Hangin’ or Jury?

Phyliss Miranda sig line for P&P BluebonnetAs hard as I tried, I couldn’t resist posting a blog I did in 2009 before I became a regular Filly here at Wildflower Junction.  

In the Old West, the terms rustling and rustler had several meanings. Livestock who forged well were called rustlers by cowmen; meaning the animals could graze or “rustle up” nourishment on marginal land. A horse wrangler or camp cook was also a rustler, but the most widespread and notorious use of the word referred to a cattle thief.

On the vast open ranges of yesteryear, rustling was a serious problem and punishable bycattle-rustlers hanging. At its peak, one of the largest ranches in the Texas Panhandle had over 150,000 head of cattle and a thousand horses. Obviously, thieves could drive stolen livestock miles away before a rancher learned he had animals missing.

The vast distances to town, hence law enforcement,often prompted ranchers to take actions of their own. Court convictions for rustling were difficult because of the animosity of small ranchers and settlers toward big cattle outfits. Many times, “vigilante justice,” hang ‘um first…ask questions later, was handed down by organized stockmen. Like horse thieves, cattle rustlers could be hanged without benefit of trial, judge or jury.

Today, even with detailed brands logged in books, registering with state officials, inspectors, and the meticulous paperwork involving transportation, not to mention a new era of branding technology to keep track of animals, ranches still face cattle rustlers…those dishonest people who want to profit from selling cattle without the bother of raising them.

cowsNo longer is a single head of beef stolen for food or an occasional Native American slipping off the reservation to provide for his family… it is big business. Modern day rustlers often sneak onto rural ranches at night, or on weekends when the owners are away, steal and sell cattle. An average calf can bring thousands of dollars on the open market; so multiply that by a trailer, or even a truck load, of cattle and you can see why it’s a profitable business for thieves.

Amid warnings that cattle rustling is on the rise in Texas, recently the state Senate passed a measure that would stiffen penalties for stealing farm animals, making theft of even one head of livestock a third-degree felony drawing up to a ten year prison sentence and a fine. Until the proposal is signed into law, a rustler can steal ten or more head of livestock and the punishment is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the law of the Old West … hang ‘um high and fast.


But was hanging always fast and efficient?

I delved into the subject of cattle rustling and the methods of rustlers while researching for Give Me a Cowboy where my Pinkerton Agent comes to the Panhandle to break up an outfit of rustlers. But I became interested in “vigilante justice” from my mother-in-law, who recently passed on at the age of 92. A story teller, she was reared in Clayton, New Mexico. One of her favorite tales was about the outlaw Black Jack Ketchum, the first man hanged in the town. His execution turned into a big town event, with the lawmen actually selling tickets to the hangin’. As history has it, the sheriff had to use two blows of the hatchet before the rope broke. Probably because of their lack of experience in “structured” hangings, coupled with the lawmen misjudging Ketchum’s weight and stretching the rope during testing, he was beheaded.  Ketchum was buried at Clayton’s Boot Hill on April 26, 1901.


But my mother-in-law’s story only began there. Three decades later, when she was in grade school, Ketchum’s grave was moved to the new cemetery. Because her father was Clayton’s mayor, she witnessed the reburial. According to her, they opened the grave and she and her cousin touched the bones of Ketchum’s little finger. I’m sure in those days a casket did not weather well.

To me it’s so fascinating when history bridges time and touches our lives. Do you have a family story where history inserted itself into reality?

I will give away an eBook of my newest contemporary romance from Kensington to one lucky winner.  TheTycoonAndTheTexaneBook

The Tycoon and the Texan just came out as a printed book

and can be purchased from

http://Amazon.com or http://BN.com.

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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at phylissmiranda.com

25 thoughts on “Hangin’ or Jury?”

  1. Hi Phyliss, interesting post! What a treasure your mother-in-law was. One of my “treasures” was an elderly neighbor who told about being the first white woman born in Death Valley. Her father worked at the Borax deposits there. One day her pregnant mother decided she was sick and tired of staying home caring for a two year old toddler while her husband had all the fun. So she rented a mule and rode to the Borax works. Upon arriving there, she collapsed in her startled husband’s arms and promptly gave birth.

  2. Good morning, Margaret and Sherri,

    Margaret, my mother-in-law was a fantastic woman with tons of family history memories she loved to share with us. As I mentioned, her father was mayor of Clayton, New Mexico, and served in the state legislature and man did she ever have tales to tell. I love your neighbor’s wonderful story. Sounds like her mother was testy to say the least.

