Devil’s Rope and John Warne ‘Bet-a-Million’ Gates

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Tony Maples Photography


If you’ve ever climbed through a fence in Texas and left a little bit of your clothing behind, you can thank John Warne “Bet-a-Million” Gates for popularizing devil’s rope to the Lone Star State. A patent for barbed wire was granted on November 24, 1874, to Joseph F. Glidden of DeKalb, Illinois with the design as fencing material of barbs wrapped around a single strand of wire and held in place by twisting the same strand around another. This style was and is the most commercially successful version. Gates became a salesman for barbed wire after his mother realized she was related to Glidden’s wife and wrote a letter asking for an interview for her son.

Devil's Rope and John Warne 'Bet-a-Million' Gates

Photo: Facebook/Salsrandomphotos

After coming to Texas and finding that the majority of ranchers were not buying barbed wire, Gates decided to make an impression. In 1876, in Alamo Plaza, downtown San Antonio, he conducted an incredible demonstration in which a fashioned corral of Glidden’s wire successfully restrained a herd of provoked longhorn cattle while Gates reportedly touted the product as “…light as air, stronger than whiskey, and cheap as dirt.” The resulting orders were for more wire than the factory could produce.

Devil's Rope and John Warne 'Bet-a-Million' Gates

Photo: Wikipedia/John Warne Gates

Gates was rumored to believe life was a series of bets and his nickname is based on one embellished story from his extensive gambling activities, noting he had won $2 million in a horse race by betting $1 million. He also had a purported habit of keeping a vest pocket full of unset diamonds to appease his wife when poker games went too long into the night.

A very successful businessman, Gates had various interests in steel companies, railroads, pipelines and a refinery, a bank, hotel, and so on, amassing a fortune and influence along the way.

Devil's Rope and John Warne 'Bet-a-Million' Gates

Photo: Facebook/The Offical Devil’s Rope Barbwire Museum

He died in Paris on August 9, 1911, and his widow made considerable charitable contributions in his name, many of which can still be found in Port Arthur, some still bearing the Gates name.

John Warne “Bet-a-Million” Gates could thank Texas for igniting his career. You can learn more about his legacy and barbed wire by visiting the Devil’s Rope and Route 66 Museum in McLean, Texas.