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.

Organized Crime and Texas’ Crime Investigating Committee in the 1950s

cohencombo

In the words of Wichita Falls Mayor and Judge of the Corporate Court, T. Leo Moore, his city had ”bounced” infamous California gangster Mickey Cohen ”out of town” on August 30, 1950.  Later, Texas state officials held a hearing to assess whether or not Cohen had been looking to set up illegal gambling operations during his visit. The gangster had been subpoenaed, but as you can see from the documents above, he kindly explained why he was unable to attend. Soon after these events, in 1953 the Texas Legislature formed its Crime Investigating Committee. The Southwest Collection holds the entirety of their records, which offer an interesting perspective on “organized crime” throughout the state.

reportcombo

Consisting of nearly 40 pages of summarized evidence and testimony, the Final Report of the Crime Investigating Committee details the large scale of their investigation. Gambling in Houston and Galveston, general vice in Waco and Dallas, and bootlegging in West Texas were among the topics and regions that they examined. In our opinion, the bootlegging side of things was the most interesting because its legacy is still visible in the West Texas (home of the Southwest Collection, incidentally.)

pinky1

For example, these minutes of a hearing held in Amarillo, Texas in November 1952 concern, among other things, the activities of alleged Odessa, Texas bootlegger Pinkie Roden. As further examination of the Crime Investigating Committee Records shows, Pinkie was the object of much of their scrutiny. He had constructed a regional crime empire. Elaborate procedures were in place to get booze into the hands of bootleggers, launder the money that rolled in, and protect Pinkie and his associates from reprisals. He was so successful that his stores are still in business today in Odessa, Midland, Lubbock, and elsewhere—albeit legally, now that those areas approach liquor sales more leniently.discs001

With hundreds of pages of evidence, testimony, and hearings to keep track of, surely the stenographers were hard-pressed to keep up. Not so! By the 1950s, sound recording media such as these Soundscriber discs were fairly popular. Although Dictabelt and Soundscribe recordings might now be perceived as of lower fidelity than more recent magnetic tape and LP discs, they are sometimes the only record of very pivotal moments in history (one of the most notable being Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration on Air Force One just after Kennedy’s assassination!) The discs pictured here are a sample of dozens created during the course of the Committee’s statewide proceedings. Transcriptions of their contents are present in our records, but it’s a unique (and very cool) experience to actually hear the events playing out over sixty years ago.

The items shared here represent only a fraction of the entertainment that these records hold. In fact, when combined with our dozens of oral histories with local bootleggers and their families, statewide criminals, and the police and judges who pursued them, the SWC might just have a gold mine of research material about Texas crime. Give our Reference Staff a shout and they will help you get your hands on them!