Brands combine letters, numerals and symbols and are read just like a book, from top to bottom, left to right. It has a been said that cowhands who could neither read nor write were fluent in the Branding Alphabet–after all, misreading a brand in the old west could end with a short drop from a tall tree.
The practice of branding livestock has been around for thousands of years, dating back to 2,000 BC. In the days of the great cattle drives and open ranging, cattle brands were serious business, their use and mis-use resulting in great profits, losses and untimely deaths. Registering brands started in Texas in 1832, the first belonging to Richard Chisholm. Recording brands with the county clerk became standard practice and by the cattle boom of the 1870’s a brand had to be registered to prove ownership—by law any unregistered brands couldn’t hold claim to livestock. I read somewhere that if the constitution were written in cattle brands, every cowboy could recite it line for line 😉
Below are some samples of registered brands to give examples of the top-to-bottom, left-to-right reading.
Rustlers sometimes used what was called a running brand, that would slightly alter a brand already singed into an animal’s hide–perhaps changing the Rocking R to a Circle R by completing the circle.
I started researching cattle brands for my upcoming book MOUNTAIN WILD. My heroine embroiders the hero’s brand onto a dish towel, which is an L hanging a lazy J (J on it’s side) for the Lazy J Ranch. In this book, Garret Daines is having a devil of a time with rustlers, and when one of his branding irons is stolen after an attack, he doesn’t take the theft lightly. Setting up another rancher as a rustler by the ill-use of his brand was another practice used by those badmen of the old west.
If you’ve wondered about the science of branding our romance novels, Harlequin Art Director, Alana Ruoso, was interviewed this month at Cover Cafe. They’ve posted a fantastic article, which includes a behind the scenes look at the cover photo shoot for MAVERICK WILD–my first hunky cowboy cover. Check it out at: http://www.covercafe.com/BTSCBHq-2.shtml . The article gave me a whole new appreciation for the work that goes into creating a cover.
Click on a cover to pre-order my upcoming releases.