Tag Archive | Cattle

Object: Hocking Knife

I-0546a (6)

I-0546a
Hocking Knife
Spanish American
New Mexico
16th Century
Materials: Metal

This object is a reproduction of a hocking knife. Hocking knives are ranching tools that would have been used to cut the ligaments on a cow’s back legs making it impossible for the animal to run. This was only used on cattle that were going to be butchered. Hocking knives would have been attached to a pole about eight to ten feet long. As the rancher rode up on a horse behind his chosen cow he could easily stop the animal and return to for it later to take it to the next phase for slaughter and butchering. This is no longer practiced today as it is considered inhumane. It was replaced with the lariat or lasso, which is used to rope cattle.

Illustration from “Book of Texas,” via Wikimedia Commons.

The ranching and butchering of cattle, or cows, in Texas goes back to the time of the conquistadors. The word ranch comes from the Mexican-Spanish word rancho which meant a place involved with livestock, which included cows, goats, sheep, and horses. Once Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs, in what is now central Mexico, he and his men moved quickly to claim the surrounding area for the Spanish crown. The Spanish were used to a diet that included beef and Cortez soon established cattle herds which spread across Mexico.

Texas had been claimed but mostly ignored through the 1500s as the Spanish focused on their Central American investments which contained silver mines. However, French presence in Louisiana made the Spanish nervous. In 1685, a Frenchman named René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle had accidentally landed at Matagorda Bay on the east coast of Texas. By 1687 the Spanish had heard the news and sent out expeditions until they finally found the failed settlement, which had been wiped out by local East Texas Indians. Paranoid that the French would try and take Mexico and the valuable silver mines, the Spanish began to establish missions in Texas in order to create a buffer between the French in Louisiana and their favored property in Mexico.

Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion. Image by Liveon001 ©Travis Witt, via Wikimedia Commons.

The creation of missions from the late 17th century and into the 18th century was put in the hands of Franciscan missionaries. These missionaries brought settlers along with Spanish soldiers, and converted Native Americans to populate what would later become the cities of San Antonio, Goliad, El Paso, and Presidio. Many more missions were established during this period that would ultimately fail because of clashes with Native Americans and Spain’s disinterest in the area once the French threat was over. However, these missions also brought cattle and ranching into the area and lead to greater population growth as land and ranching became a source of wealth.

Cattle and ranching remain an important component of Texan culture and economy. Although they’re different from the early ranches in the 1700s, ranches continue to operate today. In 1995, Texas was known for having the most farm and ranch land, as well as cattle in the nation. Today you can still visit some of the great ranches like King Ranch established in 1852 in southern Texas by Richard King. It is larger than the state of Rhode Island and has become much more diversified. Besides agriculture and ranching, King Ranch is also involved in the production of home and leather goods. In 2001 it also began a relationship with Ford trucks with the King Ranch edition which has continued to promote the brand of King Ranch and Texas ranching culture today. [Briana Miano, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Reading:

Foster, Nancy Haston. Texas Missions. Houston, TX: Lone Star Books, 1999.

Lauber, Patricia. Cowboys and Cattle Ranching: Yesterday and Today. New York, NY: Cromwell, 1973.

Lea, Tom and Richard King. The King Ranch. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Co., 1957.

Shackelford, Bruce M. The Wests of Texas: Cattle Ranching Entrepreneurs. 2015.

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Object: Boots

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I-0567a
Boots
Rocky Carroll
American
Texas
1989
Materials: Leather

The boots pictured above are made from leather, dyed black, and have the State of Texas on them with the Texas Rangers‘ logo as well. These cowboy boots belonged to George W Bush, former Governor of Texas and the 43rd President of the United States. The boots were designed and made by Rocky Carroll.

George W Bush was born on July 6, 1946 in New Haven, Connecticut to parents George HW Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush. After attending school in Texas, Bush enrolled in at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, from 1961 to 1964. When he graduated he went on to study at  Yale University where he completed a Bachelor’s degree in History in 1968. After college, Bush enlisted in the Air National Guard, serving in both Texas and Alabama until he was discharged in November 1974. He then completed a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Harvard University in 1975. Bush was elected Governor of Texas in 1994 and served as Governor until 2000, when he was elected as the 43rd President of the United States. Bush served two terms as President and after his second term was done he returned to Texas as a private citizen.

