James Franklin Norfleet: A Cowboy With a Plan


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.

 You can preorder our new anthology that releases July 1st through Amazon or Barnes and Noble!

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

24 thoughts on “James Franklin Norfleet: A Cowboy With a Plan”

  1. Linda,

    Love this piece of history! It’s the kind of history that gives a person chills. I’ve never heard of James Franklin Norfleet, but now I’m intrigued to read more.

  2. Hi Linda, Hope you are having a Happy Birthday today! The post is so interesting. My Dad gave me his copy of the revised edition book copyrighted in 1927 that is signed by J Frank Norfleet. Norfleet personally wrote in the book in 1955 to my Dad, “Memory is a luxury only those who go straight can afford” My Dad said that Norfleet came by his business in Ralls a couple of times and visited with him.
    I also have newspaper clippings of Norfleets 100th birthday and then the his obituary in Oct. 1967 when he died at 102 years old.
    Yes, he must have been one determined cowboy!

  3. Good Morning, Kirsten…….Thank you for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. James Norfleet was quite a man. You’d think after all he’d done he’d be a sort of legend in this part of the country, but no one talks about him. I kinda think he’d like it this way. He was just a simple man who did what he thought was right and stood up to the criminals. I do hope you read more. There’s lots of information out there and it’s easy to find.

  4. Thank you, Miss Tretha, for the birthday wish! And for the birthday cake you made and brought over. You always touch my heart with your thoughtfulness.

    Wow, I think it would be awesome to have an autographed copy of Norfleet’s book! And it’s neat that he came here to Ralls to visit your dad. I didn’t know that. You’ll have to show me those newspaper clippings sometime. I’d love to see them. You have such interesting things that you’ve kept through the years.

    Hope you’re enjoying that grandchild.

  5. Happy Birthday Linda!!! I just love the cover of your new book. The post was great and thanks for sharing . I learn something new everyday.

    Have a great day on your birthday, you deserve it

    Walk in harmony,

  6. That is an odd and fascinating story, Linda. 🙂 It flickered through my mind that his wife … uh … wasn’t all that sorry to send him off on a journey that would take him away from her for years.

  7. What a story, Linda. I had no idea. The sums you mention would’ve been a fortune in those days. Amazing that Mattie was able to pay his expenses while he chased bad guys. Hope he at least got some good reward money.
    It would make a great quirky movie. I’m thinking Johnny Depp…

    Great cover!

  8. Hi Melinda…..you’re so sweet to think of me on my birthday. Hope things are going smoothly for you. Congrats on your new release. Glad to know that you enjoy what we endeavor to bring to our readers. Take care.

  9. Hi Mary…….you know I thought the same thing. I just wonder if he went back home for short stays in between his one man fight for justice. My resources didn’t mention any of that though. Seems romance writers have lots of questions about people’s love lifes. LOL Inquiring minds want to know.

  10. Hi Elizabeth……glad you enjoyed my post. James Norfleet’s story really fired my imagination. He’d make a great hero for any kind of book. And you’re right, a movie needs to be made about him. Johnny Depp would be excellent in the role. He makes some quirkly movies, but he can quite forceful when the role demands it.

  11. Hi Linda, That is an amazing story! I agree with Mary C, about whether he came home once in awhile? His wife must have been a tough ole bird. They both were to live past 100.
    Texas seems to have a lot of people who had very interesting lives, over the years.
    Great book cover, too.

  12. Thanks Linda for the interesting post. I had never heard of James Norfleet before, but I am going to do some research now! He sounds like a very interesting man. 🙂

  13. Hi Becky W…….I’m glad you liked my post. There are thousands of interesting true stories out there if we just keep our eyes and ears open. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Hi Mary J……thanks for you comment. I’m glad you stopped by and thrilled you liked my post. Yes, Texas does have no shortage of interesting people and stories. I just seems everything is bigger here in Texas. I have so much pride in where I live.

    Thank you so much for the compliment about our upcoming anthology. I think this is the one of the best covers I’ve seen lately. Hope it sells lots of books.

  15. Happy birthday, Linda, my dear friend and filly sister. What a terrific guy this was, to have been such a lawman and ot had to kill anybody. I see a future Broday hero getting inspired about now LOL.

    I’ll be getting this on Kindle as soon as it’s available. Have a wonderful, healthy new year of life! oxoxox

  16. Hi Tammy……Glad you enjoyed my subject today. There is tons of information about him. But people from around this part of Texas don’t even know he once lived here. Despite all his success in catching criminals I think Norfleet was a very humble man.

  17. Hi Tanya…….thank you for the birthday wishes. They seem to be coming closer together now. Maybe that’s a sign of old age. LOL

    Glad my post brought something interesting to the site. I never know what to blog about. Seems like everything I could think of someone had already done it. But Norfleet really did capture my imagination. Yes, I have a feeling one of my heroes will take after this man.

    And thank you for saying you’re anxious to get Give Me a Texas Outlaw on Kindle. It won’t be long now. Hope you enjoy the stories.

  18. Linda, although you’d told me about this story, it’s better yet in writing. I love it, and like you and some of the other writers, my brains is running a mile a minute with story ideas. You may have said it and I missed out, but was he in fact a lawman or would he more of a bounty hunter? Regardless, he sure was a fascinating man and so Texan. Well, since you posted at 1:30 p.m., I recognize you haven’t left for Amarillo yet!!!! Will see you about 3:30 or so then. Many hugs and travel safely, Phyliss

    PS: And a big happy birthday!

  19. Happy birthday, Linda. Your 29th, right?

    thanks for an interesting post. Both he and his wife were sturdy and determined folks. It is a shame they lost the ranch. Hopefully they didn’t regret it too much. Wonderful that they had so many years together after he had been “on the road” so long. What is the title of his book? It would be an interesting read. Nothing on Amazon or on line that aI could find.
    Oh, goody, another anthology. Will gladly add it to my collection.

  20. What an interesting story! I’d never heard of him before. And he and his wife lived past 100 – wow! Thanks for sharing this with us – chock full of inspiration for a writer 🙂
    Oh, and happy birthday!!

  21. Happy Birthday, Linda! And what a great post! I loved this story! And I’m especially glad that James and Mattie lived to be so old together. What a couple they must have been. Very very interesting story. I had never heard of James Norfleet before–so glad you told us his story!

  22. Happy Birthday, Linda!

    Loved this blog. What interesting people. I shall have to go searching for more. Thanks for sharing.

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