Cattle Rustling Makes a Comeback ~ by Anne Carrole

In The Rancher’s Heart, the third book in my contemporary Hearts of Wyoming series, the hero and heroine own neighboring ranches, both inherited from feuding fathers. The feud goes back generations and has to do with water from the creek that separates their properties. But they quickly realize that each is the solution to the other’s ranching problems, and soon, love knows no boundaries. But cattle rustling and the fallout from that act will soon test both love and loyalty.

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Isn’t this a contemporary western romance, you ask?

While talk of cattle rustling usually conjures up images of the Wild West and memories of 1960s television westerns like Rawhide and Bonanza, the crime of cattle rustling is on the rise in the twenty-first century, driven largely by the rise of beef prices.

A calf can bring upward of $1,000 at market; an uncastrated bull more than $2,500. Calves are particularly susceptible because of the lag time between birth and branding.

One heist in northeast Texas involved 1,121 calves worth over $1.4 million. Four thieves in Waco, Texas, stole 107 calves for a payout of $139,000. But more common, and easier to execute, is theft of a few animals from small ranchers who don’t brand their cattle.

To combat this outbreak of thievery, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has a team of thirty lawmen, described as special rangers, who investigate livestock-related crimes throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Just like their Old West counterparts, these rangers sport six-shooters and cowboy hats but drive pickups instead of ride horses. Rather than relying on tracking skills, these officers use advanced law enforcement tactics, including digital databases that track every head of cattle sold in a state, and they utilize DNA testing to discover the dam and sire in order to ascertain if the cattle have been stolen.

While we no longer hang cattle thieves, stealing even less than ten head of cattle in Texas is considered a third-degree felony and punishable by up to ten years in prison. Texans don’t fool around.

As reported in the Dallas Morning News, Marvin Wills, the special ranger who was in charge of the Waco case, noted “there’s three types of thieves here: there’s family, employees, or someone who knows them.”

You’ll have to read The Rancher’s Heart to find out which of those categories fit the cattle rustlers in the story, but needless to say, suspicion falls on the hero precisely because the Taylors, who own the neighboring ranch, have been feuding with the McKennas for generations, and everyone in town knows the Taylors need the money. The fact Cody Taylor got roped into helping lovely Cat McKenna, who prefers high heels to cowgirl boots, only means he had opportunity. But Cat has fallen for the stubborn rancher, and she will have to decide if she will let either history or circumstantial evidence shake her trust in the man who has captured her heart.

Here’s an excerpt:

Cody placed his shotgun firmly by his side, shaken by the fact he’d pointed it at Cat before he’d realized just who had followed him. Having tied his horse behind the old line shack and camped out on the far side of one of the small hills that mounded the rocky pasture, he had found a spot to watch the herd unobserved. Only to find someone trailing him. With her hair tucked under her hat and her back to him, he hadn’t been able to tell who it was until she’d turned around.

Only then had he realized he could have shot her. He wiped an arm across his brow. Despite the cool air of the higher elevation, he was sweating.

“I’m trying to catch a rustler who I hope isn’t scouting right now, because I’ve certainly blown my cover. I didn’t want to risk you telling someone. I don’t know who the culprit is yet, but I suspect it’s someone who knows Pleasant Valley Ranch pretty damn well. That could mean it is someone working for you.”

Her hands were on her curvy hips, and her chest rose as she took a deep breath. He admired her chest. Perky and perfectly sized.

“That description would include you.”

Cody felt the verbal slap as if his face had met the flat of her hand, sparking anger he struggled to control. A man’s reputation summed up his worth.

And no one had ever trampled on his.

Too furious to speak, he turned on his heel and walked away, toward his gear and the line shack. While the cows lowed in the background, he could feel the steam rising in his blood as his boots crunched along the rocky soil. He didn’t deserve her suspicions. He merited better than this. If she’d been a man calling him out as she had, he’d have decked her.

Despite the loss of money he so desperately needed, better to find out now how little she thought of him than to go on fooling himself that she respected him, maybe even liked him. Enough to find some solace in each other’s arms. What a fool he’d been to even contemplate such an arrangement with a woman who couldn’t hide her disdain for him and the life he valued.

