James Franklin Norfleet: A Cowboy With a Plan

There’s a town just a short distance south of where I live in Amarillo called Hale Center. It’s the home of an early rancher by the name of James Franklin Norfleet. He has such an amazing story that I had to share it.

James was born in 1865 to a Texas Ranger father and a mother who would go on to birth five more children. At age 14, James joined a buffalo hunt that brought him up to the Texas Panhandle. After that he worked as a cowboy and drover for various ranches until he could make enough money to start his own ranch. When he was 29, he fell head-over-heels in love and married Mattie Eliza Hudgins. They had four children of which only two lived to adulthood.

I just love a good love story! *sigh*

One day on a business venture to Fort Worth, Texas in 1919, Norfleet ran into a group of scam artists who took him for $45,000 and promptly left the country.

Mattie told James to “Go get those miserable crooks and make them pay. But bring them in alive. Any man can kill but it’s a brave man who can capture the criminals and bring them to justice.” She told him she’d manage the ranch and keep him in expense money.

So that’s exactly what James set out to do. Using his expert tracking skills, he began a one-man manhunt.

He caught up to three of the swindlers in Los Angeles within a few weeks. He located another one in Salt Lake City and two more in Georgia. At one point, one of the men turned himself in because he couldn’t take being hunted any longer.

In all he spent five years and $75,000 and traveled 30,000 miles across two continents chasing the scam artists. He single-handedly captured and turned them in to the authorities without any assistance from the federal government.

His fame quickly spread and he was besieged with requests to hunt down other criminals. And so he began an unlikely career in law enforcement. Between 1919 and 1935, he brought in over 100 wanted men. And, although he was quick on the draw and dead shot with a pistol, he never killed anyone.

James Norfleet earned the nickname “Little Tiger” because of his short stature (5’5″) and uncanny ability to stalk a fugitive. He never lost a fresh trail. The FBI was even impressed and awarded him a special certificate for his services.

His exploits became known far and wide. He was the subject of several magazine articles and a full-length book that was published in 1924. Actor Wallace Berry once portrayed him in a radio drama. During the Depression, the country desperately needed a hero and Norfleet fit the bill.

His ranch near Hale Center took a hit though with him being gone so long and he wound up having to sell it. James and Mattie lived quietly the rest of their days on a small farm. I’m sure they spent many an hour reliving James’s exciting adventures. James died at the age of 102 and Mattie lived to 101.

This true story just proves that it doesn’t pay to mess with a determined cowboy.

Would you have gone to such lengths to get back stolen money? Especially during the Depression?


James Franklin Norfleet: A Cowboy With a Plan — 18 Comments

  1. I would if live to think I would, but who knows for sure. What an excellent blog. I loved it.

    • Afternoon, Miss Tonya…..I’m sorry this blog didn’t post yesterday when it was supposed to. Well, $45,000 would’ve been a heck of a lot. Shoot, it’s a lot today. He just about had no choice but go track them down and get it back. Still, travel would’ve been very difficult because of the Depression. I’m still praying for your family.

      Much love, sister friend!

  2. Oh dear my lady one didn’t come out correct.
    I would of liked to think I would, but who knows for sure. What an excellent blog. I loved it.

  3. This was an amazing story, I would of loved to have set and listened to him talk about his adventures. They loved a long time. I just love to hear wonderful stories like this.

    • Tonya, I’m sure he had a bunch of stories to tell. He had quite an adventure. Yes, they sure lived a long life together. Both in their hundreds when they died. Amazing!

      Love you!

  4. You can not take the Texas Ranger out of a man. His wife’s support shows how true she was to him. Their love and long lives are a beautiful story. A true cowboy has a code to live by. Many men today just do not get it. Gotta love a true cowboy.

    • Hi Jerri….So true. Those real cowboys have a moral compass and a conscience that leads them. But James had a great role model in his father. Nope, you can’t take the Texas Ranger out of a man. I’m so happy you stopped by.

      Love and big hugs!

  5. Daddy had a book of his life story. I have it in my possession now! Hos story was fascinating!

    • Hi Tretha!! Oh my gosh, it’s so good to see you on here. I hope you’ve been well. Your daddy was an amazing man and I’m not surprised he had a book about Norfleet. Especially since Norfleet lived nearby. I’m guessing the man’s ranch was near yours. Yes, such a fascinating subject. I’ve got to come visit you!

      Much love and big hugs!

  6. Hi Linda – What a awesome blog! and they lived to be 102 & 101…..Wow!!! Great love story that she supported him through thick & thin. Yes, I would go to great lengths to get my money back if I lost it…..especially during the Depression. Times were hard & a lot of people lost everything. My husband’s grandfather was one of those people he hung himself in a barn. Then, his Father, who was 14 had to drop out of school to support the family. He became a very hard man & strict with his children. Needless to say, they suffered also. He didn’t believe in banks & money ruled him till the day he died.

    • Good morning, Lois…….Oh how horrible about your husband’s grandfather. Breaks my heart. But I guess that’s the only way they saw out of the mess. That would definitely scar the children and change them forever. So sad. A lot of people didn’t trust banks after that. My husband’s grandfather bought a safe and kept his money in his house. Never trusted banks again. I pray we never see another time like that one.

      Yes, James and Mattie had a long life together. Their love was eternal. I envy them.

      Much love and big hugs!

  7. Oh wow, having had lived in the area I’m surprised I didn’t know this story. My first thought was that was a fortune he lost for back then. Now I wish I knew what exactly he thought he was buying into! He really did go to extremes to get justice when he had to know he wouldn’t get the money back. It’s sad that he even ended up losing his ranch over it all. I’m not sure I would have left my wife for the amount of time it had to have taken and left her having to run the ranch and fund the mission. I definitely would have had to have given having justice a good try though, especially knowing I was the best man for the job that there was. Awesome blog!

    • Good morning, Stephanie……I’m so happy I could bring you something new. I think for that amount of money I’d have found a way to jump over the moon. The con was quite elaborate. The men befriended Norfleet then posed as stock brokers and reeled him in. One man “lost” his wallet and gave Norfleet $100 for returning it. Then they talked Norfleet into investing that hundred and he made $800 in one day. They finally got Norfleet’s entire life savings and skipped the country. They just didn’t figure on Norfleet’s sheer determination. But poor Mattie had her hands full running the ranch. I’m glad you enjoyed their story. He made all the newspapers back then.

      Much Love, dear friend!

  8. Great post but I am not sure I would have spent that much time looking for them. You have some of the best blogs I just can’t seem to get here as often as I like to anymore.

    • Hi Quilt Lady……I’m so happy you came by. Don’t worry about the regularity. I can’t do anything like I used to. I’m happy you liked reading about James Norfleet. He was sure persistent. Have a great Thanksgiving!

      Love and hugs!

  9. I live in Lubbock I have been through Hale Center several times. I had never heard this. Guess it is time to stop in Hale Center! Thanx for the history!!!

    • Hi Jennifer……Thank you for coming over. I live in Amarillo so I visit Lubbock quite often. Next time you go through Hale Center, stop and read about Norfleet. There’s lots of information on there about him.