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Postcard from the Past - A Costly Calf Tale

Written by Dick Perue

A headline in the Nov. 17, 1905 “Grand Encampment Herald” reads, “Novel and Sensible Ending of a Lawsuit to Prove Ownership of a Piece of Veal on Foot.”

The rest of the story follows:

Legal records all over the country are full of calf cases, many of which it would seem as if the brains of the innocent beasts had been transferred to the craniums of the lawing contestants.

None of these numerous cases, however, are more interesting in detail nor more associated with puzzling questions of justice than that between K.F. Scott of Riverside and J.P. Wilcox of Encampment, the closing chapter of which was enacted last Sunday.

The case was a sort of a comedy-drama for the people interested in it, but it was a tragedy for the calf, and the witnesses to the tragedy paid big prices for box tickets.

The facts as alleged were these: Inthe spring of 1904 Scott had a cow, which gave birth to twin calves. The calves received the Scott brand and were driven, with their mother, out on the range.

About the same time a cow belonging to Wilcox became the mother of one calf, which was not branded before being put on the range.

In due course of events, when the Wilcox cow was rounded up, it was followed by a calf bearing the Scott brand. Wilcox took it for granted that the calf was his property and that the Scott brand had been put on through some irregularity, and forthwith pressed his own design of hot iron into the tender hide of Mr. Calf’s other side.

The Scott cow, when rounded up, had only one of her twin calves with her. Scott saw the calf with the Scott brand on it in Wilcox’s possession and brought suit to recover said calf.

Now, there is an unwritten law and practice among range stockmen that whenever any calf follows and feeds from a cow, that calf shall be recognized as belonging to said cow, regardless of any other means of identification. Acting in accordance with that time-honored principle, Wilcox held that the calf was his.

A rancher testified to having seen the Scott cow with twin calves, branded, also to seeing the Wilcox cow bawling around with a swollen bag but no calf and later saw the branded calf feeding from the calfless cow. The evidence that the Wilcox cow had lost its calf and adopted one of the Scott twins was given to prove ownership.

But Wilcox stood behind the established range man’s law, with the additional fact that his cow had admittedly fed and raised the calf, to substantiate his ownership claims.

Scott brought suit against Wilcox to recover the calf and won the suit in justice court.

Wilcox appealed to the district court. On account of sickness and other reasons, the case was adjourned from time to time, and the costs continued to pile up.

A few days ago Scott and Wilcox got together and decided to settle it out of court, on the basis of an equal division of property and costs.

Sunday the young beef was slaughtered, the carcass was divided in halves, and the hide was cut in the middle, each part taking a half of the beef and the half of the hide bearing his own brand.

The costs of the case, amounting to a sum between $200 and $500, were divided equally, and the case dismissed.

The above article is courtesy of Grandma’s Cabin of Encampment, an outfit that is “Preserving History – Serving the Community.”