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Re-registering Brands

1/1/2015:

It’s New Year’s Day and according to tradition, that means it’s time to make resolutions that you promise to keep. For North Dakota ranchers in 1944, however, it wasn’t resolutions they were worried about keeping on New Year’s Day, but their brands. January 1 marked the last day ranchers could register their brands if they planned to keep them. According to the Williston Daily Herald, “Over four thousand branding irons which once glowed red on North Dakota ranches are now rusty relics of an era which lives only in memory.” With all those brands now just a memory, North Dakota introduced a new law to clear state files of extinct brands. If a rancher failed to re-record his brand, it would be up for grabs for other ranchers.

According to the Herald, however, the new law seemed to matter to only a few ranchers. “Only a few old timers have heeded the statute,” said the Herald. “Most of them have long since surrendered their saddles.” Among those old timers was William Connolly of Dunn Center. Connolly was one of the oldest living ranchers, and he’d first recorded his brand in August 1890. Anders Madsen of Alexander was another who made sure to record his “Hanging T” brand, which he first began using in 1901.

Other ranchers didn’t necessarily have their own brand, but they continued tradition by adopting expired brands as their own, including Teddy Roosevelt’s famous maltese cross and variations of the widely-known hash knife. The Herald, however, also noted a new “trend” in brands: “As the crude outlines of wine glasses, whiskey jugs, pitchforks and rocking chairs are abandoned, new designs, reflecting a new age are appearing on the range. One, which marks the herd of William Heidt [of] New Salem, depicts a streamlined bombing plane which appears to be spiraling down the left hip.”

The new trends in brands, however, are only a mark of the changing cattle industry. Cattle once roamed freely on the plains of North Dakota and feasted on range grass. Those were the days that a brand identified to whom an untamed animal of the open range belonged. In 1944, however, cattle-raising had become a market industry, and cattle were selectively bred and scientifically fed on neat farmsteads. For these cattle, the brand had become not so much a mark identifying the owner, but had become comparable to a patch sewed on brand-named jeans to identify the designer. Things just weren’t like they used to be in the olden days and the old timers would agree, said the Herald. “Old timers still maintain the meat from range grass ‘nomads’ was more tasty and nourishing.” So when shopping for beef, what will it be folks? The latest breed from Lazy D, or a vintage favorite from Hanging T?

Dakota Datebook written by Tessa Sandstrom

Sources:

“4,000 brands of olden day in N.D. lapse,” Williston Daily Herald. Dec. 9, 1943: 4.