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Cattle raiding

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Title: Cattle raiding  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: William Brocius, Ike Clanton, Cochise County in the Old West, Cattle, Family feuds in the United States
Collection: Cattle, Crimes, Illegal Occupations, Property Crimes
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Cattle raiding

A cattle raid during the Swabian War, 1499

Cattle raiding is the act of stealing cattle. In Australia, such stealing is often referred to as duffing, and the perpetrator as a duffer.[1][2] In North America, especially in cowboy culture, cattle theft is dubbed rustling and an individual who engages in it is a rustler.


  • History 1
  • Mythology 2
  • American Old West 3
  • African Great Lakes 4
  • Patagonia 5
  • Israel 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9


The act of cattle rustling is quite ancient. Historically, the first suspected raids occurred over seven thousand years ago.[3]


Cattle raids play an important part in Indo-European mythology; see for example Táin Bó Cúailnge (Ireland; in English: The Cattle Raid of Cooley), the Rigvedic Panis (India), and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, who steals the cattle of Apollo (Greece). These myths are often paired with myths of the abduction of women (compare Helen of Troy, Saranyu, Sita, and The Rape of the Sabine Women). Abduction of women and theft of livestock were practiced in many of the world's pre-urbanised cultures, the former likely reaching back to the Paleolithic and the latter to the earliest domestication of animals in the Neolithic.

In numerous Sangam Tamil texts cattle raiding is the warning given by the enemy proposing war, while cattle rescuing was the response of the opposed team.[4] The Mahabharatha mentions several incidents of cattle raiding and rescuing.[5]

American Old West

The Beefsteak Raid (1864) during the American Civil War.

In the American Old West, rustling was considered a serious offense, and in some cases resulted in vigilantes hanging the thieves.[6]

One cause of tensions between Mexico and the United States in the years leading up to the Mexican-American War (of 1846-1848) was the frequent raiding of cattle by Native Americans from north of the border. Mexico's military and diplomatic capabilities had declined after it attained independence and left the northern half of the country vulnerable to the Apache, Comanche, and Navajo Indians. The Indians, especially the Comanche, took advantage of Mexico's weakness to undertake large-scale raids hundreds of miles deep into the country to steal livestock for their own use and to supply an expanding market in Texas and the United States. The Indian raids left thousands of people dead and devastated northern Mexico. When American troops entered northern Mexico in 1846 they found a demoralized people and little resistance from the civilian population.

Mexican rustlers were a major issue during the American Civil War (1861-1865); the Mexican government was accused of supporting the habit. American rustlers also stole Mexican cattle from across the border. Failure to brand new calves facilitated theft.

Conflict over alleged rustling was a major issue in the Johnson County War (of 1892) in the U.S. state of Wyoming.

The transition from open range to fenced grazing gradually reduced the practice of rustling in North America. In the 20th century, so called "suburban rustling" became more common, with rustlers anesthetizing cattle and taking them directly to auction. This often takes place at night, posing problems for law enforcement, because on very large ranches it can take several days for loss of cattle to be noticed and reported. Convictions are rare to nonexistent.

African Great Lakes

The Pokot and Samburu Nilotic populations in northwestern Kenya often raid each other for cattle.[7]

Cattle rustling is a major problem in rural areas of South Sudan. In the state of Jonglei, cattle raids in August 2011 left around 600 people dead. Once again in January 2012, ethnic clashes related to cattle theft killed between 2,000 and 3,000 people and displaced as many as 34,500 in the area around Pibor.[8]


El Malón, Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802–1858)
La vuelta del malón (The return of the raiders) by Ángel Della Valle (1892).

Cattle raiding became a major issue at the end of the 19th century in Argentina, where cattle stolen during malones were taken through Rastrillada de los chilenos across the Andes, to Chile, where they were exchanged for alcoholic beverages and weapons. Several indigenous groups and outlaws, such as the Boroanos and Ranqueles tribes, and the Pincheira brothers, ravaged the southern frontier of Argentina in search of cattle. To prevent the cattle raiding, the Argentine government built a system of trenches called Zanja de Alsina in the 1870s. Most cattle raids ended after the military campaigns of the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s, and the following partition of Patagonia by Argentina and Chile established by the 1881 Border Treaty.


Theft of sheep, goats and cows, along with tractors and irrigation equipment, is one of the most difficult problems confronted by farmers in Israel. About 400 cases are reported annually in the north of the country, and in the south, farmers compare the situation to the Wild West. They suffer millions of shekels in annual losses.[9] Most of the stolen livestock is taken to the West Bank, quickly slaughtered and then smuggled back into Israel, where it is sold by butchers to unsuspecting customers.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Baker, Sidney John (1945) The Australian language : an examination of the English language and English speech as used in Australia Angus and Robertson, Ltd., Sydney, page 32, OCLC 186257552
  2. ^ Derricourt, William (1899) Old Convict Days (2nd ed.) T.F. Unwin, London, p. 103 OCLC 5990998
  3. ^ "The Perfect Gift: Prehistoric Massacres". Perfect Irish Gifts (The twin vices of women and cattle in prehistoric Europe). 
  4. ^ வெட்சி நிரை கவர்தல் ; மீட்டல் கரந்தையாம் வட்கார் மேல் செல்வது வஞ்சி ; உட்காது எதிர்ஊன்றல் காஞ்சி ; எயில்காத்தல் நொச்சி அது வளைத்தல் ஆகும் உழிஞை - அதிரப் பொருவது தும்பையாம் ; போர்க்களத்து மிக்கோர் செரு வென்றது வாகையாம் - Purananuru 9
  5. ^ "Episode 46 - The Cattle Raid : Lawrence Manzo : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". 2001-03-10. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  6. ^ "Cattle Rustling". Old Meade County. 
  7. ^ "31 killed in Laikipia cattle raid". Daily Nation. September 15, 2009. 
  8. ^ "South Sudan horror at deadly cattle vendetta". BBC News. 
  9. ^ Israeli farmers face off against master goat thieves
  10. ^ Taking livestock: NIS 5m in beasts rustled last year

Further reading

  • George Raine (2007-12-16). "Cattle rustling on the rise in California". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  • "The Handbook of Texas Online". Texas State Historical Association. 
  • Webb, Walter Prescott; Eldon Stephen Branda (1952). The Handbook of Texas. Texas State Historical Association. 
  • Robert Reinhold (1987-04-25). "Cattle rustling making a comeback as tough times hit Texas". The New York Times. 
  • Tallent, Annie D. (1899). The Black Hills, Or, The Last Hunting Ground of the Dakotahs. Nixon-Jones. p. 559. 

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