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Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

Branding is an old tradition

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Of all things "truly western," probably the brand, applied with a hot iron to the hide, is one of the most authentic. I will not argue with those who say it is barbaric, painful or cruel as we live in a modern world where death, cruelties and barbaric things are published daily.

One thing cannot be argued, a healed brand is still the most visible, positive identifying process yet found. As examples of marking livestock, both legal and illegal, here are a few true stories with a bit of Trew flavor.

Just how old are livestock brands? No one is sure but murals have been found in Egyptian tombs showing the branding of livestock. Early settlements dating from Moorish times required that in order to plant, raise and harvest crops, a practice called "transhumance" had to be carried out. This called for periodic removal of all livestock and large poultry from the cropping areas during the growing and harvesting seasons.

The laws of the time, in order to prevent theft or mysterious loss of livestock, dictated all animals must be branded before being moved. Brands or painted markings were the only options available at the time to identify domestic stock or flocks.
Doan's Crossing granite marker with cattle brands
The marker in Doan's Crossing, Texas showing brands
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, February, 2007
A tale of questionable authenticity, about the Oklahoma Territory Strip along the Cimarron River, tells of a band of horse thieves who stole only choice ranch horses in the Texas Panhandle, led them to a hidden ranch in the strip, where an old man altered the ranch brands with heated wire bent into the desired design. He only burned the hair and not the hide so the brands did not scab or peel. The stolen stock were quickly driven to Colorado and Missouri and sold before the hair regrew.

John Chisum, the famous rancher of the Pecos River Country, once caught and convicted a group of cattle rustlers who were changing one of the many brands he adopted when he bought and sold vast herds of cattle across Texas and New Mexico. The group had been acquitted by court once for theft because of "reasonable doubt." Evidently they were extremely clever in the alterations.

Mr. Chisum set a trap by roping a number of odd marked steers and having his cowboys cut a small slit in the lower folds of the brisket and insert a silver coin into the slot which quickly healed over. Later, they caught the gang of thieves with some of the identifiable steers. With the law present as witnesses, the cowboys roped the steers and removed the coins as evidence. The thieves were sent to prison for long terms.

That brings up the old classic tale of the rancher who registered the brand I C. Rustlers merely added a U making the brand I C U. The rancher then re-registered his brand as I C U 2.

Interestingly, I give a program about brands and have learned I can take the bare letter J without the top bar on the letter, and make every letter in the alphabet and numbers from 0 to 9. With patience, holding the iron at different angles, slants and touch-up, it can be done. Try it if you don't believe me.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
August 3 , 2010 Column

Related Topics:
Texas Ranching
Texas Panhandle | West Texas | Texas Towns


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