cattle
Cattle on the range.

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Northeastern Nevada Ranchers

The ranchers who raise cattle for a living in Northeastern Nevada around Elko, Humboldt, Eureka, Lander, White Pine and Nye, began noticing something strange happening to their herds.  Every day or so, the herd would be one or two short. Now, if you know anything about ranchers, you know that they know every head of cattle they own and the exact count. They’ll tell you at the drop of a cowboy hat, just how many, what variety, and how much they’re expected to bring at market. They’ll tell you which ones are “with calf,” and which ones haven’t yet produced one. They’ll tell you what time of the year they send them to market and the money they expect to bring home, whether it’s less or more than last year, and what they do when they need new blood in their herd. For all I know, there’s probably a million more things they’d tell you about their cows, if you were lucky enough to get one into a conversation. They have to know these things; it’s their business, their life’s blood.

Disappearing Cattle

But in a long period in the 1920s, one particular ranch owned by the Utah Construction Company, was really hit hard and UC branded cattle were disappearing fast; one and sometimes two a day. The cowboys first thought wild predators were taking the cattle; however, there were no signs of a wolf or coyote kill. Those critters don’t hide their leavings, just eat their fill and walk away. Still there should be bones, hides, entrails, something left to betray their meal at the ranch’s expense. The cowboys worried they’d lose their jobs if they couldn’t figure this one out and stop the ranch’s losses.

A pair of grey wolves, watchful for an opportunity

A pair of grey wolves, watchful for an opportunity

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Something Out Of This World Stealing Cattle?

Talking it over together, the two men realized something mysterious was happening. There were no visible human boot prints and no sign of cattle being rustled. At a loss for an explanation, one old cowpoke determined he would keep an extra-sharp eye on the herd that night and catch whatever was taking the cattle. Still, when morning came there was one missing. How could this be? Was it something out of this world? Some sort of spectre who swooped down out of the sky and took cattle?

A Practical Man

But as the practical man he was, he knew there had to be a reasonable explanation. One day, after a rain, he and a buddy began tracking cow prints in the mud. Finding a set that led away from the ranch, they followed and noticed something a little odd about the prints, but couldn’t quite place it. After tracking for some time, they came upon a man leading one of the cows away from the ranch. He was walking kind of funny and they thought maybe he was lame.

“Crazy Tex” Hazelwood

His name was J.R. “Crazy Tex” Hazelwood, and once they apprehended him, they noticed he was wearing a strange set of shoes. Investigating further they noticed he had strapped a board to his own boots, on which he had attached  four “cow shoes,” made from real front and back cow hooves. He practiced with them until every step he took mimicked a cow’s natural gait. He even sounded proud when he told them how long and hard he’d practiced, so that his hoof prints looked like the real thing. He would enter the range, wearing his special cow shoes, pick out a likely looking cow and simply put a rope around the neck of the chosen one (or two) and lead them off the ranch.

One of the shoe cow hooves, now on display at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko, NV

One of the shoe cow hooves, now on display at the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko, NV

Lucky Tex

“Crazy Tex” never showed any remorse for his activities. He was said to remark “Hi fellers, I didn’t think a big outfit like yours would miss a couple of cows. I needed some dough for grub and a couple of bottles. Sure didn’t think they’d send anybody after me.” He was doing quite well, until he was caught. He was arrested and went to prison for cattle rustling. He was actually lucky, because if he’d been caught some 30 years prior to this time, he’d have been hanged.

Unlucky Tex

When ol’ Tex finally got out of jail, he came right back to the Northeastern part of Nevada, and resumed being a nuisance, and that’s what caused his demise. He met his end at the age of 72 in 1953. He was sitting in his pickup truck when a neighbor he was feuding with shotgunned him. It seems even back in the 50s, neighbors didn’t take kindly to stealin’ anything…most especially cattle.


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