“Cody,” she called from behind him, her voice loud but wavering. He kept walking, taking bigger strides to lengthen the distance between them.

Nope, he’d dodged a bullet.

He heard her boots scuffing along the stony ground at a run as she breathlessly called his name.

He was surprised at how much her lack of faith cut him. Anger was one thing. But her lack of confidence in who he was felt more like betrayal. More like she’d knocked the supports right out from under him, sending him into a free fall of emotion. He’d thought they’d gotten beyond mistrust. Way beyond.

The scuffing noise was getting closer.

He turned. Ready to have it out. She stopped just a few feet away, her breathing ragged.

“I’m sorry. I…” There was desperation in her voice.

“You don’t accuse a man of stealing and then think you can say a few words and all is forgiven. I may not have much in this world. But I do have my reputation. Yet just now you accused me of something no rancher accuses another of unless it’s meant. You either believe in me, or you don’t. There are no shades of gray in this.”

The Rancher’s Heart is the third book in the Hearts of Wyoming series, where love is given a second chance, and is available in either e-book or print on Amazon.

I am guessing we’ve all lost some treasure at one time or another. Could be we valued it for sentimental reasons, for its monetary value, or we just liked it. I’ll gift a Kindle e-book of The Rancher’s Heart to one lucky person who leaves a comment about something they lost or which category they think the cattle rustler in The Rancher’s Heart falls into—family, employee, or acquaintance. And in the comment section, you can also read my note about something I lost and how my hubby became the hero who saved the day.


Anne Carrole writes both contemporary and western historical romances. She’s an eastern girl with a western heart who was raised on a farm (yes, they have them in the East) with horses, dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits and whatever other animals she could convince her parents to shelter. Besides reading and writing romances, she loves western history, rodeo, football, gardening, and tennis. Married to her own urban cowboy, she’s the mother of a college-age cowgirl. Her latest releases are The Rancher’s Heart and an historical short story about a Harvey girl in the Wild West titled When Love Comes Calling, part of the recently released Journey of the Heart Anthology.  Buy Journey of the Heart on Amazon

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25 thoughts on “Cattle Rustling Makes a Comeback ~ by Anne Carrole”

  1. I sure would hate to think family stealing from each other. One time I lost a ruby ring at work (or so I thought). It was that hectic Christmas time in retail and when I got home and changed my clothes, I realized my ring was gone. The store was closed for Christmas the next day so I couldn’t look until it opened the following day. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it and was bummed. Then about 6 months later I was looking for something in a drawer where I kept belts and there it was. It must have come off when I was changing my clothes and put the belt away.

    • Wow Janine you were so lucky to have found it. Once I lost a diamond earring, given to my by my hubby on our 10th anniversary. I had worn it, foolishly, on our anniversary trip to NYC where we stayed over in a hotel and when I got home, it was not in my luggage with the other one. I figured it was lost in the hotel room. Fast forward to a year later and I was using the same piece of luggage for a trip while my good friend was checking on our cat. She called me to tell me she found a diamond earring on the stairs–turned out to be, of course, the mate to the other one. I figure it must have been in the luggage some place and fell out when I was taking the bag down the stairs. Isn’t it great that we found our treasures!

  2. Good morning Anne! Welcome to the Junction. I can definitely confirm that rustling is still going on here in Texas. I hear about instances on the news quite a bit and my friend who owns a ranch near here is constantly on guard. As far as losing things…I do all the time and it drives me crazy. I get obsessive with looking. I once lost this necklace that was gifted to me – the pendant a Ben Franklin half dollar of my birth year. It was very special to me. It was missing for over a year but I finally found it under my dresser when I moved. Actually, the movers found it. Thank God for their honesty!

    Congrats on the new book! YAY! And WOW, lady! What an excerpt. Very powerful.

    • Thanks Linda! So glad you found that pendant! I like to think someone is watching over us for those precious treasures we thought were lost. I was surprised at all the info I found on modern day cattle rustling. Some things never change! Hugs!

  3. Hi Anne! As Linda said, rustling is still going on here in Texas. I live in ranch country where those blue and white metal signs for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser’s hang on fences. I had never thought about how vulnerable the calves are to theft between birth and branding. Good thing those rangers can use DNA to help find the mom 🙂

    Don’t enter me in the drawing. I’m ordering the book (congratulations!!). Thanks for the heads-up about the short story When Love Comes Calling. Somehow I missed that.

