I knew a well-to-do, self-made cattleman whose operation was near my home. He had a large operation in several locations, consisting of several hundred cows and several hundred combined acres. He was one of the most honorable men I was ever privileged to know.
He passed away a few years ago, but the things I learned from him I carry with me to this day.
He never lectured or gave sermons. His lessons came from his actions, the decisions he made and his sense of right and wrong.
He did convey an incident to me that has made me carefully weigh the decisions I make when dealing with people.
Several years ago, he was incurring several losses from rustling. It was of the scale where he was losing several head each week from various locations.
He could see the tire tracks from the rustlers entering his property. There was no doubt the cattle were being stolen.
Determined to curtail the rustling, he went to a sporting goods store and bought a very expensive, high-caliber rifle. The scope he purchased to compliment its accuracy cost more than the rifle itself.
Over the next few weeks, he practiced shooting long range, adjusting the scope and honing his shooting skills to the point he could hit targets several hundred yards away with ease.
He began surveillance of his farm to catch the perpetrators.
After about a week of watching for the bad guys, he was sitting on a hill in the woods, when he heard the gate open and watched as a large cattle trailer and truck pulled onto his property.
There were three individuals in the truck. He watched as they corralled his cattle and began to load them up. It was the rustlers.
He braced the rifle on a tree branch, took careful aim and placed the crosshairs of the scope directly on the back of the skull of one of the rustlers. It would be an easy shot. In practice, he had made several shots of greater distance, hitting the target dead center.
He took the rifle off safety, steadied his aim and placed his finger inside the trigger guard.
Then he stopped, put the rifle on safety and took the crosshairs off of the man’s head.
He told me he did not know at first why he did this. It could have been his conscience. He was a religious man with a strong belief in God, and it could have been God touching his heart.
But at that moment, he said to himself, “The crime does not justify the action I am about to take.”
Instead, he used the scope to get the license number of the trailer and the truck, engaged local law enforcement, and in a few days the rustlers were apprehended.
There are extremely few cases I would use a firearm when a material loss alone is involved. Maybe I would feel different if the material loss was of such a nature that it affected my ability to provide for my family.
But I think sometimes of what actions I do take when someone has wronged me.
Is it out of vengeance? Are my actions commiserate with the wrong I incurred? Is forgiveness a better alternative?
This man had every legal right to pull the trigger. In that particular area and time in Texas, he would probably have been congratulated for solving a problem. There would be no grand jury reviewing the incident.
Morally, however, he could not justify taking a life over an animal. He made the right choice.
May we all use good judgment when dealing with our fellow man, even the rustlers and thieves.
Joel Harlow is a rancher, banker and freelance writer who lives near Canton.