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The Modern-Day Cow Posse


Police officers are made, but cattle detectives are bom. And it’s even better if they’re born on a ranch, says Don C. King, secretary-general manager of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. King hires a select group of thirty-two brand inspectors-a sort of modern-day cattle posse that chases cattle thieves all over Texas and Oklahoma.

“I can teach a fellow to be a peace officer, but I can’t teach him to be a cowboy.” King recently said of his brand inspectors.

No doubt about it: drugstore cowboys need not apply. It’s a tough business chasing a cattle thief, a varmint who often leaves no other trace of his crime than a tire print in the dirt, rubbed paint on a fence post, or a cigarette butt in a cow pen.

In 1985, the thirty-two brand inspectors, all either commissioned special Texas Rangers or agents of the crime bureau of Oklahoma, developed 111 theft cases, primarily involving cattle thefts. Collectively that year the thieves got forty-eight years in prison, ninety-seven years in probated sentences, and forty-seven years in suspended sentences. The inspectors recovered more than $1.4 million worth of miscellaneous ranch property.

Brand inspectors are part of a hundred-year-old tradition. The Cattle Raisers Association was formed back in 1877, when forty angry cattlemen met in Graham, Texas, to band together to catch cattle rustlers. Six years later, in 1883, the association met in Fort Worth and agreed to several touehened measures against cattle rustlers, including a resolution authorizing the hiring of six brand inspectors. The brand inspectors were given the authority to arrest, search, and seize on behalf of the cattlemen’s as-sociation. They possessed an uncanny ability to recognize the thousands of cattle brands on sight or tell at a glance if a cow was not typical of those raised in a particular region, and could have been stolen from another.

Today, the cattle detectives carry on some of the old traditions of their predecessors, but they have left horse and saddle behind. Instead, they travel by car, sometimes driving as many as 50,000 miles a year visiting ranchers who report stolen livestock, locating suspects, and visiting area sales barns.

“It’s a pretty tough job,” says field inspector Jim Tuck of Springtown, whose jurisdiction includes Dallas County. “Sometimes when you arrive on the scene there are no clues.”

In his ten-county district alone, Tuck estimates that between 200 and 300 head of cattle have been stolen since last January. Tuck says most cattle thefts happen like this: a cowboy sneaks his pickup behind a ranch house and backs it up to a cow pen or feed yard. In only a few minutes, the cattle thief loads a dozen or so baby calves into the truck bed and speeds off into the darkness.

That’s when the hard work and long hours really begin for men like Tuck, who was a police officer before becoming an inspector. “If you like ranch-related jobs, this is it,” he says. “I waited seven years for this job.”

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