Cattle Rustling During WWII

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I truly do love researching details for my sweet historical romances. 

While I was digging through books and sifting through online information for my upcoming release, Dream of Her Heart (Book 3 in the Hearts of the War series), set in World War II, I found several fascinating details that I hadn’t read before.

One of the most interesting was the surge in cattle rustling that took place once rationing went into effect. The war caused shortages of many things like rubber, metal and nylon stockings, but the rationed food affected just about everyone on a daily basis. 

The short supply of food was due to a variety of reasons. Much of the processed and canned food was reserved for our military and Allies. Due to gasoline and rubber rations, transporting food  to civilians was not a priority when soldiers needed food and war supplies needed to be shipped. Restrictions on imports, like sugar and coffee was limited. 

The U.S. Office of Price Administration established a system that would, in theory, fairly distribute food in short supply through ration books. The books contained removable stamps good for certain items like sugar, meat, oil and canned goods. A person could not legally purchase a rationed item without having the right ration stamp. 

That’s where the black market of food came into play during World War II – and rustlers found a ripe opportunity for stealing cattle and selling the meat.

Cattle rustling has been around as long as there have been cattle to rustle. In the old West, a no nonsense kind of place, cattle rustling was considered a serious offence which often resulted in the offender hanging from a rope by a group of vigilantes. Whether the cattle were stolen for food, or to sell, thievery took place all too often. 

Some people will say the transition from open range to fenced in grazing reduced the practice of rustling. In fact, rustlers knew cattle country and adapted to the changes.

Most rustlers could rope, brand and trail with ease. One only needed to buy a few cows, register a brand, and start branding “strays” to build up their own herds. Unbranded calves were a popular target and easy to steal, especially if they were “orphans.” 

Other rustlers relied on the catching ranchers by surprise, stampeding herds and driving them off. Herds that grazed on the western ranges were a favorite of rustlers, especially where canyons or high brush afforded hiding places. They also had rebranding down to an art.  

Altering brands was a common practice among rustlers, using a “running iron,” which was a straight rod with a curve at the heated end. 

Cattle rustling prevailed through range wars and settling of the West.

While many might think rustling died down with the advent of vehicles and modern inventions, it continued. Thieves equipped with trucks stole cattle at night, butchered them, and sold the meat the next day, perhaps hundreds of miles away. The extent of the thievery, and the fact the rustlers often crossed state lines, led Congress to pass the National Cattle Theft Act in August 1941. 

The act was instituted “To provide for the punishment of persons transporting stolen cattle in interstate commerce, and for other purposes. ” Interstate commerce included transporting stolen cattle from one state, territory or the District of Columbia to another state, territory, District of Columbia, foreign country or from a foreign country to anywhere in the United States. 

The penalty for being caught transporting, receiving, concealing, storing, bartering, buying, selling, or
disposing of any cattle known to be stolen was a $5,000 fine, or imprisonment of not more than five years, or both. 

However, the implementation of the act wasn’t enough to deter cattle rustlers during World War II. Between the rising costs of meat and then rationing of beef and pork, rustlers grew bold, stealing as little as one or two cattle to dozens, butchering them, and selling the meat on the black market. 

The fact cattle branding became such a big issue during World War II caught me by surprise. It’s not something you even think twice about happening in the 1800s. But the 1940s? However, it was a huge problem for many ranchers and farmers.

I couldn’t let a little nugget of history like that slip by, so I included it in Dream of Her Heart. And how do you work in cattle rustling when the hero is a pilot in the Pacific? You make him from a ranch in Texas, of course. 

 Is there room for love in a time of war?

Days before he must ship out to prepare for a dangerous mission in the Pacific, Lieutenant Zane West crosses Oregon to see a good friend who has been wounded in action. He arrives at the veteran’s hospital, only to discover the army captain has disappeared without a trace. As Zane searches for answers, he finds himself captivated by a beautiful and spunky nurse who offers her help. Is she the key to his future, or an unwelcome distraction from his important wartime mission?

Nurse Billie Brighton puts her heart and boundless energy into caring for wounded soldiers, but she vowed long ago never to let one of the dashing rogues turn her head. That is, until a handsome lieutenant arrives seeking his missing friend. Thoroughly enchanted, she can’t help but break her own rules. Has she finally found the love she secretly longs for, or is she headed for heartbreak?

Step back in time to 1942 with a sweet, charming World War II romance full of history, heart, and a happily ever after.

The book is available for pre-order from Amazon and releases Sept. 27!


If you were living in a time of ration coupons, what one thing would you most prize? 

(My choice would definitely be sugar!)

One randomly chosen winner from those who post a comment

will receive an ebook of their choice from any I’ve written. 





