May 18, 2010

Cattle Rustlers - A Risk for Every Rancher

The sun begins to glow orange in the western sky as you climb onto your horse, mind racing to the week ahead and the upcoming cattle drive, or the delicious meals prepared by your ranch cook.

You scan your herd of cattle as you give your mount one last pat before you head home.

"Those calves are filling out nicely," you think. "They should bring a good price at the auction."

But you won't get to find out.

Someone else gets to your herd before you do—all but that gangly old heifer, too stubborn to follow the thieves and the rest of the herd.

You're a victim of what most folks fear but don't think will ever happen to them. You've been hit by cattle rustlers.

And you're not alone....

So begins a common tale for ranchers, both in the past, and even still today. Rustling, no matter where or when or why was and always will be considered stealing. It was a common threat every rancher faced, regardless the size of his herd. That's why cowboys and ranch hands were often sent out to ride the range and check the herds. Counts were taken often, brands were carefully applied, and most ranchers or cattlemen looked out for each other.

That is, as long as that cattleman wasn't the rustler himself.

And there were times when the rustlers would modify existing brands on cattle to hide their theft or brand unmarked cattle, then claim them as their own. Still, the most popular form was outright theft and subsequent sale for profit.


Quite often, cattle thieves were hung if they were caught. Or shot. But in the event the law was involved, the thieves usually spent a few years in jail, paid hefty fines and were usually dismissed from the community with posters hung sporting sketches of their faces so others could be on the lookout for them.

Back in the days when cattle rustling laws were first enacted in the 1880s, stealing someone else's cattle was a hanging offense.

Times have changed and so has the punishment. Cattle rustling, called larceny of cattle in the law books, is a third degree felony and unlawful branding is a fourth degree felony. Smith faces up to three years in prison for the larceny of cattle charge and up to one and one-half years in prison for the unlawful branding charge, if convicted and sentenced to the maximum amount of prison time allowed by the law. Beside the four and one-half years in prison, he also faces up to $10,000 in fines.


Here are some tips to help avoid possible rustling infiltrations on your ranch:
  • Check on your cattle as often as possible at different times of the day.
  • Vary feeding times and locations, and whenever possible, avoid pen feeding the animals.
  • Don’t build working pens directly off main roads.
  • Always brand your cattle. Unbranded animals are very difficult to find, particularly when they get mixed with similar breeds at the sale barns.
  • And most importantly, get to know your neighbors.
They're as effective today as they were over 100 years ago. And in my current series I'm writing, this becomes all too real to my cattle baron hero, his team of ranch hands, the law, an innocent nephew who's a witness to one of the incidents, and of course my socialite/teacher from back East who becomes involved.

Guess I better get back to writing it. :)

Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an author, online marketing specialist and freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author in Colorado. They have 1 daughter and a border collie. She has sold eight books so far to Barbour Publishing, is a columnist for the ACFW e-zine and writes other articles as well. Read more about her at her web site:


A J Hawke said...

What a great post! Fascinating informtion.

A J Hawke

Carla Gade said...

What an interesting post, Tiff! Enjoyed it.

Molly Noble Bull said...

Loved the cartoon and the rest of it, too.

Stephen & Janet Bly said...

Good advice to foil cattle rustlers!

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

Thanks so much, ladies, and the cartoon made me laugh too, Molly. :)