Have you ever had your wallet “lifted?” It’s a funny word…”lifted”. Did you know it became a synonym for stealing as a result of building fence?
Like any new invention barbed wire was not universally accepted. In Texas the railroads and a few big ranchers tried to ban its use by passing a bill in the state legislature making it illegal to use “Glidden’s Wire.” Despite these efforts the West got in a big hurry to fence itself in. Eventually the wire became as scarce as upper teeth in a cow. And any wire that was available was expensive.
That is when the practice of “lifting” a wire from another person’s fence became a popular night time activity. Usually only the top wire was taken as anything more would be considered common thievery. In this manner many a young rancher “lifted” himself up by his bootstraps to find fortune and fence.
Frank Luther was a popular Democratic mayor of Cimarron, Kansas and a young rancher during the time this ‘heavy lifting’ was going on. In fact, Frank recalled engaging in the practice himself before he became a politician. “There was a long fence,” he wrote, “belonging to a big cattle company. I was working along quietly up a hill. I’d pull out the staples from two or three posts, roll the wire to that point, then go to staple pulling,” Frank recalled. “Presently I began to notice, once in a while a tug on the wire I was working on. I couldn’t understand it, so I crawled up to the top of the hill and looked over. What I saw plumb amazed me. Coming up the opposite slope of the hill, swiping the same top wire I was working on was the Methodist preacher of Cimarron’s only church!”
“Such a thing could never happen these days,” you say.
Want to bet?
While I was checking on a ranch we leased I came upon a young man removing the boards from my working corrals. He was not just removing the top board but was taking it all off! The man’s work clothes consisted of a designer shirt with an alligator on the pocket, pants with pleats and loafers without any socks. I recognized the man as a lawyer in our community. “Excuse me sir, but what do you think you are doing?” I had the gall to ask.
“Oh, hello. I am redecorating my office and we are going for the rural look. I thought this old wood would have a dramatic effect as paneling in my office.”
“But can’t you see that wood is part of my working corrals?” I asked.
“These old corrals looked so old and dilapidated,” responded the lawyer. “I thought they were abandoned and didn’t think anyone would mind. I actually thought I was doing someone a favor by tearing the corrals down.” (Which I’ll admit didn’t say much for the shape my corrals were in but I wasn’t going to spend a lot of my own money fixing up another man’s property.)
“Well, you are not doing me a favor.” I said. You are trespassing and destroying another person’s property. I ought to call the cops or take you to court and sue you,” I threatened.
“For that you will have to retain a lawyer and that can get very expensive.”
“How much?” I asked just out of curiosity.
“About $500 an hour for a good lawyer,” the barrister replied smugly.
In a plea bargain the lawyer kept the corral lumber in exchange for the legal advice he had given me and we called the whole thing even.
I remember thinking at the time this whole episode took place that a lawyer that would steal corral lumber could not possibly remain a lawyer for very long. Sure enough, just the other day I read where the man is now a judge.