From the May 2016 issue of Drovers.

He tips back his silverbelly cowboy hat as the phone rings. “Hello, this is Special Ranger Bart Perrier,” he says, his deep voice carrying a Southern drawl. 

On the phone is a rancher from northeast Oklahoma with a case of cattle theft. Local law enforcement has already investigated, but the trail went cold fast.

Perrier listens to the rancher and asks a series of questions to pick up any leads. “How many head were stolen? When did it happen? What type of cattle are they? Do they have any distinguishing marks? Are they tattooed? Are they branded? Do you have any suspicions of who did this?”

Four head have been missing for four days—three black Angus crossbred cows and one Hereford, all with a W2 brand on their ribcage overgrown with shaggy hair. The rancher suspects his neighbor had something to do with the missing cattle. 

Perrier visits every sale barn in the area for leads. He gets lucky while   hand searching through records at a northwest Arkansas sale barn. The suspected neighbor sold four head there at the previous auction—three black cows and one red baldy.

With his badge above the left pocket of his starched shirt and a Colt .45 strapped to his hip, Perrier is back on the road to Oklahoma to interview the neighbor, who denies everything, claiming the cattle he sold were his own. 

“Were your cattle branded?”
Perrier asks.

“No,” the rancher replied.

Clenching his teeth, Perrier looks into the eyes of the man he knows in his heart is lying to him. But it’s all alleged—he can’t prove anything. Not yet.

More determined than ever, Perrier is back on the road, working with the sale barn where the alleged stolen cattle were sold, searching all of northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma for the cattle. Dead end after dead end arise—until he suddenly comes across a buyer of one of the suspected stolen cattle who is willing to work with him. It has been weeks since the cattle were auctioned off, and the buyer has already put investments into his new stock.

As Perrier pulls up to the buyer’s pens, the cow sold by the suspected neighbor is put into a squeeze chute. Calmly, Perrier plugs in his livestock clippers and flips them on …

Unexpected path

In the heart of Osage County, Oklahoma, sits a little town called Barnsdall—population just shy of 1,300. Here, Perrier grew up on a small family farm comprised of his grandfather’s allotted tribal land. His father was a firefighter with enough cow-calf pairs to stay busy on the weekends. Perrier acquired his father’s passion for agriculture and service work, deciding law enforcement was the right career path. 

“I started working at the Osage County Police Office in 1997,” Perrier says. “Went from the ground up. Started at the jail and then on
to investigations.”

At the time, Perrier had one goal in sight—to become sheriff of Osage County. “Law enforcement gave me the opportunity to work different avenues, from drug cases to homicides,” he says. “But I discovered early on in my career that I loved working property crimes because the victims I was helping were ranchers—people I grew up around and understood.

“In law enforcement, you have people that are victims one week, and the next are your suspects. But in agriculture crimes, victims are true victims,” he says.

One day, after Perrier had worked his way up to deputy, John Cummings, a special ranger for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), came into the office asking for assistance on a case involving a TSCRA rancher. The rancher found one of his cows shot and killed on his property with primal cuts taken out of it. Cummings needed help tracking leads, and the two set off to follow the case together for the day, uncovering an additional crime ring in the process.  

“It was a really successful day,” Perrier recalls. “And we solved a case that wasn’t even reported to us.”

For the next couple of years, the two stayed in contact and swapped resources when they could.

In 2011, and after a few months of consideration, Perrier was recruited to the TSCRA.

Peacemakers of the West

In the 1870s, cattle rustling was becoming a huge problem for Texas cattlemen. In an effort to stop thieves, 40 ranchers banded together in 1877 in Graham, Texas, to form the Stock-Raisers’ Association of North-West Texas. In 1921, the name was changed to what is now known as the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

“Special rangers were brought on board to seek and conquer cattle thieves,” Perrier says. “While we don’t ride horses any more, not much has changed. We are still doing the same things the rangers did 139 years ago.”

Even now, special rangers wear the original clean-cut uniform of the first Wild West peacekeepers. “We will always wear a white hat and a Colt. 45 and be clean shaven,” Perrier says. “The good guys always wear white hats and we have an identity to uphold.”

If anything has changed over the years, it has been the increasing need for law enforcement specialized in agriculture crime, Perrier says.

“Rural communities used to naturally attract cowboys, or people with a close connection to agriculture, as deputies for the sheriff’s office,” Perrier explains. “But times have changed and it’s easy to lose touch with agriculture knowledge. Unfortunately with that, you lose the ability to work agriculture crimes because you have to understand the business, equipment and the ranchers.”

According to Perrier, TSCRA is often brought in for assistance after the initial crime report has been filed at the local sheriff’s department.

“When the case gets stale, that’s when we usually get a call. Nine out of 10 times the case is immediately turned over to us,” he says, adding close contact with local law enforcement is maintained because they are more familiar with the territory.

Once the TSCRA is brought in, special rangers are hard at it, going through leads, combing through auction records and filing for subpoenas so they can sift through the cell phone and bank records of suspects.

While special rangers will work a wide variety of agriculture-related crimes, their main focus is usually cattle theft. And when they get enough evidence to make an arrest, they will follow the case all the way through court.

“In law enforcement, it’s not about what you know,” he says, “it’s about what you can prove.”

Looking back, Perrier says he wouldn’t trade his decision to join the TSCRA special rangers for anything, admitting he still gets a little a little star-struck when he realizes the legacy he is now part of. “I’m very content with what I am doing, and would like to continue on the path I’m on now,” he says. “The job is for the best people in the world who work to feed America. It’s aggravating people victimize those who work long hours to make ends meet and put food on the table, so it’s an honor to help stand up for their livelihood every day.”

Solid evidence

… The clippers make a whine as he sets the blade against the cow’s hide, and begins to cut shaggy black hair from her rib cage. One pass and the thick hair thins. Two passes and the faint outline of scar tissue from a healed brand starts to appear. Three passes and he can make out part of a letter. Perrier continues until he sees it—the W2 brand registered to the Oklahoma rancher, clear as day, on her rib cage. “I got him.”