Ranching Feature: Rustlers remain … so does brand inspector

MEEKER I Ed Coryell has served this area for 35 years as brand inspector. He says cattle and horse rustlers, with the easy-to-load stock trailers, can load cattle and within four to six hours be in an area that doesn’t inspect brands. Brand control, like is present in Colorado, does not exist everywhere. Colorado cattlemen have recognized the importance of protecting the livestock producer and his product for more than 100 years.
Early in our history, cattle brought into our area were marked with the home ranch brand. During open range days, the cattle were dumped into grazing lands and rounded up in the fall, sorting was easier with a big readable brand. The huge brands soon were found to be a detriment as the price of hides improved, so smaller brands were used.
Ed tells of a brand that named a mountain and still is a popular known brand locally. The story goes the steers driven in, possibly from Kansas, were turned loose to graze on open range south of Meeker. The steers carried the LO7 brand. Some of these big steers were missed in the roundups and found on the mountain years later. The cattle and their brand stuck, for our familiar mountain is known as LO7.
Ed said in the late 1800s cattle with their brands came into the area from Texas to Oregon. These brands were registered in the county where the cattle were grazing. The counties kept these records until about 1920 when the State Board of Stock Inspection took over brand registration and recording. The first State Brand Book published by the secretary of state showed 13,228 brands on record in 1885-1888. The last brand book showed 33,329 active brands on record.
Though uncommon, there are ranches in Colorado that use the same brand, for instance a single O is used by three different outfits. Ed listed 29 brands in Rio Blanco County still used by family members or associated with the original ranch, examples are the KBarT, and the LO7. There are no doubt a number of other families that have old family brands still paid for and registered with the Brand Commission.
Ed inspects about 32,000 to 35,000 head of cattle each year. It depends on whether a lot of yearlings to be put on grass are brought in and varies year to year. He looks at cattle being transferred or sold, mostly recording the shipment of cattle off ranches and heading out of the county. His inspection responsibility covers most of Rio Blanco County. If you have observed Ed on a brand inspection, you marvel at his ability to calmly walk into a bunch of nervous cattle, and read a complicated strange brand on a long-haired, high-head cow. On the more difficult brands, he will squeeze them and give them a haircut. Many ranches include an ear mark to help in the identity of the cattle. A few ranchers mark their cows with a dewlap. Ed says sheep are not expected to be permanently marked or branded for inspection. Some sheep owners use ear marks, and some mark their herd with a wattle on the nose or ear.
The brand establishes the legal evidence of livestock ownership. Even today, the brand on the side of a cow, bull, steer, calf or horse is as solid as the signature on a check.