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After spending her formative years on a farm in Eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky western heroes.
When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.

27 thoughts on “Cattle Rustling During WWII”

  1. Hmmm, butter or sugar if I could get my husband to get a milk cow to make our own butter! We have beef cattle, but I want a fresh milk cow.

  2. Good morning Shanna- what a wonderful history lesson. I did not know this either, but with the rationing it makes sense. I’m like you sugar was 1st to come to mind. However flour would also be a hard thing to not have to cook with during this time. I’ve heard many stories using the running brand. One I remember was changing the XIT brand for the Texas Ranch. I’ll have to look it up and share with you. I hope you’re having a great week. Love & hugs sweet Lady.

  3. Shanna- Here is the XIT brand was changed to a star.
    In 1879, the Texas legislature appropriated three million acres of land in the Texas Panhandle to finance a new state capitol. The land was set aside for a Chicago syndicate that would construct the new building. This “worthless” piece of land became the fabled XIT Ranch.

    During the 1880s, the ranch was the largest ranch in the world under fence. And it was the largest fence-building project in American history. One fence ran 150 miles without a turn.

    According to legend, the X represents the 10 counties that made up the ranch, and the IT meant “In Texas.” Some also claim the name meant “Ten in Two,” as the outfit also had another ranch in Montana.

    Another version of the story says the brand was designed to make it hard to alter in order to thwart rustlers.

    One rustler was running cattle bearing the brand Star Cross, a star with a cross inside. The XIT outfit claimed the cattle were stolen from them. Nobody could figure how he did it until he was arrested. They paid the thief to reveal how he turned an XIT into the altered brand. Using a running iron, he used the “X” and “T” to draw a star and then burned a line across the “I” to make a cross.

    • Tonya, this is so interesting. I didn’t know about the Star Cross brand that altered the XIT. Wow! Yes, the XIT was enormous and took up most of the panhandle. That’s a lot of land.

    • Oh, wow, Tonya! Thank you for sharing this info. So fascinating to learn about the XIT Ranch. That was one creative rustler to alter the brand like that.
      And yes, flour would have been nearly as important on my list of “can’t do without” as sugar!
      Have a good rest of your week, sweet lady! <3

  4. What a great and educational blog! I’m the daughter of a cattle broker. My daddy owned and/or managed feedlots and purchased/sold cattle all my life. I’m well aware of cattle rustling but didn’t know a lot of the things in this blog. I believe sugar is what I’d miss the most also. Hopefully I’d have a garden that kept me in fresh and canned veggies, chickens for eggs and hopefully my own livestock. I could have lived without meat if i had the other things though. Thanks for the awesome and educational blog.

    • How cool about your dad’s job! I had no idea before I came across this research that rustling was such a problem during WWII.
      A garden would be a big help during ration days, but I would dearly miss my sugar!
      Thanks for stopping in today, Stephanie! 🙂

  5. Great blog I think sugar would also be the thing that I would tried to keep along with flour. People went through some rough times back then and we don’t know what is ahead of us right now. Everything can change in a blink of an eye.

  6. Congrats on the new book, Shanna. I loved your blog. My parents talked a lot about those rations during the war and how they used to trade what they didn’t need for what they did. It was an interesting time in our history when everyone had to sacrifice. Everything was in short supply, especially the food. I would prize sugar and flour. By the way, cattle rustling is still alive and well in Texas. Every so often I hear of someone getting arrested for rustling. I also have a writer friend who owns a big ranch and they have to remain very vigilant against cattle thieves. Often they’re not vigilant enough.

    • Hi Linda!
      It’s amazing to think of rustling being a problem today, but I know it is. It seems some things never change.
      I know so many sacrificed so much during the war years. I would prize those basic pantry staples, too!
      Thanks so much for stopping in today! 🙂

  7. I’ve read a lot of books about cattle rustling in the 1800s as you say, but don’t recall any after that. Since I’m not a big vegetable person, I would have wanted meat during rationing.

  8. Great blog! Lots to think about. Being born and raised in Texas, cattle rustling is something we know about; however, I never thought about WWII and rustling. WOW! Very informative. Thanks for sharing your research.

    • Hi Phyliss!
      Thanks for stopping in today! I love researching WWII (even if it often leaves my heart aching for all that was sacrificed during those years). But I was quite surprised that rustling was such an issue then!

  9. I had heard of rationing but never thought about a shortage of meat. I think sugar would definitely be something I would miss! Thanks for sharing this interesting post!

  10. I didn’t realize that cattle rustling was so big during that time! Thank you for the information! I think I’m with you in the sugar. I would definitely want it. Also, flour. haha I love to bake!

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