Rocky Carroll, who made the boots pictured above, is a Texas boot maker that handcrafts custom leather boots. He has made boots for every President of the USA from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, the Queen of England, and several other high profile people. Carroll is the son and grandson of boot cobblers and has also helped his children open boot shops. He opened his first shop when he was 18 and has been making boots ever since. In 1964 he joined the Harris County Sheriff‘s Reserves and would work the graveyard shift, then turn around and open is store in the morning. He retired in 1996 and has been working at his store ever since. [Abby Goode, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:

Burgan, Michael. 2004. George W. Bush. Minneapolis, Minn: Compass Point Books.

Bush, George W. 2010. Decision points. New York: Crown Publishers.

Carlson, Paul Howard. 2000. The cowboy way: an exploration of history and culture. Lubbock, Tex: Texas Tech University Press.

Johnson, Frank W., Eugene C. Barker, and Ernest William Winkler. 1916. A history of Texas and Texans. Chicago: American Historical Society.

 

Object: Doll

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I-0277×3
Doll
European or Latin American
20th century
Materials: Cloth, metal & plastic

This doll shows a bullfighter, leaning out of the way of a charging bull. Originally introduced to the Americas by the Spanish, bullfighting has long been a popular sport throughout Spain, France, Portugal, Mexico and Latin America. There are many different styles of bullfighting performed in different areas of the world, not all of which include injuring the bull. However, in most traditional bullfights seen in Spain and Mexico the death of the bull is the climax of the event. In these traditional events professional bullfighters, called matadores or toreros, perform a variety of death-defying moves to encourage the bull to charge at them. Depending on where the fight is taking place, and the stage of the fight, there could be a number of fighters in the ring with the bull. The fighters use a number of items in the fight. The doll above demonstrates how two of these items were used. In this example, the fighter is using a piece of red cloth, called a muleta or capote, to encourage the bull to charge. As the bull charges past the fighter, he attempts to a jab colorful lance, or pica, into the bull’s neck.. The metal tips of the lances are sharpened to form small hooks that catch in the bull’s flesh and remain sticking out of his neck throughout the fight. The repeated charges, small injuries from the picas, and the resulting blood loss, slowly exhaust the bull. At the end of the fight, the fighter’s goal is to kill the bull with a single, perfectly placed, sword between his shoulder blades and into his heart.

Bull

Image from aficionados-international.com

Bullfights are often the main attraction at larger events including a number of other shows and activities. Thousands of bullfighting events occur annually around the world. Despite their popularity, bullfighting is now seen by many to be cruel and inhumane. Bullfighting is now banned from National Spanish Television, a number of areas in Europe, and there are a number of movements working to expand these bans worldwide. The following link will connect you to a National Geographic video with more information on the bullfighting tradition in Mexico. Viewer discretion is advised however as this video includes footage of actual bullfights. http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/places/culture-places/sports/mexico_bullfighting.html

While bullfighting is illegal in the United States, there are other sporting events that use bulls such as the charreada, which is an event similar to today’s modern rodeo. The charreada developed when area ranch hands would compete to see who was better at various animal husbandry skills. The charreada incorporates equestrian (horse) competitions and demonstrations, special costumes for the horse and riders, music, and food. Several competitions take place during the charreada, including a bull riding event called, Jineteo de Toro. The bulls used for the Jineteo de Toro are smaller than those used by Professional Bull Riders, IncJineteo de Toro bulls typically weigh from 900lbs to 1300lbs, where bulls used in American rodeo-style bull riding can weigh up to 2200lbs. Another difference between these two types of bull riding is the length of time the rider has to stay on the bull. In PBR events, the rider is trying to stay on for 8 seconds, in Jineteo de Toro the rider tries to stay on until the bull stops bucking.  The charreada is still popular in Mexico and parts of the United States.

Bull-Riding-Szmurlo

Bull riding at the Calgary Stampede. Image form Wikimedia Commons.

Both the charreada and bullfighting have taken place here in Texas. Bullfighting was legal in Texas up until 1891, when there was a push to move away from blood sports. Jineteo de Toro was, and is still, an active event here in Texas, but with the introduction of Wild West Shows, American cowboys started riding larger steers instead of the smaller bulls. Steers were used because they were easier to move from place to place. Steer riding was not a popular event until the 1920’s when bull riding came back into fashion. In 1936 Cowboy’s Turtle Association was founded, and began setting rules and regulations regarding bull riding. With the Association and the regulations, bull riding became much more popular on the rodeo circuit. In 1945 they changed their name to the Rodeo Cowboy’s Association, and became the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (PRCA) in 1975. In 1992 several professional bull riders broke away from the PRCA and founded Professional Bull Riders, Inc. which is the only professional organization for American-style bull riding. Bull riding has been a part of rodeo since its beginning and is considered the most popular event in rodeo. [Kathryn S. McCloud and Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:

Bonet, Eduardo. Bulls & Bullfighting; History, Techniques, Spectacle. New York: Crown Publishers, 1970.

