The Association With Its Own Peace Officers
The crime of cattle rustling isn't a relic of the Old West. It's still a reality for today's ranchers, which is why the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has long battled livestock theft with its own staff of investigators and inspectors.
Most associations don’t have their own on-staff security force, but then again, most associations don’t have to grapple with cattle rustling.
The theft of livestock isn’t just lore from the Old West. It’s becoming a growing danger for 21st-century ranchers—especially because cattle is worth real money, which, as Reuters reports, can be used by ranch hands to finance drug habits. As a result, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has a lot on its plate at the moment.
Since its launch in 1877, TSCRA has offered ranger services to its members, and these days it has 30 commissioned peace officers (known as special rangers) keeping an eye out for cattle theft. They help stop hundreds of cases of agricultural crime each year in Texas and parts of Oklahoma. Last year alone, rangers investigated 790 incidents of cattle theft, according to news station KSAT.
The rangers know many of the tricks that cattle rustlers use these days and are on the lookout for them.
“They’ll look for a place where nobody lives and cattle are on the property and they’ll watch, get the routine, make sure no one is coming,” Special Ranger Sonny Seewald told KSAT. “They’ll cut the fence, come in [and] shake a sack of cubes. Cattle are used to coming to that feed. [They’ll] use their own pens, back up, load ’em up, and they’re gone.”
After an incident of livestock theft—which ranchers can report via TSCRA’s Operation Cow Thief tip line—the association’s market inspectors will monitor auctions for livestock that may have been stolen. But many small ranchers don’t brand their cattle (branding isn’t required by Texas law), making those animals difficult to recover.
“Thieves love to prey on unbranded cattle. Many times they will pass up branded cattle in lieu of unbranded cattle, because they know they’re hard to identify,” Larry Gray, the association’s executive director of law enforcement and theft prevention services, told Texas A&M AgriLife.
Cattle thieves may not face the tough penalties of the Wild West—where cattle rustling was a crime punishable by hanging—but they can be subject to prison time and/or fines. Stealing a valuable cow, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports, comes with steeper penalties than stealing jewelry or electronics of the same value.
TSCRA says the special rangers help prevent and investigate cattle rustling, but it urges members to take preventive steps of their own.
“We encourage them to pay attention to any traffic they’re not used to seeing—any suspicious vehicles—and document dates, times, and descriptions of vehicles,” Special Ranger Dean Bohannon told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.