Horse Stealing

“There was no greater crime than to steal a man’s horse, to set him afoot. It was like stealing the sailor’s ship or the wings of the bird. There were no extenuating circumstances , and little time for explanation or prayer. The penalty was death. The cow thief was not nearly so bad in public estimation. A cow was mere property, but a horse was life itself to the plainsman. The code of the West made a strange distinction, one that the East has not understood, between a cow and a maverick. A cow that bore a brand was the private property of the man whose brand it bore; a maverick was public property and belonged to the man that branded it, just as the buffalo hide belonged to the one that killed the buffalo. The fact that the maverick was the calf of the branded cow did not affect the situation very much, especially in the early days. There were few cattlemen who did not brand mavericks; but no cattleman considered himself a thief for having done so.”