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Branding Week on a Texas Ranch

Branding Week on the Sanford Ranch

“The cattleman and his cowboys have been the men who most persistently pushed the frontier farther west preparing the way for civilization.” author Ramon Adams observed.

An age old tradition is still practiced today during a week of branding on a Texas cattle ranch.

The alarm startled the early morning silence. I had been thinking about life in the 1900’s on our ranch. Not far from my bedroom window, the original dugout ca. 1895 still remains. I wondered about the woman who had lived there. Garland Snow Whiteside Sanford would have risen before sunrise, just like me, for branding week.

Branding livestock dates back as far as ancient Egyptians, brought to us in Texas by the vaqueros, and continues today as the most efficient means of identifying ownership. The only thing separating free-range ranches are a few strands of barbed wire and a cattle-guard across the road ways. For these large ranches that can cover thousands of acres, the ritual of branding, or identifying ones cows, would have been important to the Sanfords, as it is to us today. These people and these symbols represent an age old tradition.

The lady inhabiting the dugout had great dreams I’m sure, of raising a family and building a homestead in the middle of nowhere. Work blurred her future. And for generations after, families worked and laughed and prayed, and often cried, on this very ground, and yet they thrived.

As I cracked eggs, I imagined she had a cast iron skillet much like mine. I wondered if she was lucky enough to have a wood-fired cookstove in her dugout, or perhaps she balanced her skillet on flat rocks next to an open fire. Her boarded shelf would have held the same staples as our pantry; flour, sugar, salt, baking powder. All she’d need for a pan of hot bisquits.

I realized time had not changed the essence of what these people represent as they filed past me at 5:30 am for breakfast. These cowboys and cowgirls are the real deal and they really do work from “can see to can’t”. In the pre-dawn light, I watched a frenzy of brushing, saddling and stock trailer loading as pasture assignments were made under the capable direction of the Ranch Manager, “BP”.  Young men could hardly keep the smiles from their faces, as they were told to watch and learn. The joy of greeting the rising sun on horse back showed on the experienced faces too, undeterred by the work ahead. I realized this fact even more so when I saw one neighboring ranch owner ride and rope on the very day he was released by his heart doctor. His new pace maker held up, and one person mentioned that ropers are fanatical about their craft.

At the break of dawn before young and old alike stretched an endless span of grassland where, in several hours, men, horses and cattle would squeeze through a gate into a set of working pens.  What surprised me about this whole operation was the silence. A calm confidence is maintained by all which in turn keeps horses and cattle in tranquil spirits. The boss man likes the work to progress at an even pace, slow and steady and calm.

Over the next week I heard lots of “Good morning, ma’am” and “Thank you, ma’am.” and “Sweet tea please, ma’am.”  Under the capable direction of Tavia, the menu featured stick-to-your ribs meat loaf, brisket, enchiladas, and the best chicken-fried steak you’ll ever taste in your life (honestly, I’d never seen that much potato salad). Breakfast and lunch for 25+ is not an easy task, but doable. Cooking for a bunch of ranch hands is from can to can’t, too.

Even today Ramon Adams’ statement rings true as the traditions remain and the work continues.

For more pictures of branding week on the Sanford Ranch look under the Photo section on my Facebook page. Happy trails!

Natalie Bright is the author of the upcoming book, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’: The All-American Chuck Wagon Cookbook. With over 100 recipes, cattle drive history, archival photos, and her own Texas ranch photography, you can bring a taste of the old West to your kitchen! Available now for pre-order at all online bookstores. She is also the author of the Trouble in Texas series for middle grade readers and an easy reader series about rescue horses.