Fredriksson, Kristine. American Rodeo From Buffalo Bill to Big Business. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1985.

Hardouin-Fugier, Elisabeth. Bullfighting: A Troubled History. London: Reaktion Books, 2010.

McLeese, Tex. Bull Riding and Bullfighting. Vero Beach, Fla: Rourke Press, 2001.

Woerner, Gail Hughbanks. Cowboy Up!: The History of Bull Riding. Austin, Tex: Eakin Press, 2001.

Object: Chaps

I-0491a (3)

I-0491a
Leather chaps
Texas
Materials: Leather and brass studs

This item is a pair of worn leather chaps given to the museum in 1995. Chaps were and still are worn by cowboys and ranchers. This type of clothing is an essential piece of a cowboy’s attire that protect the legs of cowboys while riding horses and when walking through rough landscapes. Leather is a thick and durable material that is hard to penetrate. It makes it possible for a cowboy to walk safely through areas with thorns, burrs, stickers, and barbed wire. Chaps also help to protect the rider from friction related “saddle sores.”

1873_Map_of_Chisholm_Trail_with_subsidiary_trails_in_Texas

1873 Map of Chisholm Trail with Subsidiary Trails in Texas. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

During cattle drives leather chaps would have been crucial for cowboys. A cattle drive is when a herd of cattle are transported by foot from one place to another. These drives became very important in the 1840’s and 1850’s during the California Gold Rush. Due to the increase of wealth in California the demand for beef raised dramatically. Cattle from Texas was being driven and sold to California citizens for 50 to 200 dollars per head (between 1,500 and 6,000 dollars in today’s currency). Drives from Texas could last between five to six months. Later on in the 19th century, the Chisholm Trail became known. This trail is considered to have been one of the largest cattle drives in the country. At the most it is estimated that 600,000 to 700,000 cattle were driven from Texas through Oklahoma to Kansas in a single year.

mary bunton

Photo via: Hill Country Books

On this trail a woman by the name of Mary O. Taylor Bunton (known as Mollie) made the ride with her husband James Howell Bunton, from Sweetwater, Texas to Coolidge, Kansas in 1886. Out of fear of being left alone on their ranch she decided that she would join the cattle drive. During that time it was considered inappropriate for a woman to ride on a cattle drive, making her one of the few cowgirls of the Old West. Despite speculation and doubt Mollie was determined to make the drive. She was one of few women (possibly the only) to make this drive and was named the “Queen of the Old Chisholm Trail” when it was over. Years later in 1915 Mollie made her cattle drive experiences into a book, “A Bride on the Old Chisholm Trail in 1886.” Years later in 1948 at the motion picture premier of “Red River” Mollie was honored since it was believed that she was the only woman to make it up the dangerous trail.

“Red River” is one of countless movies based on cowboy life and cattle drives. These motion pictures became extremely popular in the 20th century, later they were known as western movies. The star of this movie was the famous John Wayne, considered to some as the face of western films. Wayne’s career thrived for over 50 years, making an appearance in nearly 200 films and starring in 142 of them. Most of his movies Wayne is either a cowboy, a ranger, or something of the sort. In the early 1970’s he was offered a role in Larry McMurtry’s “The Streets of Laredo“. However, Wayne turned down the role and the film was forgotten until 1985 when McMurtry wrote a prequel novel called “Lonesome Dove.”

lonesome_dove_ver1

Photo via: IMP Awards

“Lonesome Dove” was turned into a minseries in 1989. It starred Robert Duvall and Tommy-Lee Jones as two retired Texas Rangers who decide to drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana. The story is inspired by the real life accounts of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. The tale features the two men and their partners’ experiences on the trail. They face numerous life threatening adventures including floods, snakes, and Indians. These experiences plus many more would have been incidents that other real life cowboys went through. [McKayla McCarty, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Resources:
Bailey, Jack, and David Dary. 2006. A Texas cowboy’s journal: up the trail to Kansas in 1868. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Davis, Ronald L. 1998. Duke: the life and image of John Wayne. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Gard, Wayne. 1954. Chisholm Trail.

Kraisinger, Gary, and Margaret Kraisinger. 2004. The Western: the greatest Texas cattle trail, 1874-1886. Newton, Kan: Mennonite Press.

Massey, Sara R. 2006. Texas women on the cattle trails. College Station: Texas A & M University.

McMurtry, Larry. 1985. Lonesome Dove: a novel. New York: Simon and Schuster.

