The run around |

The run around

Many years ago in our area two brothers took a bank for many millions by tricking the loan officer into thinking they owned a lot more cattle than they really did. In the morning they showed the loan officer a set of cattle and then they took him to lunch and force fed him martinis for two hours. In the afternoon their cowboys ran the same cattle around a hill a second time as a supposed new bunch of cattle. That evening they shipped the same cattle to another ranch where they were shown to the same loan arranger a third and fourth time as even more collateral. The loan officer should have been tipped off by the fact that a couple thousand head were supposedly subsisting on a 500 acre ranch that was so devoid of grass it looked like a moonscape.

I’m not sure but the brothers may have gotten the idea from the Germans who, in World War II, captured a few Americans at El Guettar in Tunisia. They marched those American prisoners up the main street of Tunis to impress the natives with their military superiority and then they trucked the same prisoners back to the start of the parade where they marched them down the street again. This went on several times until the natives must have thought the Germans had captured our entire Army.

Or the brothers may have gotten the idea by reading about Moreton Frewen. This pioneer businessman was so stupid he failed on three different continents. In the late 1800’s Moreton bought a large herd of cattle and liked them so much he bought the same set a second time when they too were run around a hill and shown to him again.

I don’t advise anyone to follow a life of crime but if you are going to try this trick at home there are a couple potential pitfalls. First, make sure that there are no “marker cattle” in the bunch. If the rest of your herd is healthy and all black or red, a white one, or an animal with a runny nose and frozen tail, is going to stick out like a wart on the face of a supermodel. Even a soft-shoed urban banker might recognize a Longhorn steer with long horns and a distinctly marked hide if he sees the same animal more than five times in a row amongst a set of straight blacks or reds.

I hate to admit this but even I, your humble correspondent, have unknowingly helped cattle buyers see double. Many years ago, when cows were worth about 60 percent less than they are now, I worked ringside at a commercial cow sale that was held on a ranch out in the country. In many ways it was unlike any other sale I’ve ever participated in. For one thing, the sale started at ten o’clock in the morning. Most auctioneers and ring men work bankers hours and the sales usually start at one. We cranked up the sale and the cattle were coming through the ring in big bunches to make nice even loads. But the buyers weren’t interested in even buying a pickup truck load. Anticipating a wreck, the savvy owner had pre-weighed the cattle and he protected the cows to the price they’d fetch at the sale barn in town.

We weren’t getting any cows sold and I’m sure the owner was ready to call off the sale when a big buyer showed up at noon to eat lunch before what he thought would be a one o’clock sale. When he saw we were already selling cows he waded right into them. The ranch owner, who had more sand than the Hawaiian Islands, went out back, had the cattle he’d already caught back resorted into smaller bunches and, because they were all the same color and without ear tags, no one was the wiser when we resold them. I thought the cattle began to look familiar and kept thinking we’d be running out of cattle soon but the ranchers, who’d been sitting on their hands before, now suddenly came alive. They started bidding on the same cows they could have bought $300 cheaper just hours before. We ended up having a great sale, although it was a long day because we sold twice as many cattle as were advertised.

It was the only time in my life I’ve worked the same sale twice in one day.

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