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MEEKER I Spring is here, and for ranchers that means it is time to brand calves and prepare to turn them out for the summer. It is an exciting tradition that has been passed down from generations.
Branding is something that many ranching families have been doing the same way for years. Some families, like the Sheridans and the Turners, rope the calves and drag them to what used to be a fire, but is now an electric branding iron.
Some use a table to cut down on the number of people it takes, and some continue to gather a group of tough young people to “leg the calves out” and hold them down, as the Rogers do. No doubt there are families around that get the job done in the same manner their grandparents did, such as the Collinses and Amicks and the Woodwards, Pearces, Smiths, Brennans, Mantles, Oldlands, Burkes, Johnsons and many others.
It is a time to rely on the old concept of neighbors gathering to help each other out and enjoy a meal when the job is done. It is a sort of celebration after getting through the winter.
Branding is an ancient practice, dating back to 4,000 years before the first cow ever came to the United States. Branding is depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings. Much later, Hernando Cortez branded crosses on the cattle he brought with him to Mexico.
Branding is the sign of ownership, passed on to modern cowboys by the Spanish “vaqueros.” Cowboys made their own individualized marks, and those marks became as much a part of a ranch as the people who ran them. The brand has also become a symbol of pride.
In the 1870s and 1880s it became necessary to register brands because so many cattle were being herded through Oklahoma and Kansas and railroaded to Eastern states. In a time when there were no fences, it was the only way to distinguish who owned the cattle.
As ranching progressed, several ranches would run in the same area and roundups would take place at shipping time, and the cattle would be separated according to the brand they carried.
There are many stories from the days when rustlers would attempt to either steal unbranded calves and put their brand on them or try to change already branded cattle. That led to many problems.
The brands burned on the animals represented the livelihood of the families that owned them. They would fight for their brand and, in the long run, good faith would frequently win out, providing friendly gatherings of local ranchers who set out to simply take what was theirs.
Today there are thousands of brands in individual state brand books and brand inspectors are trained to read the brands and keep the integrity of the tradition.
Local brand inspector Ed Coryell has seen more cattle come and go in our county than anyone and he has a commanding knowledge of area brands.
The Klinglesmith LK ranch can brand upwards of 300 calves in a day with minimal people. LoAnn Klinglesmith, a third generation rancher, still helps with the process as well as rpreparing a meal for all in attendance. She now watches as her granddaughters rope the calves to help.
On the Wakara ranch, Joe Collins, a second-generation rancher, enjoys seeing his daughter Lori, grandson J.C. and great-granddaughter Charlie get in on the branding.
The Sheridan ranch has been roping calves to brand as long as Meeker has been a town, with fourth- and fifth-generation Coley Turner, his son, Casey Turner, as well as Kelly Sheridan getting involved.
There are too many families who continue the old branding traditions to mention them all, but one thing is true for them all: There are few things that have stood the test of time and continue to bridge the gap between generations like branding.
Gathering together to perform a task like branding is as necessary today as it was 100 years ago. It is as symbolic as the brand itself. And it lasts.