Thievery occurs in agriculture too

By Glenda Price

Manufacturers build big warehouses for storage of their products so they won’t be stolen. Agriculturists can’t do that. Crops in the field can’t be locked up. Neither can cattle or sheep — or horses.

Since prevention is difficult, punishment after the fact was considered the next best option, the sooner the better, in the old days. So horse thieves were summarily hanged from the nearest big tree.

Actually, cattle rustlers and horse thieves were the main reasons for the formation of livestock associations in the late 1800s and for branding livestock to prove ownership.

The possibility of theft also is why most ranches don’t have their shipping pens and loading chutes near a highway. No use making the thieves’ getaway easier.

Times have changed. Nowadays ranchers are liable to find abandoned horses in their pastures since it’s now illegal for old horses to be humanely killed and made into glue, leather, etc.

Of course there is grand theft and then there is little theft — and getaways and “eataways.” All my Texas friends have stories about their raids on watermelon patches. They tell me the taste of watermelon bought in a store can’t begin to compare to the scrumptiousness of that fresh off the vine.

So is there a bit of chicanery in all of us? That’s a scary thought, especially when you’ve been on the losing end of it.

Our losing end was pecans. For awhile we had a few pecan trees on our place. One year they produced well and the price was good. We did the tree shaking, gathered them off the ground and put them in gunny sacks. After we got six or seven sacks full, we set them beside the garage and went to town to purchase more bags.

When we got back all the sacks were gone. When the deputy sheriff came out to investigate and we asked about the chances of recovery he laughed.

Then he told us about a fellow who lived a couple of miles down the road from us, a Mr. Abernathy. He owned a fairly large pecan orchard, and had paid for the tree shaker and hired help to gather the nuts. They put the full gunny sacks — probably 100 of them — in a big trailer and parked it by his barn.

Just before dark he happened to be inside the barn when he heard a truck motor. He looked out the small window and darned if a strange truck wasn’t backing up to his trailer. Two guys hitched the trailer to their truck and started driving off!

At that, Mr. Abernathy came out of his shock and sprinted out the door. By then the rig was moving fairly fast, but he made a flying leap and landed like a huge frog among the sacks.

This was in the days before cell phones, so he just hung on. Imagine the thieves’ surprise when they drove into the pecan purchasing place and Mr. Abernathy jumped off the trailer. He was not happy, and soon the thieves weren’t, either.

Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at: