resources, perhaps between ranchers and environmentalists, or between ranchers and fans of wild horses.

A range war is also a slang term for a turf war
Turf war
According to Wordnet the definition of a turf war is "a bitter struggle for territory or power or control or rights". For example: a turf war erupted between street gangs; the president's resignation was the result of a turf war with the board of directors. In larger companies Turf wars could...

or disagreement about proper hierarchy or relationship and is often used in a joking manner. The term can be used in politics, or business.
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