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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Old-time improvisation in
branding and jailing

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
During the old days many storekeepers and especially bartenders seemed to have large thumbs and fingers. Some kept their thumb and forefinger pressed together in an effort to widen the surfaces while others used exercises for widening the digits.

Why? Because in the absence of coin or cash money, a "pinch" was used as a handy measurement. An example, when salt was used to pay the salaries of Roman soldiers, the bigger the pinch the higher the pay.

During the gold rush days, food, supplies, a drink of whiskey or whatever, was paid for with a pinch of gold dust. A bartender with slender boney fingers couldn't hold a job.

The term "running iron" is given to any branding tool used to change legitimate brands on stolen livestock. Some thieves used cinch rings from a saddle while others used heavy wire bent into the design needed. Oddly enough, a branding iron made in the shape of a "J" without the top bar, when used in a crude manner, can make every number and letter of the alphabet. I can prove it and you might want to try.

Early day jails in many newly established towns took on many forms depending on the imagination of the officer in charge and the city finances at the time.

The first jail in Dodge City was an abandoned water well about eight feet deep and 10 feet across. Two posts held a pole across the top with a knotted rope hanging down. Drunks were thrown in and could leave when they were sober enough to climb the rope.

Many towns had the local blacksmith fasten a chain around a tree and prisoners were handcuffed to the chain. They sat and slept on the dirt and were taken to the privy twice a day. There were very few returnees to the chain.

A tidbit from the Buffalo Hide Hunting Era states, a hide camp acquired a prisoner and used a green buffalo hide with a hole cut in the center just large enough for the man's head to stick through. He sat on the ground with his hands tied behind, head sticking through the hole, smelling the rotting hide with rocks holding the edges of the hide in place.

Imagine how many flies landed on his nose. I'll bet he was glad to reach a civilized jail.

Pueblo, Colo., experienced many ups and downs during its long history. Its most famous industry was the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company making steel products and fueled by the many coal mines located in the vicinity.

The city was also known for its many breweries. At least seven different breweries called Pueblo home at one time or another. A "set" of beer cans from Pueblo is a real prize to collectors.

At one time banks in the town served the largest segment of the cattle industry, with customer's ranges stretching from Mexico to Canada. From these, customers and others from the numerous trail drives going through to the northern states, another industry prospered.

Numerous saddle makers conducted business in the city with Gallup and Flynn making names for their business. The most famous of the saddle group was the Frazier Saddle Company.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"

October 23, 2007 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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