    Sherri, Ketchem’s hanging was there at Clayton and when we go to the Eckland Hotel (old, old one)to eat when we go over to Red River, his pictures are all over the hotel. Although he was an outlaw, he made the town famous! But what a way to die. Yuck!

    Ladies, thank for dropping by. And, Sherri welcome to P&P as our newest Filly. Hugs to both of you, P

  3. Good Morning, Phyliss! I’m constantly amazed at the people they catch rustling cattle in this day and age. Just blows my mind. I love this blog from way back when you were a guest. Great stuff. And, I never get bored with the Black Jack Ketchum story. He sure met a gruesome end. It’s a sensational story though and yes, it made the town famous. These little towns latched on to anything to have their claim to fame.

    Wishing you lots of luck with your new release! And big congrats on it coming out in print. I have my copy and it’s ready for you to autograph. 🙂

  4. Phyliss, what a great blog! I had no idea cattle rustling was still going on. I guess we’ll always have people in this world wanting to take what isn’t theirs. On another note, what really gets me is how people actually watched hangings. I’m with Sherri…ewwwww!

  5. Well, wow, Phyliss, I guess it’s a good blog when I flinched multiple times while reading it. BEHEADED???


    Let that be a lesson to you cattle rustlers, never be the FIRST rustler in an area

  6. My family, well, my Husband’s family, the Connealys are crazy for family history. There have been many family trees done and they’ve really got it all written down.
    It’s really a sickness almost.
    My mother in law who died a couple of years ago at age 92 was NOT a Connealy and her family’s roots go deep, the Connealy’s came over with the Irish potato famine, but Marybelle had paperwork connecting her to the Revolution and her father’s mother was in the DAR. She was very proud of that and told great stories.
    My father’s family goes back to the first immigrant who came here in 1638, that’s 18 years after Jamestown, so we’ve been here a long, long time. My sister is big into geneology and has done a lot of work with our families roots.
    Other ancestors are so new they spoke with an accent in my lifetime. My husband’s grandmother and her brothers and sisters spoke German on their party line telephones so snoopy neighbors couldn’t understand if they listened in.
    So our heritage is all mixed up like in most families.
    It’s what makes America fascinating.

  7. Good morning, Fellow Filly and friend, Linda,

    This was one of my favorite blogs and I’m glad you weren’t bored with it. Of course, you’ve been to the Ecklund and have seen the pictures. We’ll be there in a couple weeks, won’t we? My DH was born in Clayton and even as young as he was when they moved to Amarillo, he can still remember stories of the railroad barreling through town and the tales his grandfather told of the early days of Clayton. I could almost do a blog on his grandfather, a barrel of a man, with a personality just as big. Glad you stopped by and thanks for the congrats. I’m so thrilled that “The Tycoon and the Texan” went to print from eBooks in less than three weeks after its release. As you know, it’s an easy read and I originally wrote it for Desire, so it’s a sit back, know Nick and McCall will fall in love and watch it happen. Love, P

  8. Hi Renee,

    Yes, ma’am rustling is still going on. The outlaws (I guess in Texas we can still call ‘um thatLOL) back up their semi’s and load stolen cattle and drive right off the ranches. The ranchers of today really have to keep an eye out for the rustlers. A true story, a year or so back they caught a gang of rustlers and one of the guys was the son of one of our most distinguished judges who is deceased. A man I worked with in my days in the legal profession. The saddest part is that the young man came from a founding family of a near by town and didn’t need the money. So, cattle rustling is very real and profitable today. Big hugs sister Filly, P

  9. Um, wow. I agree with Mary, good advice to NOT be the first criminal in an area. With the way cattle were let to roam to graze I can only imagine how “easy” it was to steal them. Great post!

  10. Hi Phyliss, wow, the story of Black Jack’s execution has my skin a-crawling. And your mil touching a bone. Yowza. Kids today are way too sheltered LOL. I always love information on the Old West, and the real folks who lived it.

    And congrats on the new release! When things settle down around here, it’s first on my list to read. Love you and wishing you many sales and MANY more stories. xoxox

  11. Anon101, thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. It’s on old one, but one I really do like.

    Yep, Mary beheading should be a warning to cattle rustlers, but I’m not sure it’s exactly legal … even in Texas. It is a scary story. Probably should have saved it until Halloween to share. And, yes, Mary that is a real picture. Just out of curiosity I went to Google images and sure enough there are pictures of him after the hanging! After I found the first one, I didn’t keep lookin’ to see if they had one of him actually hanging! Shaking in my boots. Yikes. Hugs to you both, Phyliss

  12. Great blog! I don’t have any family stories but enjoyed yours.I knew cattle rustling goes on today along with every thing else. Seems they will still anything if they can make a buck. There is still a lot of good people in the world though and that is a good thing.

