Modern-Day Rustlers Wrangle Millions of Dollars From Texas Ranchers

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Even in today’s modern times, there are people in Texas who are deputized to protect ranchers from cattle rustlers. If you were thinking the age-old bane of the ranching industry had long since seen its heyday, you thought wrong. The Smithsonian reported that ranchers in the Lone Star State continue to lose millions to cattle rustlers annually. Like many of today’s crimes, the cattle rustler has simply found different ways to commit their crimes. People like John Bradshaw, working in the North Central Plains of Texas, are tasked with bringing them to justice.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is the agency that’s been deputized to investigate such crimes by the state. They investigate in both Texas and Oklahoma. Over the past 10 years, 30 special rangers, such as Bradshaw, recovered over $48 million in equipment and livestock. If you think it’s petty theft, you’d be surprised. Those stealing a few cattle or horses can take in upwards of a few thousand when it’s all said and done. According to the association, a calf can generate a payday of close to $1K, and an uncastrated bull can get them close to $3K. That’s a lot of money to tempt potential cattle rustlers. If the cattle aren’t marked or branded, that makes it all that much easier for a thief. Texas doesn’t require ranchers to mark or brand their cattle. But, recently, there’s been a shift toward larger, more creative initiatives in the industry, reaping millions from the businesses and banks that deal in agriculture.

Modern-Day Rustlers Wrangle Millions of Dollars From Texas Ranchers

Photo: Pixabay

Intricate scams have become the calling card of modern-day cattle rustlers. Understanding the ins and outs of the financial world hasn’t hurt them. Some of them hustle millions from these institutions using cattle as collateral, most of which isn’t even theirs. One individual of note, which Bradshaw worked to indict, would “drive up to a place like right there and say, ‘Yep, those are my cattle,'” motioning toward grazing cattle, knowing to what extent the banks would go in the verification of ownership. “Their jaw dropped when they realized there [were] no cattle whatsoever,” Bradshaw told

In another instance, an entire cattle company was created out of thin air by an agent working for a cattle brokerage firm in Nebraska. He told the brokerage firm he had met a cattle buyer out of Fort Worth with deep pockets. After his creative work specifying the funds needed to keep up with the buyer, the firm turned over a company checkbook to the agent, giving him the freedom to keep making deals. In a six-month window, the hustler had purchased and sold $90 million in cattle while check-kiting. This scheme fell through when a check bounced for $5 million, which was made out to the brokerage firm. Following an investigation, it was determined the Fort Worth cattle buyer and his deep pockets were completely fictitious. One year following the indictment of the “rustler,” the Nebraska cattle brokerage firm he worked for had to close its doors. He was sentenced to a decade in federal prison, in addition to restitution of $28 million, following criminal and civil actions.

Modern-Day Rustlers Wrangle Millions of Dollars From Texas Ranchers

Photo: Army University Press

An agricultural economist, David Anderson performs research at Texas A&M University focusing on food products and livestock. He points to the recent drought in Texas as a contributing factor for the rise in white-collar crime such as these examples in the cattle industry. From 2011 through 2014, Texas ranchers saw their pastureland completely scorched. This resulted in the sale of entire herds and the subsequent drop in cattle prices. As the drought subsided, the demand rose drastically to record high cattle prices in 2015. Those wanting to restock their herds began taking loans to purchase cattle at these inflated prices. When the market stabilized a year later, the ranchers were left holding the financial bag, so-to-speak, paying loans valued far higher than the herds their loans had purchased. Some of them defaulted, at which time the banks would call in cattle rangers such as Bradshaw when it was suspected that the seizure of the collateral would be met with reluctance by the struggling ranchers.

Modern-Day Rustlers Wrangle Millions of Dollars From Texas Ranchers

Photo: Wikimedia

According to the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, along with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, following these changes in the market and the subsequent financial crunch felt by the ranchers, some independent banks were hesitant to give cattle loans. Others have increased their collateral requirements. Bradshaw has stated that cycles in increased drug use, as well as the economy (with factors like the West Texas oil field boom) can impact the movements of small-time cattle rustlers.

To bring about change, a decade ago the Texas Legislature made the theft of fewer than 10 cattle head, or like livestock, a third-degree felony. This carries a sentence of up to 10 years’ worth of prison time. In the meantime, it adds up to an ongoing tradition of the rancher facing difficulties that continue to mount, continue to change with the times, and continue to be considered crimes well-worth actively pursuing. With slim profit margins, the thousands of Texas ranchers that will produce 27 billion pounds of beef in 2019 is “squeaking by” according to Bradshaw, who cited that the average Texas rancher’s herd consists of 34 head. With the potential for any particular influence to adversely affect their operations—be it weather, prices, or cattle rustlers—it’s an industry you can still lose your shirt in easily.