By Chris McClure, Contributing Editor

During the late 1870s, shortly after the Texas Panhandle was opened to settlement thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Cavalry under Ranald S. Mackenzie, cattle rustling became a problem. The early ranchers staked their claim to vast stretches of what had recently been the domain of the Kiowa, Comanche and Southern Arapaho, and covered them with herds being driven up from further south. Those herds and the lack of organized government were attractive targets for the lawless living on the ever-advancing frontier.

In March 1880, leading ranchers from the area met at Huselby’s Hotel in Mobeetie and elected Charles Goodnight as president. Within the following year, the Panhandle Stock Association of Texas had been “organized for the mutual benefit, cooperation and protection of the ranchmen.”* They immediately posted a reward of $250 for the apprehension of anyone stealing cattle from association members. They went on to hire inspectors, detectives and attorneys to aid in their efforts to protect members from theft.

The pattern laid down by those early ranchers is alive and well today throughout the country. They have evolved to protect cattlemen from other threats such as onerous regulations and legal actions that threaten the ranching community.

Ranchers have always been an independent group. I suppose it comes with the territory. Many ranches are lonely, isolated outposts in what to the outsider often appears to be uninviting country. In some ways, it seems unlikely that such fiercely independent types would band together for any reason, but if you really think about it, the associations themselves are just an extension of that independence.

Today, it is all too common for groups to seek redress from the government. Goodnight and his fellow ranchers didn’t look to the government to solve their problem; they did it themselves. Today, we see the same spirit alive in our organizations. We come together to solve our problems – even when the problem is the government itself.

We have differences of opinion among ourselves. Any time you get a group together, there are at least as many opinions as there are members of the group. In spite of our differences, we have remained united in many ways. Usually, our biggest difference is in how we choose to approach a problem. We see the same thing in political parties. Often, both want similar results, but they see the solution differently.

Just this morning I read an article about a national environmental organization that wants to eliminate animal agriculture in the very near future. Such attitudes are troubling to me because I consider myself an environmentalist, but I see the solutions much differently than they do. The very ranchers they attack are the last bastion holding back total destruction of vast tracts of wilderness reservoirs.

Most environmentalists are just normal people who want only one thing – wilderness to enjoy. They don’t care about feeding people or providing jobs or the fact that an underlying, healthy economy is necessary for them to have their titanium bicycles and high-impact plastic helmets and expensive clothing so they can stylishly enjoy the wilderness they wish to deny to everyone else. They are quite simply, selfish.

I guess when you think about it, self-interest drives the world. It drove early cattlemen to create the first stockmen organizations and it drives us even today to protect our way of life through mutually pursuing common goals. It is when competing interests are in conflict that our combined strength becomes most important. The opposition to our way of life is growing stronger by the day, and it is more critical today than ever before that we maintain a united front to resist the increasingly violent attacks we face.

Today’s rustlers don’t wear black hats and hide in the breaks along the edge of the Llano Estacado of the Texas Panhandle. They wear suits and go to law school at colleges and universities controlled by an elitist crowd with lots of money and a global agenda. They don’t just want to take our cattle; they want to take our very lifestyle. The only way to counteract their concerted attack is with an even greater force – a united industry that will stand fast.


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