Actors who appeared in classic westerns talk about their experiences. As imagined by me.
(Note: Since they always played the same character in one western after another, it is not surprising that, after a while, the actors started identifying strongly with their roles.)
THE CATTLE RUSTLER
“Havin’ played the part for so long, I’ve come to thinkin’ that the negative opinion people have of cattle rustlers is a little unfair. Yes, rustlers steal cattle, and that’s wrong. But put the stealin’ part of it aside for a minute, and consider the effort that goes into the cattle rustin’ itself. If you keep an open mind about it, I think you’ll be impressed.
“First, rustlin’ almost always takes place at night. It’s easier to steal cattle from people when most of them are asleep. The problem is, this kind of ‘night work’ is difficult and potentially dangerous. Unable to see where they’re goin’, your horse could step in a chuckhole and send you a-flyin’. That’s no picnic, believe me.
“Also, in the dark and the dust and confusion, a fellow cattle rustler could easily confuse you with a cowboy he’s tryin’ to rustle the cattle from, and shoot you by mistake. And given the lateness of the hour, there’s always the chance that you’ll dose off in your saddle and miss the whole thing.
‘Or, having fallen asleep, you could slide offa your horse and get trampled by the cattle. I never thought of that one before. That’s worse than missin’ the whole thing.
“Breakin’ it down, cattle rustlin’ is a multi-step operation. Step One – you rustle the cattle. That’s why you’re there. Step Two – you drive ‘em to safety. Step Three – you change all the brands. And Step Four – you sell the cattle as your own.
“Those are what you’d call the four ‘Building Blocks’ of cattle rustlin’. I’ll be you thought it was just the rustlin’.
“Let’s take them one at a time. Step One – rustlin’ the cattle – involves shootin’. Shootin’, among other things – like killin’ an mutilatin’ people – spooks cattle. Which means Step One and Step Two are closely related. There’s no use rustlin’ the cattle if, in the process, they stampede all over the place, and there’s none of them left to drive to safety. You come back to your boss, ‘Did you rustle the cattle?’ ‘Sure did.’ ‘Where are they?’ ‘They ran away.’ That would put an end to your rustlin’ career right then and there. Maybe even your life.
“Rule of Thumb: Keep the shootin’ to a minimum, so there’ll be enough cattle left to drive to safety. The most reliable hidin’ place? ‘Box Canyon.’ Rustlers favored ‘Box Canyon’, because there was only one way into it. You post a lookout at the entryway, and that would be that. You’re safe.
“The downside to ‘Box Canyon’ was that there was also only one way out, so the rustlers were essentially “boxed in.” Of course, the folks we rustled the cattle from, at least at first, had no idea where we were, which always seemed strange to me. We always hid the cattle in ‘Box Canyon.’
“While I’m on it, the other good thing about ‘Box Canyon’ was you only had to watch the cattle on one side.
“With the cattle under control, it was now time for Step Three – changin’ the brands. Now lemme make this clear. These wouldn’t be different rustlers who’d be changin’ the brands. We’re talkin’ about the same rustlers who’d rustled the cattle and driven them to safety. You don’t have ‘other rustlers’ who receive the cattle, say ‘Good job’ and send the original rustlers off to bed. These were the same people! After all that they'd done!
“Can you imagine how exhausted they must have been? Rustlin’ the cattle, then, drivin’ ‘em to safety, and they still had to change the brands? And they did have to change them, there was no question about that! Those brands said, ‘These are not our cattle!’ They needed to be altered but quick! And cleverly. As exhausted as they were, those rustlers had to use their imaginations.
“Since the posse eventually wises up and finds us somewhere during or after Step Three, Step Four – sellin’ the cattle as your own – usually gets replaced by another Step Four – shootin’ it out with the posse. This step requires you to be skillful at findin’ good cover, shootin’ skills and, in the end, surrenderin’ skills, which are not really skills, you just throw your hands in the air. But remember, you’re really tired.”
“Would these cowpokes rather not have been rustlers? Of course, they would. Nobody wants to be a rustler. It’s a terrible job.
“But sometimes, you don’t have a choice. Maybe all the honest cowboy jobs were taken and ‘rustler’ was all there was left. Maybe their bosses pretended to be honest in the beginning, and when they discovered they were rustlers, they were in too deep to turn back. So now, either because of an over-crowded job market, or as a result of inferior character-judgin’ attributes, you’re sittin’ on your horse under a tree, your hands tied behind your back, starin’ up at the business end of a noose. Do you really think that’s fair?”
“I never played the rustler as a criminal. No, sir. To me, he was a cowboy whose cattle just happened to belong to somebody else.”