Unc and the Horse Theives
- June 2, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
This is a story my Dad shared with me over a decade ago, so I’ll do my best to remember it accurately. My Grandad Swan had an uncle who settled on the eastern Colorado plains in around 1868. He came to that area from Texas with some mares and a good stud and lived in a dugout for the first years, as it was safer from the roving bands of both Kiowa and Comanche Indians. His horses were also kept in a dugout at night and watched closely during the daylight hours. His scalp and the horses were equally tantalizing to the Indians, so he must have been pretty salty to have lived there in that era.
He built a ranch and a family on that beginning, running cattle and raising horses south/southeast of Hugo, Colorado. By all accounts he was a rugged individual, well liked and respected, in the whole region. My Dad called him Unc, as did his Dad, so that’s what I’ll call him in this story. It took place in the 1890s I believe.
Unc was milking the cow one evening when a rider arrived. As was the custom of the time, with all travel by horse or foot, Unc invited him to unsaddle his horse, put him in the corral and stay the night. As Unc was finishing milking his cow, the man asked if the brand on the cow was Unc’s. It was a SW on the shoulder and AN on the hip. Unc said yes, and the man said he saw some horses with that brand on his way across the country.
It just so happened that Unc had a team of spotted horses that were missing. Spotted horses weren’t well thought of in those days, but this was an excellent team that was perfectly matched. Unc perked up his ears and asked where the feller had seen them. The guy had ridden through what was called the Cedar Breaks north of Limon, Colorado. He said he saw the very distinctive horses with some others in a brush corral down in the breaks, and saw that brand on them. The man said that it looked like a hideout to him so he slipped away from there before anyone saw him, as it might not have been healthy to have been caught there. The Cedar Breaks were known as an outlaw hangout, so it wasn’t too surprising.
Before daylight the next morning, Unc saddled a horse and prepared to go find his team. The visitor offered to go along to help, but Unc declined. The man said he’d stay at the ranch for Unc, do chores and keep an eye on things until he got back, and come looking in a few days if he didn’t return.
Unc stepped on his horse, double barreled 12 gauge in hand, and rode north at a good clip. The visitor was said to have worried and stewed all day over Unc going into that outlaw country alone. Late that night, Unc rode into the ranch, leading the team, and unsaddled. The feller asked Unc what happened and if he had any trouble. Unc said it was no trouble. He didn’t elaborate more, though he did state that those men wouldn’t be back to steal any more Swan horses.
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....