Dead Cowboy, Backstabbing: Real-Life Wild West Story Is Every Bit As Entertaining As ‘Yellowstone’


Kay Smythe News and Commentary Writer
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Two Colorado ranchers were ordered to pay a combined $6.5 million dollar fine and serve prison time for defrauding the federal government in February, and the story is like something out of a Taylor Sheridan show.

Step aside “Yellowstone” and “Hell or High Water,” a real-life story emerging out of Colorado’s cowboy culture could be the next big thing to hit the true crime genre, featuring everything from fraud and blackmail to murder and even a prison escape.

Two southeastern ranchers were recently accused of tampering with rain gauges so as to defraud federal crop insurance programs, according to a press release from the U.S. attorney’s office in Colorado.

Patrick Esch, 72, and Ed Dean Jagers, 62, received two-month and six-month sentences, respectively, after being accused of civil and criminal activity related to making false statements and physically tampering with rain gauges to swindle the federal government out of $3.1 million. The men were also fined a further $3.5 million to settle the allegations, which suggests they were unproven at the time of writing.

Jager and Esch were two of four people who allegedly damaged rain gauges across parts of Colorado and other states, according to CBS News. Apparently the gauges were damaged in a variety of ways, including wires being cut, parts of collectors disassembled, holes drilled through parts and pans and cake tins placed over the gauges during rainstorms.

The scheme allegedly targeted the Rainfall Index Annual Forage Insurance Plan, one of a handful of agricultural subsidies administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Federal Crop Insurance Program. The program measures rainfall rather than crop yield, so farmers can be paid when annual rainfall drops below historical averages.

Esch and others allegedly manipulated the gauges to receive increased payouts. But in a dark twist, at least one of the co-conspirators apparently tried to extort Esch and the others over the fraud. The individual wanted Esch to pay his jail bond and give a number of five-figure payments to his girlfriend. The man also admitted to stealing an all-terrain vehicle from Esch in exchange for silence.

But the unidentified co-conspirator escaped from prison just a month before Jager and Esch reached their plea agreements. The escape prompted a national manhunt and Esch’s family went into hiding until the unidentified co-conspirator was mysteriously found dead. (RELATED: Denver Is On Pace For Record-Breaking Number Of Murders)

There’s no actual word on whether this insane story will be getting the true crime miniseries treatment. But a big part of me hopes it is. These are often the stories overlooked until they become a deep part of history, and it feels ripe for a documentary. (RELATED: Netflix Is Trying To Do A ‘Yellowstone’ Show. Here’s What We Know)

Or maybe this could be the next “American Crime Story”season, since that anthology needs a serious rebranding — and you literally can’t go wrong with a good ole fashion cowboy drama.