    Nancy C

  4. Many years ago we were on a trip to England and in the process of purchasing something in a rather nice shop in London. I set my purse down (a no-no) and when I went to reach for my purse to pay, it was gone. My passport, credit cards, and money were all in that purse. And I knew I had it with me when I entered the store. But my husband insisted he go down the street and check with every store we had been in. I knew it was a fool’s errand but away he went. And twenty minutes later, while I was panicking, he returned with the purse in hand. The money (about $50 U.S.) was gone, but my credit cards and passport and everything else were still in the bag. Where did he find it? With the help of a store detective, he found it in an alley trash bin of one of the other stores we visited. Apparently the thief had ditched it there after he removed the money. If my husband had listened to me, we would have never gotten my purse back. To this day it is one of the “hero” stories I tell about him. And, yes, there are others. ?

  5. Fascinating info about the modern day cattle rustlers! And I love your excerpt. Reputation is so important to a proud man, so it’s a great conflict. I got robbed by gypsies in Paris when I was in my twenties. They surrounded me and took my wallet right out of my purse. Luckily, I had my passport tucked away elsewhere. The weird thing was that four years later I got a manila envelope, mailed from Paris, with my wallet and everything but the money in it! I’ve always wondered where it was for those four years. LOL! (Don’t enter me in the drawing; I just wanted to stop by.)

    • Wow, Nancy, fascinating that you got your wallet returned after four years! And you were smart to have your passport tucked away elsewhere–I wasn’t (I was in my early thirties and traveled a lot so I should have known better). Thanks so much for stopping in. Hugs!

  6. I have actually lost an animal that I rustled from somebody else.

    That’s right – I am a cattle rustler.

    Well, that’s HALF right anyway. I am a CAT rustler.

    Our neighbor runs a bed and breakfast and had a great big orange tabby, one of those polydactyl cats, the kind with extra toes on their paws. I called him Bigfoot even though he never came when I called him.

    Or at least he did not come until one day our neighbor decided a cat wasn’t enough in the animal department. So they bought a Jack Russel terrier instead. A little yappy thing that, while cute enough, gave poor old Bigfoot no peace and quiet.

    Then our neighbor took in some long term clients with two young kids.

    After that, Bigfoot started hanging around on our front deck. He just decided to make himself at home there. Then, about a week later I was barbecuing some chicken and I dropped a piece and that was all it took. All of a sudden, Bigfoot was my cat.

    He slept out on our front deck all day long and only returned to the bed and breakfast at night, in time to be fed. AFTER the kids were asleep.

    But then, all day long he was back on our front deck. I would sit out there with him over breakfast and he would sit on my lap and purr.

    Yup, he was my cat.

    And then one day my neighbor showed up and told me that she had sold the cat to a little old lady.

    My rustled cat was gone. I am pretty sure that she just had the cat put down. I know that sounds a little strange but you have to know this lady. Do you know how every now and then you meet someone who just seems to be born bitter?

    Well, I suppose I can’t blame her all that much.

    I’d be bitter too, if somebody had gone and rustled my cat.

    • I love that story Steve–well, except the ending. I’m hoping she did what she said she was going to do. But how short sighted she just didn’t ask you to keep Bigfoot. Thanks so much for stopping in! Hugs!

  7. Since the most important thing I ever lost was my dad when I was just 17, it set me up for life that things are just things; it’s people who can’t be replaced. Dr Wayne Dyer used to tell a story about a coat he had hung on his closet door with all of the pockets cut out, he said, because the last coat he wore wouldn’t need any pockets to carry anything. That very visible coat was a good reminder too, he said.

    To try to brighten this post, I’ll add that there is something I would LOVE to lose: weight!

    (Please don’t enter me in the contest since I don’t have an e-reader. Another thing for me
    not to worry about losing, huh? LOL)

    • Eliza, you certainly have your priorities straight! Sorry to hear about the loss of your dad at such a young age. And I’m with you about losing weight! Thanks for stopping by! Hugs!

