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Brands and Branding

The first brand issued in the North West Territories came from Canada's first brand office in Ft. Macleod. "71" was the symbol granted to Mounted Policeman Percy R. Neale and Samuel B. Steele on January 29, 1880. The "double crank," was given to Captain William Winder on March 19, 1880. Winder was also the first brand recorder.

Jack Pierson branding at Bobby Knox\’s ranch, Steveville, Alberta.

Canadian brands originally consisted of a letter, figure or even arbitrary symbol. Two and then three symbols were eventually needed to distinguish the many brands from each other. The ideal brand was distinctive and difficult to alter with a "running iron," an iron bar used by cattle rustlers to change its appearance. There was a specific way to read brands, and the use of the wrong term would determine who on the ranch was a "greenhorn."

Branding was done during the round ups with a hot iron applied to a specified part of an animal. Each outfit built a branding fire tended by a man who kept the irons at the right temperature. Another man was in charge of roping unbranded calves from the herd and dragging them towards the fire. Two "wrestlers" grabbed the animal and threw it over, usually on its right side. Then one of the men would hold the calf down while the other branded, castrated, and sometimes earmarked it.

Calf branding at Pincher Creek, Alberta, 1886.

Brands were so important on the range that ranchers were sometimes known only for the branch they used, like Mr. 7 U Brown. Through the 1880s and 1890s, the Calgary Herald and Macleod Gazette carried a running list of western Canadian ranches and their brands.

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