MUSKOGEE COUNTY, Oklahoma - A Muskogee man could face animal cruelty charges after 56 head of cattle in his care died and others are close to death.

Rudy Fulton is the owner of 1,100 acres in Keefton, which is near the Muskogee-McIntosh County line. Fulton is supposed to be caring for 397 head that belong to three out-of-state cattlemen, according to Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson.

"The guy was paid all up front for his services, the feed's still here," Iowa co-owner Robert Dea said. "We gave him the money for the mineral; it never got spent on it. I don't know what he done. He won't tell us."

Dea said he doesn't know how it all happened, but he wants answers."

"The further we get into this, the worse it's getting," he said.

On Day 3 of the investigation, authorities are trying to get a proper count of the livestock. By noon on Thursday, they had found 56 dead and close to 200 in fair to poor health, but more than 100 head still are unaccounted for.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture used its helicopter to help search the property.

Dead livestock also are in the water supply, so the living animals won’t drink from it, Pearson told

The owners said they sent the livestock to Oklahoma to calf.

"It hurts," Dea said. "Not only the condition of the cows and what they went through, the money that's been lost. It's going to hurt us."

Sheriff’s deputies told News On 6 that Fulton is cooperating, but they are waiting on an arrest warrant. Fulton could face a felony charge for each animal that shows signs of neglect or is dead.

The owners of the herd came to Oklahoma this week from Iowa to load the cattle and transport to another ranch in Stigler. They said Fulton had been avoiding them for weeks, claiming he was in New Mexico due to a family death, MN reported.

Dae said he and the other owners knocked on Fulton's door when they got to town and were told to leave. Dae said Fulton told them he would round up the cattle himself, but when they came back, it hadn't been done.

Deputies tell News On 6 this is one of the worst cases of livestock neglect they've seen, and the cattlemen are still grappling to understand.

"Shocked," Dae said. "I've never... I've been in the cattle business all my life, excuse me," he said, while tearing up. "Wen we seen all these dead ones... [tears up more]. ... I hope he gets prosecuted."

Investigators said they are now building their case and looking to track what happened to the more than 100 cattle that cannot be found anywhere on the property.

"We've got a lot of work to do," the Dept. of Agriculture's Chief law enforcement officer Jerry Flowers said. "[We have to] sit down and check these sale barns and sit down and talk with this individual, and just see what happened and account for a hundred head of cattle and find out where did they go or more."