There is an elite group of investigators that many people don't know about until they need them. They're called rangers. They work to solve crimes related to agriculture and they've been doing it for more than 130 years. Over the last three months we've gone behind the scenes with Ranger John Cummings as he investigates some of our area's biggest agricultural crimes.
Oklahoma's landscape is prime agricultural territory: grazing cattle, miles and mile of hay fields, and the relief of local watering holes. But despite all the beauty in every direction, occasionally, God's country has to deal with the devil.
"I look on the other side of the fence and there's my cow looking for her calf," said rancher Rob Bacon. While he was checking his cattle last month, he drove up on a mound of innards.
"I get out and walk down the road a little ways and found the gut pile," he said.
In the middle of the night, his 8-month-old calf was pulled away from it's mother, through the fence, and butchered. The local sheriff's department called Ranger John Cummings to the only thing left are its hide, hooves, and little else.
Ranger Cummings said the lack of evidence is "a frustration on my part and it makes it hard to solve."
But that's nothing new for a ranger with the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. Since 1877 they've been chasing vermin through the wild west.
"Our methods have changed, but our goal has not: we're still out there to protect the ranchers," said Ranger Cummings.
And just as they inspected brands back then, they still do it today. John and other Rangers comb auction lots across the state looking for stolen livestock.
In the last year, cattle prices have doubled; and theft is on the rise. Rangers have to work fast because cattle move quick.
Ranger Cummings said cattle "Can be here (Tulsa Stockyards) on a Monday and they can be in a feed lot by Friday in Kansas, or they can be at a slaughter house and gonna be hamburger by the weeks out."
Ranger Cummings covers 21 counties, but his jurisdiction includes all of Oklahoma and the entire state of Texas.
"I spend a lot of time in my truck," said Ranger Cummings.
We went with him to Rogers County, where he's helping Rob Bacon recover from a thousand dollar pay cut.
"I don't work for American Airlines, all I do is cows. . . and that's how I feed myself . . . do a pretty good job too," Rob chuckles and pats his stomach.
Finding a smile, even though the people who butchered his calf haven't been found.
"I hope they get a belly ache for eating my calf," said Rob.
With all cases, persistence and attention to detail are key.
Cummings said Rangers must "have that attitude where you refuse to fail. I don't solve every case but I sure try to solve every case. And I take every case thinking that I'm gonna solve it."
Cases like the Branen's, where cattle are not just part of a food group they're pets.
"Izzy, Amy, Katie, come here!" Michaela Branen and her two sisters spend more than four hours a day getting their cattle ready for the show season: feeding, leveling their beds, and blow drying their coats.
We asked "What do you love about taking care of them (her show cattle) and watching them grow up?"
Michaela said "There's always something new you know? They all have different personalities."
Take Lacy for example, "she was bossy," said Michaela. She owned Lacy for more than 10 years.
Last August, cattle owned by the Branens and their friends the Blakelys, were shot with a bow and arrow.
Three of the Branen's cows were killed: a black heifer, white tail clifford, and . . .
"And I go, 'Who was the other calf shot?' And he said 'Lacy'. and I . . . I just bawled," Michaela said.
Ranger Cummings got called the day the cattle were found. There were no eye witnesses, no tire tracks, and no shoe impressions.
"We didn't have a lot of things that we have at some of our crime scenes. And random shootings from the side of the road are probably one of the more difficult cases to solve for us," said Ranger Cummings.
So they utilized the media, talked to neighbors, and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association offered reward money for anonymous tips. It worked.
Ranger Cummings said he received "two tips that pretty much named the guys who had talked about it, and also another tip that put them within a half a mile of where the cattle were shot shooting a bow and arrow the day of."
Two men confessed to the crime. Ranger Cummings said, "That was purely a result of . . . we weren't gonna let it go."
The anonymous tipsters were paid through the sheriff's department.
And for Michaela, "I think relieved is what I felt."
That sense of relief is motivation for Ranger Cummings, as he gets back on the road and heads to his next case.
"I get to meet the best people in the state, and sometimes, get to meet the worst too on the other end."
If you want to learn more about the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association go to their web site at www.tscra.org. If you have any information about agriculture-related crime call Ranger Cummings at 918-342-0888.