Cattle Rustling in the Archives

Portions of brands found in Spence Brothers Herd

At the Southwest Collection, we acquire more materials than we can describe in a thousand of these blogs. Some collections span nearly 1,000 linear feet, some a mere wallet-sized box. The Charles M. and James E. Cree Papers are one of the latter. Ranging in type from correspondence to cattle brand identification and stock counts to financial statements, the collection might at first glance inspire little interest. A closer examination, however, reveals over a decade of cattle-rustling and vandalism on a New Mexico ranch at the end of the 19th century.

Brand cards-1

James E. Cree was a Scotsman who owned of a distillery in Edinburgh, Scotland (his son, Charles, whose name the collection also bears, was born years after this tale.) He founded the Angus VV Ranch in the 1880’s on Little Creek near Angus in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Cree and his partner Brandon Kirby are credited with introducing the Angus breed of cattle to New Mexico. Pat Garrett, former sheriff and noted slayer of Billy the Kid, at one point served as ranch manager on the VV ranch. (Although in this context, that is just some fun trivia.) The numbers of calves on the VV and other ranches are noted in the document above, as is the certification of the VV brand, below.

Brand Certificate August 30 1886-1

Report of Agent of South Eastern New Mexico Stock Growers Association 1894-1

Why do those administrative cow counts matter? Well, according to the report above as well as several related documents, someone in the Lincoln County area had been cattle rustlin’, specifically “Slick” Miller, Allen Hightower, and the Spence Brothers. From secluded spot to secluded spot, Miller and Hightower had driven the cattle stealthily until the Spences bought them at $4-5 a head. This tale was summarized by an unnamed Agent of the South Eastern New Mexico Stock Growers Association, the report of whom can be seen above, after extensive investigation and testimony.

Statement of Louis Herrera November 12 1895 2-4

Louis Herrera, a ranch employee, provided at least four separate statements at least four separate statement to investigators, a portion of which can be seen above. In other instances, only a portion of the testimony survives. The statement of J. F. Allison, below, is one such. He was involved in the arrest of “old man Eaker,” another rustler who plundered the VV.

Statement of J. F

The conclusion of these investigations is not immediately apparent. Some rustlers were certainly arrested; others appear only once or twice in the documents. It is also possible that because these records span over a decade, other instances of cattle rustling are being document here. Perhaps some intrepid researcher could piece the entire story together using the Charles and James Cree Papers along with other SWC collections, or even collections from other archives. So take a look through the papers for yourself, and feel free to get ahold of our Reference Staff. They’re here to herd you through the process if needs be.

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One thought on “Cattle Rustling in the Archives

  1. Please include us in your research. My husband, William Benton McCombs III, comes from a long line of cattlemen from Texas to New Mexico. His great uncle was Bob Crosby, four time World Champion Cowboy in the 1930’s. Bob Crosby even performed for the Queen of England.

    All our family members are Tech graduates, and Jim Sowell may be the same person whom my husband was fraternity brothers at Tech 1964-1969 through SAE.

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