Remember in the old westerns when the cattle rustlers were the cowboys that wore the black hats? Those black hats made it easy for any one to see that the cowboys who wore them were the bad guys. But, what about nowadays? Are there modern day cattle rustlers? Do they still wear the black hats? What is being done about modern day cattle rustling?
Believe it or not cattle rustling is still a problem and with the state of the economy, it is likely to get worse. Unfortunately it has been on a steady increase for the last few years. In 2006 there were 1045 cases of cattle rustling in Texas and Oklahoma, in 2007 there were 2400 cases of cattle rustling in Texas and in 2008 the number jumped to 6404 cattle rustling cases in Texas alone. So yes, nowadays cattle rustling is alive and well.
The modern day cattle rustlers may not wear a black hat, in fact they are not that easy to pick out. There are reports of these thieves being father and son teams or even college students and yes, there are even cattle rustling gangs, just like in the old days. Cattle rustlers are thieves, plain and simple, but they are also a little different than one might think. These thieves actually have to be able to care for the animals that they steal. If they are stealing calves, which they do, newborns and up, the thieves would have to be capable of caring for them until they can sell them, be it bottle feeding or hay and grain. These thieves must also be familiar with changing brands so they can cover one up if needed and they must be familiar with cattle selling, such as when and where they can sell the cattle they have stolen. Plus, the actual crime, the stealing of the cattle takes time and equipment with planning. Cattle rustlers have to know when and where to get the cattle they are going to steal and they have to have a pickup and livestock trailer to haul them with.
What is being done to fight cattle rustling nowadays? There are many law enforcement agencies that combat cattle rustling. Texas and Oklahoma have joined forces to combat this growing problem. The Texas Department of Public Safety and The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations have joined with the Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) to commission 29 Special Rangers who are Livestock Theft Investigators. These “field inspectors” aid in recovering livestock that has been stolen and apprehending the cattle rustlers. They are trained as law enforcement officers who are also have cattle industry knowledge. Plus, they are not alone in this fight. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association also employees some 70 market inspectors who inspect the cattle that are run through the cattle auctions throughout the state of Texas. The information that these market inspectors gather is sent to the TSCRA headquarters in Fort Worth Texas where it is then entered into the “computerized brand retrieval system” for the nation and distributed to over 70 law enforcement agencies through out the nation.
Is there such a thing as prevention for cattle rustling? Sure there is. Most of the prevention actions are basic common sense. The rancher should see to it that the cattle on his ranch is actually seen and counted daily. If this cannot be done throughout the ranch, then the outside pastures or those that have public access such as bordering a highway or oilfield road should be the ones that are counted daily for sure. Another step is to ride the fence line in these same pastures, being sure to look for any indication that the fence has been messed with, such as having been cut and repaired. If there is signs that this has happened, look for other signs that someone has either attempted to come in the pasture or has actually managed to come into the pasture. These signs will be the usual, such as tire tracks, footprints, horse prints, etc. If these indications are present, try not to disturb the area and immediately contact law enforcement because even if the head count for that pasture is right, the rustlers may be in the process of returning to finish what they had started. Each rancher should make it a point to become acquainted with law enforcement in their area and have a contact number for situations that may arise. Also, reporting any suspicious vehicle in the area of your pasture is a good idea, or at least get a license plate number and description in case there are any problems. It would also be a good idea to alert your neighbors to the situation as well. One more thing that could be done is to keep calves out of highway pastures or pastures with easy access because they are an easy target for cattle rustlers. Lastly, support of stiffer laws would definitely help deter the cattle rustlers, or hopefully they would.
So, is cattle rustling still occurring? Definitely it is and is increasing each year. This is a trend that is not likely to change anytime soon due to the state of the economy of our great nation combined with the ease of stealing someone else’s property. Can it be prevented? Probably not, or not without lots of money being spent, but then who would want their ranch to be turned into a prison? Can it be slowed down or at least made more difficult? Definitely it can with a few changes in management from the rancher who has to become more observant to his property and what is happening in the area.