  8. When I was in 6th grade my grandmother gave me a sterling silver bracelet. It was a religious bracelet that was special to her. I wore it to school one day (I went to school at a convent and wanted to show the nuns). It was winter and my heavy coat must have popped the latch when I was walking home. It wasn’t on my wrist when I got home and I never did find it. I only had it for a couple months. I hated to tell my grandmother I lost it, but finally did. She was disappointed with me, but not as upset as I was with myself. It was the nicest thing I had ever owned and extra important because it was my grandmother’s. I know it was just a “thing,” but it represented love, trust, and a special relationship. We both got over it, but I am still sorry I lost it.

    Rustling isn’t just a problem in the West. I grew up in New York and now live in Tennessee. I don’t remember much if any problem back in New York, but that was over 45 years ago. I am not sure what the situation is now, but there were several large angus operations in our area. Branding wasn’t used, just ear tags and sometimes notching. Here in TN, they have a problem. They tag the ears, but I don’t know of anyone who brands their cattle. There aren’t many big cattle operations in this area, but a head or two from a small farm hurts. With pastures scattered all over, far from the home farm, it is easy to get to a herd without being noticed. With the number that get loose, you could just load them up on the road. My son totaled his truck hitting a bull. The bull got up and ran off. The police officer knew just which farmer owned it. His cattle were out all the time. Wen have had 10 to 15 from neighboring pastures in our yard more than once.

    Congratulations on the release of THE RANCHER’S HEART. Enjoyed the excerpt and look forward to reading the book.

    • Hi Patricia. So sorry you never found your grandmother’s bracelet. Losing something that has special meaning is a difficult loss, indeed. Interesting to hear that Tennessee also has rustlers! Who would have thought! Hugs!

  9. The Rancher’s Heart sounds like a fun read. I like the excerpt.

    I had my engagement ring, wedding ring, and seven-diamond-anniversary ring lying on a towel next to the kitchen sink while I washed the dishes. I set a lid on the towel as I reached for another pot to clean. It hit the rings, and when I turned to look, two rings had jumped in opposite directions and the anniversary ring was missing. I searched for two months for that ring–emptied every cabinet, cleared all the drawers, emptied the coat closet (which would have required a double ricochet), moved the refrigerator out, checked the hems (!!) of the curtains. No ring. Every time I left the house, I believed I could find it when I got back–perhaps inside the chandelier? I got up in the night to look for it. I loved that ring; it was a band of light on my finger. Just before Thanksgiving, I remembered a quarter had bounced off the counter some months before and disappeared. I flattened my head to the floor and discovered a space above the toe kick that led under the cabinet. I told my husband maybe it had leaped like the quarter. On Thanksgiving I slept late. My son woke me and held out the ring. He and my hero had cut the bottoms out of three cabinets and fished around into the furthest corner of the last to find it. Now I have cabinets that don’t have that toe kick space.

  10. Wow were you fortunate to find that ring Anne! At first I thought that ring was heading for the drain. Isn’t it odd that the quarter ended up in the same place. Sounds like a guardian angel may have been guiding you to that ring. Thanks so much for stopping in. Maybe someday I will be fortunate enough to have you read an excerpt from one of my books out loud with your wonderful voice! It is on my bucket list, you know! Hugs!

    • Hi, Anne–I’d love to read an excerpt one day from one of your books. Keep writing so I can. 🙂
      Anne W

    • Sorry to hear that. I often wonder how photos are going to be passed down now that everything is on computers. If your computer crashes and you don’t have it backed up or what if the technology changes and the replacement to the computer can’t read your photos anymore? Plus, I have so many photos now compared to my grandparent’s time when film and processing was more expensive and therefore photos were fewer.

  11. Hi Anne, how wonderful to see you here and read your excerpt! I lost the diamond out of my wedding set but asked Hubs to replace it with my birthstone–sapphire. Hugs…so excited to share the Journey of the Heart collection with you!

    • Journey of the Heart is a great collection of stories, Tanya, and I’m honored to be part of it.

      I recently had my diamond reset because it was getting loose. When I brought it in for repair the jeweler said that the prongs on a typical setting only last about 25 years. Well, we’ve been married much longer that! Hugs!

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