 

Object: Painting

i-0206e

I-0206e
Painting
“Martin DeLeon Building Victoria, Texas, 1824”
Artist: Bruce Marshall
American
Date: mid-20th century
Materials: paper, watercolor

This painting is an original watercolor by Bruce Marshall, entitled “Martin De Leon Building Victoria, TX”. This painting shows Martin De Leon (1765-1833), a Mexican empresario, or entrepreneur, overseeing the creation of the colony Nuestra Señora Guadalupe de Jesús Victoria, today known as Victoria, Texas. In the painting, De Leon sits on a horse that is standing on a hill overlooks the location he chose to build Victoria, Texas, and the scene takes place during the early construction phase of the town. The painting itself was purchased by the museum, and in the scene, there are references to Martin De Leon’s life as the founder of this colony, as well as his business in cattle ranching. In the painting, men can be seen constructing the first buildings of the settlement from wood, with only open fields and vegetation around them, such as cactus, as no other human settlements had been constructed in this territory. The horse De Leon sits on has the brand for De Leon’s family and ranch. The herd of cattle that is grazing in the background of the painting, references to how De Leon made his fortune from the growing cattle industry during the 19th century, and how this would be the main business of the Victoria colony for many years.

martin-de-leon

Photo via: Myra H. Mcilvain, myrahmcilvain.wordpress.com

In 1765, De Leon was born as a criollo in Burgos, Nuevo Santander, a settlement town during Spain’s colonization of Mexico, and known today as the Tamaulipas district of Mexico. During Spain’s colonial era, a criollo was a Spanish citizen born in colonial territory in the New World. His parents were peninsulares – citizens born in Spain who moved to the New World – who moved from Burgos, Spain to Mexico. As his family came from a Spanish aristocratic background, they had great wealth and access to higher education and relations in Europe. Instead of going to university as his father wished, De Leon chose to become a merchant, starting his career in supplying provisions. In 1790, he joined the Spanish military, assigned to the Fieles de Burgos regiment that was established to defend against Indian raids on Nuevo Santander, achieving the rank of captain in five years.

deleonejbrand

Photo via: Wallace L. McKeehan, SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS, http://www.tamu.edu

After marrying his wife Patricia de la Garza, they established a ranch in Nuevo Santander, and began his career as a rancher. After several excursions to San Antonio, he eventually settled a ranch in Texas in 1805, where he saw ranch and farm opportunities in the free open land. He successfully raised cattle and other livestock on his ranch, reaching up to 5,000 cattle head by 1823. De Leon’s family became leaders in the cattle industry, even creating the first cattle brand in Texas. De Leon became one of the earliest Texan cattle drivers, herding a large number of cattle to the New Orleans, Louisiana market.

De Leon wanted to create a Mexican colony in Texas, but for years met resistance from Spanish government officials until Mexico had gained its independence from Spain. By April 1824, De Leon finally succeeded in gaining permission to create a colony in Texas. After completing a business deal in New Orleans, Louisiana, De Leon met with and became friends with a captain of a pirate ship, Ramon La Fou, a Frenchman in exile. The two men made a deal, where Captain La Fou would carry De Leon’s cargo up the Rio Grande River, and De Leon would make arrangements with the Mexican government to give La Fou an official pardon. Both men upheld their sides of the deal and De Leon was able to establish a colony on the lower Guadalupe River. This situation was unique, as De Leon received permission to establish a colony before the Mexican government had created its National and State Colonization laws. As a result, De Leon had no restrictions from the government on how the colony would be created. The money to fund this project came from a $10,000 inheritance from Felipe de la Garza, De Leon’s father-in-law. The colony of Nuestra Señora Guadalupe de Jesús Victoria, later called Guadalupe Victoria, became the only predominantly Mexican colony in Texas during the 19th century.

texasmap

Map via: University of Houston – Victoria

During the early phase of construction, the houses in the colony were built poorly from materials that were meant to be temporary, until the later construction of sturdier homes that would be longer lasting for the settlers. The De Leon family held great influence and authority in the new colony, as De Leon and his sons managed the affairs of the newly-built colony. Also, De Leon’s wife Patricia managed the family household, making her family an example of high Spanish-Mexican culture and society. Once his sons were older, they were able to manage the colony on their own as businessmen, allowing De Leon himself to focus on his ranch. The colony thrived from the De Leon cattle industry, and by 1880 the colony was said to have 75,000 cattle, worth roughly $1 million. Along with the abundance of food produced from the De Leon ranch, such as beans, corn, potatoes, and other food resources, access to freshwater from the rivers also brought in fish. De Leon worked to make Guadalupe Victoria a thriving colony and settlement, creating a strong community by building schools and Catholic cathedrals for the predominantly Catholic community. De Leon also dreamed of creating a magnificent Catholic cathedral that would rival the cathedrals in Mexico. Before the construction of this dreamed cathedral could even start, Martin De Leon died from a Cholera epidemic that went through the settlement in 1833. He was buried at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Some scholars believe that his burial may be actually underneath the church, as construction was completed after his death with funding provided by his wife Patricia. Others argue that the cathedral foundations had been laid before his death, during the early construction phase of the Victoria colony.

