Cattle raiding

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A cattle raid during the Swabian War: Swabian landsknechts trying to recover a herd of cattle stolen by the Swiss (Luzerner Schilling).

Cattle raiding is the act of stealing cattle.

In Australia, such stealing is often referred to as duffing, and the person as a duffer.[1][2] In North America, especially in cowboy culture, cattle theft is dubbed rustling and an individual who engages in it is a rustler.



Historically, the act of cattle rustling is quite ancient, with the first suspected raids conducted over seven thousand years ago.[3]


Cattle raids play an important part in Indo-European mythology; see for example Táin Bó Cúailnge (Irish), the Rigvedic Panis (India), and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, who steals the cattle of Apollo (Greece). These myths are often paired with myths of the abduction of women (compare Helen, Sita, Saranyu, The Rape of the Sabine Women). Abduction of women and theft of livestock were practiced in many of the world's preurbanised cultures, the former likely reaching back to the Paleolithic, and the latter to the earliest domestication of animals in the Neolithic.

American Old West

In the American Old West, rustling was considered a serious offense, and it did frequently result in lynching by vigilantes.[4]

Mexican rustlers were a major issue during the American Civil War, with the Mexican government being accused of supporting the habit, as it was for the American rustlers stealing Mexican cattle from across the border. Failure to brand new calves facilitated theft.

Conflict over alleged rustling was a major issue in the Johnson County War in the U.S. state of Wyoming.

The transition from open range to fenced grazing gradually reduced the practice of rustling in North America. In the 20th century, so called 'suburban rustling' became more common, with rustlers anesthetizing cattle and taking them directly to auction. It often takes place at night, posing problems for law enforcement because on very large ranches it can take several days for loss of cattle to be noticed and reported. Convictions are rare to nonexistent.[citation needed]


El Malón, Johann Moritz Rugendas (1802-1858)
La vuelta del malón (The return of the raiders) by Ángel Della Valle (1892).

Cattle raiding became a major issue at the end of the 19th century in Argentina, where cattle stolen during malones were taken through Rastrillada de los chilenos across the Andes to Chile, where they were exchanged for alcoholic beverages and weapons. Several indigenous groups, and outlaws such as the Boroanos and Ranqueles tribes and the Pincheira brothers, ravaged the southern frontier of Argentina in search of cattle. To prevent the cattle raiding, the Argentine government built a system of trenches called Zanja de Alsina in the 1870s. Most cattle raids ended after the military campaigns of the Conquest of the Desert, and the following partition of Patagonia by Chile and Argentina established by the 1881 Border Treaty.

See also


  1. ^ Baker, Sidney John (1945) The Australian language : an examination of the English language and English speech as used in Australia Angus and Robertson, Ltd., Sydney, page 32, OCLC 186257552
  2. ^ Derricourt, William (1899) Old Convict Days (2nd ed.) T.F. Unwin, London, p. 103 OCLC 5990998
  3. ^ The Perfect Gift: Prehistoric Massacres. The twin vices of women and cattle in prehistoric Europe
  4. ^ Old Meade County