... but anyway, I do believe, based on Hurst's reward posting, that the mules were stolen and were somewhere on the vast property where the Pattersons and McLaurys were squatting, running their own bunches of cattle in order to build a ranch elsewhere; at least in the case of the McLaurys. The Pattersons didn't seem to be so stationary.
These men did not actually have their own ranches. Just locals referred to them as their ranches because they were allowed to stay on the property for a period of time. Once better established, the McLaurys moved on to the Sulphur Springs area where they started a permanent arrangement.