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Animal Health Notebook

The Mississippi-Texas misadventure

DawnKey-iStock-GettyImagesPlus Texas longhorn at sunset
Sometimes you have business dealings with dishonest people. When it's hundreds of miles away, things get more interesting.
Here’s a story of cattle grazing and cattle rustling and justice for your entertainment.

Twenty-plus years ago, I first read about the late Gordon “Doc” Hazard’s grazing operation outside of West Point, Mississippi. I had been to West Point years earlier and noticed that Doc was an old veterinarian. I was several hundred miles away and in 1997 could not be considered a “spring chicken” so I picked up the phone and called him.

I introduced myself and then invited myself for a visit. We made friends and after lots of trips to his part of the “great prairie of Mississippi,” we landed at the big house one evening with some friends for a social visit and heard of Doc’s experience grazing steers in Texas. It was an exciting adventure that could have broken a lesser man.

It seems that a Texas rancher from 80 miles south of Dallas was over in Doc’s country in Mississippi and visiting PLI (a cattle-buying service at West Point that had retained Doc’s services since the early 1950s.). The rancher asked Doc if he had ever grazed any steers in that Texas country and said they could “long graze” steers since they had green grass of quality both summer and winter. Doc checked him out and shipped three loads of steers out for a May to March/April graze.

Doc said he sent a couple of locals out in October for a weight check Doc paid for the summer gain. The winter gain was a nickel higher per pound. Everything was going just fine until his Mississippi phone rang in February. The Texas rancher informed Doc that several well-dressed men and a bunch of cowboys were on site at his place gathering and loading the Hazard cattle. Doc asked if they had a sheriff in the county and the rancher handed the lawman his phone.

Doc greeted the sheriff and informed him that he owned the 200 steers free and clear. He was then told that the men in suits had a court paper signed by a magistrate which gave them the cattle. Doc got his Texas grazier back on the phone and hired him to follow the cattle trailers and call when they landed up the road at a new location. Things were not looking good.

Doc and his wife, Sarah, had raised four children, three of them by this time lawyers and one a banker. He got on the phone to his banker daughter in Dallas and told her to find a brand inspector and head South to find their cattle. He booked flight tickets for two of the lawyer sons. He sent his branding iron and a set of clippers to Jackson, Mississippi, with eldest son Mark to meet his brother Steve and fly to Dallas. Sister Sally would pick them up there at the airport.

Everything started to come together when the rancher called with location of the cattle at a Texas sale barn. The Hazard family and the brand inspector arrived at the barn with Doc’s herd standing under the guard of the well-dressed thieves.

A long-distance call was made to Mississippi and Doc told his story to the inspector and the registered Broken H brand that each steer carried. One of the guys in sharp dress said that a “Mississippi brand didn’t mean a thing in Texas.” The brand inspector’s reply was “Oh, yes it does. It means everything.”

They gate cut 20 steers and clipped the area on their left side and saw 20 broken H brands.

Doc called a feedyard friend of his to the west and priced him the steers. The Texas feeder bucked up and said he could not pay what he was asking. Doc requested a counter offer and was bid a half-cent less and sold the steers.

Doc then asked what the deal was with the half-cent per pound deduction and the buyer said that it was the first time he had a shot to bicker with Doc on price because he could feel a little sweat and urgency in his voice. Doc smiled and told him to hurry and get the trucks dispatched.

As far as I know, the feeder in Texas may have been the only person to ever have seen Gordon Doc sweat. He saw it in his spirit, not with his eyes. Doc was a cool businessman.

A day or so later and everybody was back home in Mississippi and things were moving back toward normal. Doc announced that he had found out that the thieves in Texas were bankers and this was not their first rodeo. He said he was still mad and thought he’d sue them for $17,000 in damages. His trial lawyer son, Steve, said “Pap, I can sue them for $50,000 just as easy as $17,000.” Doc agreed.

To make this adventure a little shorter, I’ll just say that the deal went to court and the jury awarded Hazard Cattle Company $70,000 in damages.

The “money leachers” called Mississippi and informed Doc that their “board” was willing to cut him a check for $7,000 to settle the lawsuit or they were going to appeal the case and he’d not see any money for a decade or more.

Doc mentioned the fact that the bankers would have to make a $70,000 bond when they filed an appeal and it would accumulate 12% annual compounding court interest. He told them that would be better than his steers could accumulate, and he would expect a check to his West Point, Mississippi, bank in the next five business days. The money landed.

A week later, Gordon Hazard was kinda bragging to his wife, Sarah, about their children’s performance in the Texas adventure and how those three loads of steers had netted more profit than any cattle they had ever owned. He then stated that it had just been too stressful and, in the future, he was not owning cattle that were further than 20 minutes from the house.

Doc was a big believer in stress management and enjoying life.

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