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Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at

I’ve never been a victim of a brand burner or blotter, more commonly known as a rustler. But I have been accused of being one by a new neighbor who was a wannabe cowboy who’d made his money elsewhere and knew less about ranching than I do about quantum physics. His accusation was ridiculous; I was losing money on every cow I owned at the time; why would I want more of them? Even if his cows were far better than my assortment of gummers, gimps, nighttime calvers, and crazy cows, I, in no way, coveted them.

I think my new neighbor must have seen too many cowboy movies as a child. Every day he drove home by the very back corner of a ranch my wife and I leased, and he frequently noticed that his cows were on my side of the fence, and he assumed I’d rustled them. While I must admit that I do on occasion have “too many irons in the fire,” and I do own a running iron that was used to alter brands in Colorado 150 years ago, but I swear on a stack of bibles that I’ve never used it.

Although I never even considered stealing another person’s cattle, it’s easy to see the many advantages. For one thing, cattle can be stolen a lot faster than a rancher can raise them. And who wouldn’t want super cows that supposedly gave birth to eight calves per year or a 300 head cowherd that could produce 2,400 calves a year? That’s some fertile cowherd!

Still, I didn’t like being accused of being a rustler. The fact was the area of the ranch where he saw his cows was actually inaccessible from my side of the fence. It was like the Hole In The Wall where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hung out because it was so difficult to find a way in. I always saved the pasture for when my calves weighed about 200 pounds, and the cows were milking good. I threw them into that pasture that had a natural spring at the bottom and knee-high green grass, and the calves grew like weeds. Then I had to wait until the cows had eaten all the grass and voluntarily came through that Hole In The Wall in the “bad lands” of the ranch. If the new neighbor wanted his cows back at any time, all he had to do was open a gate, and they’d go back to his side of the fence after they’d gotten fat on my grass.


It’s been said that a horse can go anywhere a cow can, and maybe that’s true of some horses but not my $700 “wonder horse” Gentleman. I say “wonder horse” because it was a wonder to get him to trot or gallop or even wake up. I tried once to get Gentleman to go down the steep cliff into the bad lands, and because his shoes were worn slicker than owl snot, we shot down the mountain like I was skiing down a triple black diamond ski slope.

After the third time of being accused of rustling his cattle, I had to figure out how my neighbor’s cows were getting on my side of the fence, so one time after the neighbor had retrieved his cows, I sat on the top of the mountain and watched awhile through my binoculars. It didn’t take long to find my answer. Then I invited my new neighbor to join me in my pickup on top of the mountain after he’d retrieved his cows yet again. Sure enough, one of his cows put her head under the bottom wire and literally lifted up the fence for 20 yards in both directions. Then all her sisters joined her in walking underneath to my fertile fields. When all were safely ensconced on my side of the fence, all the posts fell back in their holes, and the fence looked hog tight again. Every one of the nine wires my neighbor had put on the fence had done nothing except make the fence stronger for the cows to lift up.

My neighbor was so embarrassed about accusing me of being a rustler that he went home and had every one of those fence posts reset in concrete. He even paid the obscene bill I sent him for pasture charges.