Home » History » Calling the Brands-Stock Detectives of the Wild West: A Book Review

Calling the Brands-Stock Detectives of the Wild West: A Book Review

“Calling the Brands-Stock Detectives of the Wild West,” by Monty McCord, provides extensive details of the cattle industry’s history, the scrupulous adventures of those who were bent on stealing their way to their version of success, and the often times cold and calculated means of many of the so-called “stock detectives” to thwart those efforts. Our timeline provides snippets from the book dealing with Arizona history. The book is available on line and through the Globe Public Library. 


The first permanent cattle ranch was established in the Territory of Arizona in 1872 by Henry C. Hooker. It was the Sierra Bonita Ranch north of present-day Wilcox. That ranch was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and remains an operating cattle ranch, which is not open to the public.


Tom Horn, probably the most famous stock detective in the U.S., according to McCord, was in Gila County, Arizona following the Apache Wars, where the Apaches taught him to scout an adversary, a skill he used for the remainder of his career.

He was a deputy in Gila County with Glen Reynolds and with Buckey O’Neill in Yavapai County. Horn left Arizona following the Graham-Tewksbury Pleasant Valley War. He headed to Colorado in 1890 to work for Pinkerton National Detective Agency’s Denver Division.

Two years later he was sent to Wyoming under an assumed name to work as an under-cover detective to build cases on rustlers. Horn had a reputation for doing whatever it took to bring down an adversary and was revered throughout cattle country.



As the cattle business continued to grow in Arizona, the Arizona Weekly Star reported concerns that hundreds of cattle had been stolen and sold to butchers in Tombstone, Benson, and Tucson.

The cattlemen asked for actions that would result in the enactment of a law appointing inspectors to check brands of all stock killed by butchers or shipped out of the territory. Branding by iron was the widely used technique of marking livestock for ownership throughout cattle country.


Laws were passed by the Arizona Territorial Legislature on March 10, 1887, creating the 3-member Territorial Livestock Sanitary Commission, including provision for appointment of a veterinary surgeon, similar to other states and territories attempts to control cattle thieves. 


Arizona’s Territorial Livestock Sanitary Commission appointed the first livestock inspectors, who were empowered to enforce livestock laws. Inspectors were appointed when five cattlemen, each owning at least 50 cattle, filed a petition.

Calling the Brands
A Book Review by RJ Ladd


Laws were changed requiring the livestock commission to record livestock brands, rather than the county recorders.  The Arizona Territory’s first brand book was published about two years later.


Believing the system as insufficient in controlling cattle thieves, the Phoenix Herald, in 1898 suggested the best way was for the legislature to enact a law providing cattlemen to organize secret “Cattlemen’s Detective Associations” in each county. The detectives were to have the power of deputy sheriffs in livestock matters.


In 1903, a small group of cattlemen organized the Arizona Cattle Growers Association (ACGA). Founding members were primarily concerned with having orderly systematic laws in place that would protect livestock and property. The ACGA was incorporated in 1924.


When Arizona became a state in 1912, the Territorial Livestock Sanitary Commission became the Arizona Livestock Sanitary Board. Registering brands every ten years became the requirement in 1931. In 1985, the period was reduced to five years.


Meanwhile in 1884, a young lady was born in Kansas and named Oklahoma, as her parents believed they would be moving to their desired ranching property. Unfortunately, “Okla’s” mother passed soon after her birth and her father moved the family to Gila Bend, Arizona where he established the Gila Land and Cattle Company.

Okla continued to develop her skills as a calf roper and horseback rider. In 1915, Okla Noonan (then wife of cattleman Daniel W. Noonan Jr.) was appointed as the first woman in Arizona (and internationally) as a state livestock inspector. She was lauded as a member of the Arizona Pioneers Association, as well.


The Arizona Livestock Sanitary Board became part of the Arizona Department of Agriculture. The livestock offices are responsible for enforcement of laws and regulations pertaining to branding, transportation, and sale of cattle, horses, sheep and other livestock.


Even as recent as 2001, rustling was an issue. A Phoenix, Arizona man was arrested on seven felony accounts from evidence obtained that he had stolen 130+ head of cattle, forged a proof sale document, altered brands, and transported the cattle to Texas. The loss was estimated at over $100,000.


In early 2016, a rancher near Wilcox reported 54 cows and their calves were taken from one of his pastures. The 108 head of livestock were estimated to be valued at $162,000.

Most state livestock agencies agree that the best protection for owners is branding, registration and inspection; however, branding is still not required in all states. New technology being considered is an ear chip that could be placed on a cow, which would send an alert if the animal moved off the owner’s property. As long as cattle rustling continues, so does the search for better means to combat them!

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