  13. Back to Mary. What a wonderful story of your and your DH’s families. Aren’t you lucky that someone is keeping the genealogy? I have my dad’s side of the family, the Pannier side. It’s interesting particularly since the Pannier name just showed up after the overthrow of Kaiser Wilhelm. No reason, so part of the family believes our ancestors were part of the overthrow, so they had to come to the US and change their name for protection. The other theory, and the one my father preferred, was that they were part of the royalty and had to come for protection and changed their names. I know I’ve got a ton of German in me, no doubt. With the Internet, I bet I could eventually find out more if I had the time. I’m lucky to have one cousin on both sides of my family who are keeping up with the family records. Your family is so interesting. Wow, I never knew anybody who truly were founders of our country. I’m impressed and hope they keep the stories coming your way. Hugs, Phyliss

  14. Thanks for sharing this post with us… I wish I knew more about my family’s history… I can not imagine the stories I am missing out on… like the $2 reward poster… you think it would be higher.

  15. Hi Susan P. Thanks for stopping by P&P. I did a lot of research on cattle branding for a story and one of the most interesting (I used in my story LOL) was how the varmints would “hair brand” the cattle. Basically burn into the hair just enough to leave a brand, but of course not brand the skin where it was permanent. Also, it was interesting how they’d create mavericks. The thieves would split the tongue of the calf so it couldn’t nurse thereby making it roam off then be captured as a maverick (a calf without a mother). I shiver at what they did just for a profit. Hugs, P

  16. Thanks, Filly Tanya. I think family stories are the best, plus as a writer, we all know that stories can have a lot of fantasies in them! LOL I pray life gets settled a tad around your house and your mother continues on an even keel. Take care of yourself. A big hug and much love, P

  17. Hi Colleen,

    Good to hear from you today. I think with the busy schedules of today more and more history is being lost. I know with my own parents, I truly wish I could talk to them one more time because I have so many questions I’d like to ask. I think as we get older our family history becomes more important to us. My daughter did sit down with my mother-in-law and record a lot of the family history, although she was into genealogy and had done a lot of work on the Pennington side of the family. Knowing the names of relatives and when they were born and died, doesn’t replace the funny and heartfelt stories that were told around the campfire. Have a great evening, friend. Hugs, P

  18. Phyliss,
    I just finished GIVE ME A COWBOY. I have all the anthologies in the series and thought I had read them all. When I was fixing my bookshelves a couple weeks ago, I read the cover blurbs and realized I’d missed it. Was a nice treat since I don’t think there will be any more. The Pinkerton Agent you mentioned did his job well and didn’t have to hang anyone.

    The only history to reality I can think of is with my husbands family. When he retired from the AF, we moved to NE TN, a place we had no connection to. There is a big history reenactment every year here commemorating the sendoff of the Overmountain Men. They were a local militia that left to fight against Britain at the Battle of King’s Mountain in NC. It was a little known, but critical battle of the Revolutionary War. We recently got a family tree that my husband’s cousin has been working on. He has a however many great uncle from Georgia that fought at King’s Mountain battle. Kind of a six degrees of separation connection, but a surprise since before moving here we had never heard of the Overmountain Men, the Battle of King’s Mountain, or his distant relative.

    I hope your switch to contemporary romance is going well.

  19. I haven’t been able to come up with much history re: my father’s family – there WAS a cousin that devoted his life to working as a missionary with the Seminole Indians in Florida.

    I have come up with several interesting people on my mother’s side of the family, in recent years. Gerrit vanSwearingen, who came to the U.S. from Holland,in the 1600’s – was a big influence in the development of historic St. Mary’s City, in Maryland. Excavations of the city have been going on for a number of years.

    Marmaduke vanSwearingen, was reportedly captured by Shawnee Indians, & made a war chief, because they were impressed with his bravery. He was renamed “Blue Jacket”, supposedly, because he was wearing a blue jacket when captured. An outdoor drama, about his life, ran for 26 years in Zenia, Oh. – since which, there have been disputes as to whether Marmaduke actually was Blue Jacket.

    My maternal grandmother was descended from the “fighting” clan Gregor (MacGregor) of Scotland, from which Rob Roy also descended.

  20. Bonnie, I do believe we are related! My family came from the MacGregors of Scotland also, the same which Rob Roy came from. We talk about it like we are famous. LOL

  21. Hi,family member (LOL)! Guess we do, don’t we – not something to brag about, I don’t guess, since neither Rob Roy nor the MacGregors were thought of very fondly – for a long time (LOL)!

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