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On this date in 1909, the Billings County Livestock Protective Association gave a warning to potential livestock rustlers. There would be serious risk for stealing the animals of association members. That’s because the association was offering a $500 reward for information that led to the arrest and conviction of the thief. That reward was the equivalent of about $14,000 in today’s money.

That wasn’t the only measure the association took. Another reward of $100 was offered for catching anyone who sold beef without offering to show the hide with the animal’s brand. A brand was individual to the owner and was registered in a brand book. Brands were widely known and recognized. Showing the brand helped ensure that the seller had acquired the meat honestly.

Livestock branding goes back thousands of years. An Egyptian tomb painting shows cattle being rounded up and branded.

The Spanish brought branding to the Americas. The three crosses of explorer Hernan Cortes might well be the first livestock brand used in the Western Hemisphere. Branding was used throughout the Americas, but the practice was made famous by the cowboys of the American West.

Modern ranchers still have a need to identify their livestock. Some still use a branding iron heated in a fire, but others have gone to more modern techniques. Electronic ear tags identify animals with chip that can be read by a computer. Ranchers can monitor individual animals and can even find livestock that have strayed. But the ear tags can easily be removed by thieves, so it’s not foolproof.

Another method is freeze branding. The rancher uses liquid nitrogen or dry ice to cool the branding iron. When applied to the animal, the iron destroys the pigment of the hair. The hair grows in white and is clearly visible. Freeze branding has been shown to be less stressful to the animal than heat branding.

Over a century after the livestock association offered its reward, ranchers still have to be on the alert for rustlers, and branding continues to be an effective tool for deterring theft.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Golden Valley Chronicle. “Six Hundred Dollars Reward.” Beach ND. 11/12/1909. Page 6.

Inflation Calculator. http://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1905?amount=500   Accessed 10/4/2019.

AgAmerica. “What’s in a Brand?” https://agamerica.com/brand-history-of-cattle-branding/  Accessed 10/4/2019.

Texas Rural Voices. “Why Cattle Branding is Still a Thing.” https://texasruralvoices.com/2017/09/19/why-cattle-branding-is-still-a-thing/   Accessed 10/5/2014.

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