By ALLISON HARRELL
Texian Time Machine & Outreach Coordinator
The Spaniards brought cattle with them to the New World (or America) in 1541. With the introduction of cattle to the ecosystem, they also introduced the occupation of ranching. Here in Fort Bend County, the Moores, Georges and Dews, to name a few, were all part of that grand tradition.
Like the Spanish before them, the Texian pioneers branded their cattle. Branding is a method of marking cows that can be traced back to the ancient world. (There are 4,000-year-old Egyptian paintings of cattle branding and it is even mentioned in the Bible!) Branding was important because, until the invention of the tattoo, it was one of the only ways that a person could differentiate their cows from the cows of another rancher. Since most cattle ranged free much of the time, it was important to be able to establish ownership.
Brands were important markers, and had to be unique to the owner. Richard H. Chisholm owned what might be the first recorded brand in Texas. To help keep track of each brand and ensure no markings were doubled, ranchers were required to register their brand with the government. Registration became even more important in 1848, when provisions were passed stating that unless a brand was registered with the county clerk, it was not a valid legal means of establishing ownership of a cow. Since that time, a great deal of legislation has gone into the finer points of branding -- including the punishments for branding over someone else’s brand or using someone else’s brand in general.
Traditionally, brands were placed on the left hip of the cow (though the placement is not set by law).
Sometimes ear marks were used in addition to or instead of a brand. These were most popular among the early settlers of New England. An ear mark was a cut made into the ear of the cow, where shape and location functioned as a brand unique to the rancher. These ear marks were also registered with the government. In Texas, some ranchers used both the ear mark and the brand to identify their cattle, and both needed to be registered. Ear mark registries were filled with colorful language to describe the cuts that were made into the ears; each cut type and shape had a name to assist in the description. (The "jinglebob" was considered “one of the most hideous earmarks ever devised” and was unique to John Chisum of west Texas.)
THE PROCESS OF BRANDING
Cattle were ready for branding somewhere between the ages of six months to a year. Calves were typically tied down in a pen, or roped and held down, for the duration of the branding.To ensure the clearest brand possible, a number of factors come into play:
In Texas, brands must be registered with the county clerk's office. For a $5 fee, you can register your brand for 10 years. You must specify the symbol itself and the location it will be placed on the cow.
Create Your Own Brand and Show Us Your Herd!
Funding has been provided to the Fort Bend History Association from Humanities Texas and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.
Fort Bend Museum Staff