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Cattle Rustling in the Okanagan in 1892

Thomas Wood, cattle rancher and Justice of the Peace from Lake Country, wrote three letters from Vernon to Frederick Hussey, Superintendent of Provincial Police in Victoria requesting his assistance with a rustling case 1 . Hussey replied to these.  Some excerpts are included here. 

On March 26, 1892 Wood wrote,

 I am in the cattle business and have been missing cattle as well at Postill Bros, C. O’Keefe with several others. John Hall, butcher of Vernon, found out that Cavan (late Cavan D. McIntosh) Vernon hotel, had shipped to Bornstein Victoria a number of hides bought from John McKinnon butcher Vernon, 69 of which had no brand on. Wm. Postill and myself have sent an order to Bornstein to send all of that one shipment to us care of C. O’Keefe Clinton Station (we paying the freight) so we can look at them, nobody has cattle up here not branded. One of the lot has brand on ribs (Tom Lambly). We think he never sold it to McKinnon it seems that McKinnon has been buying cattle from Tronson, J. P.2 all last summer, paying about half price the butchering has been carried on at Tronson’s corral. That steer ran near there – a half breed called Matthews helped McKinnon last summer and told John Hall that he could lynch Tronson but he did not want to hurt McKinnon. Billy Smithson, also a half breed, worked also for a while with McKinnon. Doc Norris who lives near Vernon has also a list of hides sent to him by Bornstein. If you think it best to countermand our order to Bornstein do so.

 Yours Very Truly,

Thomas Wood.


Four days later Wood wrote to Hussey again to elaborate

I wrote you on the 26th inst. with regard to a shipment of hides to Mr. H. Bornstein of Victoria and why we wanted to have them here, several animals we miss we would know by the colours. Mr. O’Keefe, Postill, Norris and myself all miss cattle however my former letter told about all we know.  Mr. Bornstein wrote me of Mar 23rd that he will forward the hides on my paying cost and freight $130.48 besides standing off Cavan the man who shipped the hides to him he Mr. Bornstein seems to think I want the hides when I only wanted to look at them being willing to pay freight up and down for the privilege.

However I expect you will have taken the matter up by this time and shall answer Mr. Bornstein asking him to hold them a while for us.

I am Sir, 

Yours Very Truly,

Thomas Wood.

P.S.  In case you should get this letter before the other one there were shipped by Cavan and bought from McKinnon butcher Vernon among other hides 69 sixty nine without a brand all killed at Tronson’s corral. Postill on off hip, Norris on near hip, Wood on ribs, O’Keefe on hip and rib.



Hussey replied to Wood on 6 April 1892

Dear Sir,

I beg to enclose a list and description of 74 hides shipped to Mr. Bornstein from Vernon also correspondence relating to the same which you will be kind enough to keep private unless criminal proceeding follow. 

If you require further information I will endeavour to supply it. 

The [return?] freight of the hides was about $45. It will be cheaper for you to come to Victoria to examine them.

Mr. Bornstein has been entrusted to hold the skins until the matter has been settled.

Yours faithfully,

  1. S. Hussey


The hides are all in bad order for examination. The officers who examined them say they cannot be sure whether they are all branded.3


The final letter in the series was written by Wood on April 15, 1892. 


Yours of the 7th inst. with enclosures of list of hides and copies of letters to hand your list gives the brand as on a rone cow, Bornstein’s list gives it on a rone Steer, we expected both had gone, with regard to the brand some of them have been sold to him (McKinnon).

Robert Lambly of Enderby who knows all the brands and joint owner with his brother in thebrand has promised me to go to Victoria and see if it is his brand or not and also look at those other hides without a brand, as I myself am so busy right now.

Yours faithfully,

Thomas Wood4


This series of letters reveal some aspects of life in the Okanagan in the 1890s. Firstly, rustling was apparently a problem for these stockmen and the number of hides reputedly sold without brands indicates the potential scale of the loss. It is not known if rustling was widespread as no charges appear to have been laid. The cattlemen’s suspicions arise from slim, second-hand information.  

These cattlemen were knowledgeable, active ranchers, seemingly able to identify their animals with or without brands. They also apparently knew each other’s operations and brands. 

Wood implies that the E. J. Tronson Ranch was the scene of illegal activity, which strange because Tronson was a fellow Justice of the Peace, responsible for upholding the law. One reason for Wood’s suspicion may be that, unlike the other members of the “cattle oligarchy,” Tronson was married to Nancy, a local Indian woman, and his children were of mixed ancestry or “half breeds” in the parlance of the day. Racism might well have been an element in Wood’s suspicion.

This group of cattlemen had access to the highest levels in the justice system, the Superintendent of the BC Police, and they “expected “ him to assist in the investigation of rustling. Frederick Hussey, the BC Superintendent of Police did not disappoint, he responded quickly and completely.

By Duane Thomson 


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