Mysterious Cattle Rustling on the UC Ranch
Leaning on one knee and staring at the ground, the buckaroo removed a battered hat and scratched his head. He and his partner exchanged puzzled looks as they climbed back into their saddles. They began to follow a trail of cow tracks.
A couple of cows carrying the UC brand were missing. It wasn't the first time. Several head of cattle, one or two at a time, had disappeared the past few months. The outfit's riders suspected that a rustler was on the loose but they found only cow tracks when they investigated. A couple of times butchered remains were discovered about a mile from where the animals had disappeared. No human footprints were found. A lot of people were scratching their heads over the mystery of the missing cows.
Following this newest trail were two Bills. One was William Van Eaton, better known as Sanitary Bill, the dirtiest fellow in the outfit. The other was Cold Water Bill who, when asked what he wanted to drink, always replied that a little cold water would do. They worked for the huge Utah Construction Company ranch that spread across most of the northeast corner of Nevada. The trail the two were following was about forty miles north of Wells.
"Can't figure it out," Sanitary commented.
Cold Water shook his head. "Me neither," he replied. "Them critters are just plain gone. No sign of 'em - just hoof prints."
They followed the tracks about a mile and lost them in a dry creek bed. They began circling the area until Cold Water picked up a faint trail of cow tracks heading north.
Topping a hill in horse-tall sagebrush, Sanitary grabbed Cold Water's arm and pointed. "Look! That's them! And there's a feller on foot driving 'em." Both horses felt the sting of spurs and carried the two Bills thundering down the slope.
The startled beef thief saw the cowboys and started running. He stumbled and fell. Bill and Bill reined up in a cloud of dust and pulled their guns on the felonious cattle drover.
It was Crazy Tex. Few people knew him by his real name, J.R. Hazelwood. No one would have asked anyway. Although it was in the late 1920's, a man could still get himself killed nosing into the background of another. The Old West tradition of privacy was still respected.
Folks around Elko County knew Tex's habits all too well. Tex, as one buckaroo described him, was "one stave short of being round." For years he had roamed the vast property of the UC ranches living like a wild animal in caves or in crude shelters he constructed from willows. No one liked him. No outfit would hire him. His erratic behavior kept him from being on any payroll.
Flat on his back, he looked up at his captors. "Hi, fellers!" he said as they dismounted. "I didn't think a big outfit like yours would miss a couple of cows. Needed some dough for grub and a couple of bottles. Didn't think they'd send anybody after me."
Cold Water grimly cocked his pistol and snarled, "Shut up, Tex! We've wasted damn near half a day on you. Hey! What the hell are those things on your feet?"
Sanitary grabbed one of Tex's feet and held it up. "I'll be damned! You ever see anything like this?"
Strapped to Tex's low-heeled boot was a board. On its underside were two hoofs sturdily fastened. This other boot was adorned with a twin of the contraption.
As the Bills inspected the handiwork, Tex told them he had practiced walking like a cow for long hours on his hoof-shoes. In fact, he bragged, he had perfected his length of stride to such an extent that experienced trackers thought it was that of a walking cow. For more than six months he had stolen cattle and robbed coyote traps, always getting away scot-free.
Chuckling, Cold Water commented that is no wonder they hadn't found any human footprints at the crime scenes.
Tex was lucky he hadn't been caught thirty years before. Back then a rustler was usually hanged from the nearest tree. Instead, Sanitary and Cold Water took him to the ranch headquarters where the cowboss telephoned Sheriff Joe Harris at the county seat in Elko. Harris drove out to the UC to collect the inventive rustler.
Tex was convicted and spent a couple of year in prison. When released, he headed right back to northeast Nevada and remained a nuisance for several more years. He died in 1953 at age 72. He was sitting in his pickup in Contact when a feuding neighbor walked up and shotgunned him to death.
It is doubtful that Tex realized or even gave thought that he was rustling cattle using one of the most unique methods ever devised. Think this story is a leg puller? The shoes are on display at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko.
20 October 1998
©Copyright 1999 by Howard Hickson. If any portion or all of this article is used or quoted proper credit must be given to the author..