Reason First: The Wild West Needed Better Respect for Property Rights
Nathan Champion rustled cattle. He met his fate for it.
Small business versus big business rests on the case of Nathan “Nate” Champion. This rustler wanted to rise against the larger more successful cattlemen. In the process, he became the first man to be mowed down by a hitsquad.
The tale of Champion demonstrates how the Wild West’s ugliness extended to young gunners who wanted to claim land that did not belong to them. As a rustler and a thief, Champion deserved his fate. However, the mob that gunned him down was just as wrong, law enforcement should have intervened in this whole situation.
Wyoming permitted cattle ranchers to own huge swaths of land in the 19th century. These men owned the calves and the land in tandem. A gang of hooligans descended upon Champion. Known as the Regulators, they didn’t even hold a kangaroo court. Four men just set guns blazing at Champion.
This mob mentality had been around for centuries. Only the method of dispatching Champion became a deadly innovation.
No Italian Mafia, or Russian mobsters, or African-American gangstas can claim the first “hit” on a man. That happened to Nate Champion in KC Ranch, Wyoming in the year 1892. The story is all about the protection of property rights. Though the sheriff, Red Angus, responded to the situation with a group of 200 men, the melee that would ensue could not be stopped. Champion received 28 rounds to his body.
For his role in rustling cattle, Champion should have been brought to justice. He should’ve been tried and found guilty of stealing cattle. The vigilantes in this case ought to have been brought up on charges as well.
The disdain for big business contrasted with the outpouring of moral support for small businesses continues to this day. The men who could brand their cattle and make a profit off of their calves and land deserved far better treatment. But some of them remained in the wrong for taking justice into their own hands.
The case which has spawned novels, films, and television shows brings to bear the importance of law of the land. With the application of property rights, the cattlemen would be able to know what they owned and what belonged to someone else.
Property rights would’ve outlined specifically the amount of land and cattle that would’ve been afforded to each man. Law enforcement and the courts would’ve been able to discern what pieces of property would have been owned and how to protect the owners against any rustling.
Champion’s death would be the start of multiple hits to be carried out throughout the decades. But he was the initial target. His rustling days came to an abrupt end with the four gunmen who chopped him down with bullets.
His diary detailed the moments before his death. He described the shelling and the burning of his house. He grew melancholic as if he could see his demise right before his eyes. He said to his comrades, “goodbye, boys, If I never see you again.”
His grief laid bear, he found that his house had indeed been set ablaze. By running out the backdoor with a knife, gun, and diary, Champion didn’t have a chance against these foes. The men who shot him down pinned a note to his lifeless body. It read, “Cattle Thieves Beware.” This was an explicit message to anyone who would even consider stealing steers.
Property rights are essential in a land of free men and women. But during the Wild West where land was still open to the public domain and most everyone wanted to assert themselves among the vastness of the space, things obviously got fuzzy...and violent.