A recent article on Modern Farmer shares the history of the “symbols, visual puns and jaunty combinations of letters, numbers and styles” found on cattle branding irons. Interestingly, they also discuss how cattle rustlers use “running irons” to alter existing brands (“a symbol of pride for a family or ranch”) in order to steal cattle. They state, “Being caught by an angry cattleman with a running iron in your possession meant instant death for many rustlers, but the temptation was hard to resist. Adding a few lines or curves to a brand could quickly turn someone else’s cattle into your own…” Read more at Modern Farmer.
The vocabulary of cattle brands includes everyday objects that jocular cowboys adopted for their signature. Keys, hats, snakes, rocking chairs, guns, fish, panhandles, arrows, pitchforks and boots add flair to the common bars, circles, diamonds and crosses. Brands are read left to right, top to bottom and outside in, depending on the design, and the vernacular allows for puns and jokes within the design (take, for example, the Bar BQ, Open A Bar or 2 Lazy 2 P brands).
images via Modern Farmer