Lee Pitts: Name brands (Best of)
Did you know that cowboys in North America wore a brand before cattle did? As repulsive as it is to contemplate, Cortes branded Indians that he captured on the cheek with the letter “G.” Many of these branded Indians were sold to the first Mexican ranchers to herd their cattle. Terrible but true, the cowboys wore a brand even before the cattle did.
The history of the West is recorded in brand books. There’s a famous ranch down in Arizona called the Quien Sabe. How does a ranch get a name like that? One day a cowboy looked at a brand being worn by a steer and asked a Mexican “what brand is that?” To which the Mexican replied, “quien sabe” or “who knows?” Thus the brand and the ranch became known as The Quien Sabe. The Who Knows Ranch.
You may have heard the story how the famous XIT Ranch got its name and its brand. It stands for Ten In Texas, the number of counties the ranch supposedly covered. That’s the myth anyway, actually the ranch only consumed nine counties. A syndicate got the ranch for building the state capitol building in Austin. Another early Texas outfit, still in business today, The Matador, used 50M for its first brand, the amount of money it required to capitalize the ranch.
Brands such as IOU, AC/DC, OK and Bar B Q have interesting stories to tell I’m sure. The brand “57” stands for the year a friend of mine went into the cattle business. The dollar sign brand, $, belonged to a man by the name of T.E. Money. He hoped the cattle sporting that brand made lots of it.
There are brands in the shape of diamonds, spades and clubs for gamblers who own too many cows. One imaginative rancher stamped his cattle with a brand that spelled out “2, lazy 2, P.” What do you think his story was?
Even the bulls that belonged to F.R. Lewis wore his “COW” brand.
Often brands were changed, sometimes legally. A friend of mine changed his brand after his divorce. He changed it from a “91 bar” to “bar 16” just by turning it upside down… because that’s what he said his ex-wife had done to his life. Sometimes brands were changed illegally with a running iron. One cattleman tried to make his brand difficult to alter by branding his cattle “HEL.” That’s where he said anyone who tried to change his brand would end up. Another branded his cattle with a “45” indicating what a rustler would be looking down the barrel of.
My brand is “US.” That may conjure up an image of a patriotic American, bombs bursting in air while our flag was still there, and all that. While it is true I love my country I was not making a political statement when I claimed my brand. That’s not the story behind my iron.
Many years ago when I was just starting out the owner of an auction market made me a deal where he’d split the commission for any breeding cattle I got consigned to his auction. To get one cranky old codger to consign his cattle I made what turned out to be wild promises of what I thought his motley cowherd would bring at auction. When the day of the auction came there was just me and the auctioneer in the sale barn, or so it seemed. Rather than “no sale” the cattle and endure the wrath of the mean spirited cattlemen, and ruin my reputation in the process, I decided right then and there that I needed to go into the cow business. The cattle were awfully cheap and at least we’d get them sold. I feared for my life we if we did not.
The owner of the sale barn was also the auctioneer and as he sold each cow I announced the buyer as US Cattle Company. The auctioneer looked at me kind of cross-eyed but just figured I had an order in my pocket for the cows, which, of course, I didn’t.
After the sale the auctioneer came off the block and his first question to me was, “Who is this US Cattle Company?”
I looked him straight in the eye and said, “That’s US old buddy… as in you and me.”
Talk about bombs bursting in air!
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