Friday, November 13, 2015

How Many Rustlers Does It Take to Steal a Steer?

No, that’s not the latest joke to make the rounds on social media. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my beloved editor has requested I take on a special project, which has plunked me down in 1895 Texas. And for the last few months, I’ve been taking a crash course on raising cattle in Texas Hill Country around the turn of the century. But this week, one of the holes in my research became glaring obvious.

See there’s a rustler. He’s stealing cattle. And my hero is determined to catch him and bring him to justice.

Sounds like a pretty simple scenario, right? Actually, it’s proving to be amazingly complex. To start off with, these aren’t the nice little brown and white cows you see grazing in their fields while you zip by on the highway. By 1895, some ranches were beginning to introduce more genteel breeds. But on my ranch, we raise Texas longhorns, tough, determined, stubborn.

And massive. One rustler isn’t going to make off with a whole herd of them. They’re simply too big and too unpredictable. So, he’s going to need help.

Right, enter a gang of rustlers led by the villain. They sneak onto a ranch and make off with 20 to 30 head of cattle. Except where exactly are they going? The area around them is crossed by ranches and farms. Not a lot of open range left in 1895. Wouldn’t someone notice strangers getting away with cattle?

Okay, so this gang of rustlers steals at night. They drive the cattle up into the hills where no one normally goes, and then . . .

Well, yes, and then. Then they have to sell the silly things, don’t they? Who’s going to buy cattle up in the hills? Not to mention the fact that the steers have brands on them. No self-respecting cattle buyer is going to buy cattle that is clearly stolen.

Unless the cattle buyer is somehow in on the theft. So, there’s an unscrupulous cattle buyer hiding in the hills, taking possession of 20 to 30 longhorns and paying off the rustlers.

So how does the cattle buyer get the steers to market?

Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he has another reason for wanting those cows. Yes! That’s it!

What’s the reason? I’ll never tell, until the book comes out next summer.

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