August 18th, 2012

Who of you out there remembers the western TV series “Branded”?  I am undoubtedly dating myself, but it ran in 1965-66, starred that long drink of water Chuck Connors, and had a great theme song:

“Branded, marked with a coward’s shame,

What do you do when you’re branded,

Will you fight for your name?”

Branding is part and parcel of  western culture, and as was the case in this old show, went beyond the marking of livestock to show ownership.  Did you know though that branding actually was invented by the Egyptians in 1400 BC?  Apparently there are hieroglyphics that depict cattle roundups and brandings way back then.  It’s hard for me to conjure up an image of an Egyptian cowboy…nope, just doesn’t fit.

The Spaniards picked up on this practice, and when they migrated to Mexico and South America, they used it to keep track of their cattle which occupied huge areas.  Their versions of brands were much like the Egyptian pictograms, and told a story or depicted an emotion.  When a Spaniard’s son got his first cattle, he would adopt the family brand and add a curlicue.  Subsequent sons would add additional curlicues or pendants.  You can imagine how fancy these brands began to look.

When the Spaniards moved north into Texas, they totally baffled the cowboys there who couldn’t read their brands.  By then the Texans had adopted a much simpler branding method comprised mostly of letters so they could sort out whose cattle belonged to whom.

Branding continues to be used today for cattle and horses to denote ownership and help prevent theft.  A brand is a very visible means of identification and makes it harder for those who would raid a pasture and swipe the livestock to sell them.  Most states out West have brand inspection requirements which call for a brand inspector to certify the transfer of ownership and verify the brand.

Reading a brand is an art and skill unto itself.  Brands are read from left to right, or top to bottom.  In addition to letters, there are other marks such as hash, rising sun, bar, circle, semi-circle, and rafter.  The way the letters are aligned is also important.  If they are together they are “joined”, one that is lying down is “lazy”, and one that is tilted is tumbling.  If a letter sits on a semi-circle it is “rocking”, if a letter or mark is suspended below a letter it is “hanging”.  A letter can be made to be “flying” or “reverse”.  An upside down letter is “crazy”.  A horse with no brand at all is “slick”.  The key in branding is to make it so it is difficult to use a “running” brand to mark over it and make it look like something else.

At T Cross, the horses have a variety of brands.  Some have brands from previous ranches, some have Mark or Gretchen’s brands.   The T Cross brand is a T with a hanging cross and some of the horses have this on their hip.  Some of the horses are “slick” because in the past few years there’s been a number of horses acquired and the ranch got behind on the branding.  But, they’re pretty safe at the T Cross and also where they winter so we’re not going to worry about it.  Except for Idaho…maybe I’ll get her a little collar and a dog tag, just in case!

Dudes at the T Cross can also get branded with the T Cross insignia!!  Every Wednesday at the cookout, one of the wranglers will bring a couple of small T Cross brands and you can get whatever you desire marked with the T Cross brand!

I will never forget when I got my boots branded; as I stood admiring the brand and thinking how cool it was, Mark said “Now you’ll always know where home is”.  And when I wear them, I always think about that, and am immediately taken back to the T Cross and the wonderful times that I have there.

So bring your boots, belts, gloves, cellphone covers, wallets, purses…get branded!!  That way, no matter where you go, or how far away from T Cross you wander, you will always be riding for the T Cross brand, and know that you’re just a step away from “home”!