News / USA

Cattle Rustling on the Rise in the American West

Modern-day thieves use trucks, not horses, to steal livestock

The white 'Y' with two lines under it shows that this cow came from rancher Gil Nitsch's herd.
The white 'Y' with two lines under it shows that this cow came from rancher Gil Nitsch's herd.

Multimedia

Audio
Jim Kent

The 21st century has brought changes to all parts of the country.

In even the most remote corners of rural America, everything from high-speed internet to digital billboards are connecting folks in small towns with a way of life that's common in urban settings.

But one thing hasn't changed in many states where people still make a living raising cattle: rustlers stealing cattle. In fact, officials say, it's getting worse.

Ranchers take advantage of the wide open spaces of the west to give their cattle room to graze but that also makes things easier for thieves.
Ranchers take advantage of the wide open spaces of the west to give their cattle room to graze but that also makes things easier for thieves.

You can't get too close to Gil Nitsch's ranch house just outside Chadron, Nebraska, without one of his dogs "greeting" you.

But like many ranchers in the mostly-rural states of the American West, Nitsch has most of his cattle herd grazing on land far from his home, where there are no watchdogs.

"So, it's pretty difficult, really, to know what's going on at some of these parcels that you have cattle," he says. "Twice a year, you really have a good count, you know, when you calve, and then when you sell."

Many reasons why cattle go missing

When ranchers do their twice-a-year counts, the numbers don't always add up as they should. Some of the missing cattle have been hit by lightning or killed by predators. Others wander across property lines and mingle with neighbors' herds while a few just disappear, usually after heavy snowstorms.

But others - quite a few others - are stolen, including nearly a dozen from Gil Nitsch's herd.

The rancher recalls a phone call from Shawn Harvey, an investigator with the Nebraska Brand Commission. "And he asked me, 'Are you short any cattle?' I says, 'Not to my knowledge.' And then he says, 'Would you believe we've got 10 of your cows at Wahoo, Nebraska?'"

Wahoo is nearly 650 kilometers to the east of Nitsch's ranch - even further than that from his cattle herd. On a tip, a state agriculture official had checked on 10 cows that had been purchased by a sale barn there. The investigator found a "Y double bar" brand on the cattle. The stylized "Y" with two lines under it shows the animals were from Nitsch's herd.

Investigator Shawn Harvey says cattle rustling is fairly common. "Obviously, with time, it's evolved into a much higher-tech business than what it was back in the Old West," he says. "Back then, they did it horseback and drove the cattle. And nowadays, it's pretty easy for them to get wheels underneath the cattle [put them on a truck] and get them out to where they can sell them somewhere where there is no inspection."

To brand or not to brand

Brand inspections are where the system breaks down.

Harvey explains that each county has its own rules. Counties in the western two-thirds of Nebraska require all cattle to branded, while those in the east don't.

"There is no requirement in the no brand area. The only thing that's ever required, when you sell something in the no-brand area, you are to give a bill of sale. So, basically, you can take a piece of paper, write out that 'I, John Doe sold Jane Doe 10 head of cattle', you date it, you sign it. That's all that's required."

Ranchers bring their cattle and other livestock to auction houses for sale to the highest bidder.
Ranchers bring their cattle and other livestock to auction houses for sale to the highest bidder.

Cattle are bought and sold every Tuesday at the Livestock Auction Market in Gordon, Nebraska. It's on the west side of the state, so the cattle have to be branded.

Glen Andrews has been ranching in the area for 35 years and says the requirement just makes sense. "I think the whole state should be under branding rule because it's a form of I.D. and it's your personal signature on your cattle. I think it would help immensely to figure this out when something like cattle rustling happens."

Officials and ranchers from eastern Nebraska say they don't brand because they view the process as an inconvenience - even though their cattle operations are typically much smaller than those in the western part of the state.

Investigator Shawn Harvey says since neighboring Iowa and Kansas, as well as Oklahoma, Missouri and most eastern states don't require branding, ranchers in eastern Nebraska feel that there is little point to branding their cattle.

The good news for Gil Nitsch is that eight of his 10 rustled cows were returned, and the man who stole them was caught.

Cattle rustling was a hanging offense in the 19th century. These days, 21st century rustlers simply face up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs