You were told that National Park Mystery Photo 39 depicts "an uncommon configuration of something that is not uncommon." The photo clearly shows barbed wire, but the root problem was to know the configuration. This is certainly not a barbed wire fence!
Actually, the photo depicts part of a large ball of barbed wire on exhibit in the barn at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Anon 10:25 a.m. and Julie were the only two readers to provide the correct answer.
Barbed wire fencing played a vital role in bringing the open range era to an end and promoting the transition to food production on farms and pasture land. Comparatively cheap to erect, it confined cattle to designated grazing areas and kept them away from crops.
In 1876, a wealthy cattleman named Stephen F. Jones established a farm and stock ranch on a large landholding in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas. Originally called the Spring Hill Ranch, Jones’ showcase operation produced crops on 300 acres of fertile bottomlands and grazed fine Hereford, Galloway, and Durham cattle on the lush prairie grass. The Spring Hill (Z-Bar) Ranch eventually encompassed 11,000 acres.
Jones used locally abundant limestone to construct not only a mansion-like ranch house, the biggest barn in Kansas, and other buildings, but also more than 26 miles of stone fences. As the years passed and the Spring Hill/Z-Bar Ranch grew larger, eventually encompassing 11,000 acres, barbed wire fencing was extensively used.
Today, the land and historic structures of the Spring Hill/Z-Bar Ranch are preserved as the core holdings of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, a park that was established in 1996 and tasked to interpret the natural history of the tallgrass prairie, Native American cultural history, and the cattle ranching history of the Flint Hills. The big ball of barbed wire on display in the park's massive stone barn reminds visitors that barbed wire is an important component of the Flint Hills cattle ranching legacy.