There’s a town just a short distance from where I live in West Texas called Hale Center. It’s the home of an early rancher by the name of James Franklin Norfleet. He has such an amazing story that I had to share it with you.
James was born in 1865 to a Texas Ranger father and a mother who would go on to birth five more children. At age 14, James joined a buffalo hunt that brought him to this part of the country. After that he worked as a cowboy and drover for various ranches until he could make enough money to start his own ranch. When he was 29, he fell head-over-heels in love and married Mattie Eliza Hudgins. They had four children of which only two lived to adulthood.
One day on a business venture to Fort Worth, Texas in 1919, Norfleet ran into a group of scam artists who took him for $45,000 and promptly left the country.
Mattie told James to “Go get those miserable crooks and make them pay. But bring them in alive. Any man can kill but it’s a brave man who can capture the criminals and bring them to justice.” She told him she’d manage the ranch and keep him in expense money.
So that’s exactly what James set out to do. Using his expert tracking skills, he began a one-man manhunt.
He caught up to three of the swindlers in Los Angeles within a few weeks. He located another one in Salt Lake City and two more in Georgia. At one point, one of the men turned himself in because he couldn’t take being hunted any longer.
In all he spent five years and $75,000 and traveled 30,000 miles across two continents chasing the scam artists. He single-handedly captured and turned them in to the authorities without any assistance from the federal government.
His fame quickly spread and he was besieged with requests to hunt down other criminals. And so he began an unlikely career in law enforcement. Between 1919 and 1935, he brought in over 100 wanted men. And, although he was quick on the draw and dead shot with a pistol, he never killed anyone.
James Norfleet earned the nickname “Little Tiger” because of his short stature and uncanny ability to stalk a fugitive. He never lost a fresh trail. The FBI awarded him a special certificate for his services. Pretty good for an old cowboy.
His exploits became known far and wide. He was the subject of several magazine articles and a full-length book that was published in 1924. And actor Wallace Berry once portrayed him in a radio drama. The country desperately needed a hero and Norfleet fit the bill.
His ranch near Hale Center took a hit though with him being gone so long and he wound up having to sell it. James and Mattie lived quietly the rest of their days on a small farm. I’m sure they spent many an hour reliving James’s exciting adventures. James died at the age of 102 and Mattie lived to 101.
This true story just proves that it doesn’t pay to mess with one determined cowboy.