Church_Constr_1

Photo via: St. Mary’s Catholic Church

By the time of his death in 1833 from cholera, he had accumulated a wealth of half of $1 million, which he left to his family. The De Leon family held primary control over the settlements in present-day Victoria County until the end of the Texas Revolution in 1836. Although the De Leon’s supported the Texan forces by providing supplies and refuge to them, they faced discrimination from white settlers that moved into Texas. Eventually, the De Leon family lost its influence in Victoria, along with their land and cattle, leaving Texas to settle in Louisiana, only to have to return to Mexico. The contributions of the De Leon family in building Victoria, Texas went unacknowledged until 1936 when a monument was built in memory of Martin De Leon in the Evergreen Cemetery in Victoria. In 1972, State Historical markers were erected in memorial to Martin De Leon, his wife Patricia, and their four eldest sons. [Caitlin VanWie, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Crimm, A. Carolina Castillo. 2003. De León, a Tejano family history. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Fair Publishing Company. 1936. A century of Texas cattle brands. Fort Worth, Tex: Fair Pub. Co

Hammett, A. B. J. 1973. The empresario Don Martin de Leon. Waco, Tex: Texian Press.

Quiroz, Anthony. 2005. Claiming citizenship: Mexican Americans in Victoria, Texas. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Shook, R.W. “Year of Transition: Victoria, Texas, 1880-1920.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly. no. 2 (1974): 155-182 .


Object: Spur

I-0008b scan

I-0008b
Spur
Mexican
Mexico
Date: Unknown, likely 20th century
Materials: Metal

Spur-Diagram

Photo via: Royal Spurs

Spurs are traditionally u-shaped, pointed devices secured around the back of a rider’s heel and used to urge on a horse. They are made of metal and have several different components. The u-shaped portion is referred to as a heel band (or yoke), the shank (or neck), and the rowel. The heel bang should fit snugly around the back of one’s boot to insure accuracy when using the spurs. The portion that sticks out from the back of the heel can be referred to as the shank and is usually fairly straight. It is used primarily to help the rider’s spur reach the sides of the horse to give commands. The rowel is a circular, and sometimes pointed, spinning disc attached to the end of the shank. Rowels are used to make contact with the sides of the horse, allowing the rider to give commands. Rowels were designed to make the end of the spur safer for the horse than shanks without rowels.

The spur, originally of European origin, made its way to Texas with the birth of the vaquero; these individuals have been part of Texas history since its beginning. Their name is the literal translation of the Spanish word for cow, and they were so named for their handling of cattle and horses. Their influence gave birth to their American counterparts, the cowboy. Cattle ranching had spread from Mexico to the southwestern United States by the 1700s; by this point vaqueros had perfected the arts of roping using braided rawhide reatas, branding, and riding. Cattle ranching was a small portion of the Texas economy until after the Civil War. It was then, when the northern demand for beef was so high, that many Texans began taking part in the industry.

Cattle Drive Trails

Photo via: Equitrekking.com

During the fall, vaqueros would round up their herd(s), brand owner-less cattle with no previous ownership markings, and watch over the herd through winter. By spring, the cattle that were ready for market were driven to the nearest railroad town and bought by eastern buyers. As the frontier extended west, the United States grew rapidly in population; as a result, cattle herding grounds were cut in half with the expansion of railroads and the US Government selling lands to private buyers. Because of this, the cattle industry was rapidly on the decline by the late 1800s. Cowboys are still around today, but with corporations mass-producing meat, their lands and our dependence on them is much smaller. [Jordan Kinnally, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

The following video discusses the history and life of today’s vaqueros.

Additional Resources:

Jones, Terry L. “Civil War Texas.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 42.1 (2001): 115-16.

Kauffman, J. B., W. C. Kreuger, and M. Vavra. “Effects of Late Season Cattle Grazing on Riparian Plant Communities.” Journal of Range Management 36.6 (1983): 685-91.

Lacy, Charles De Lacy. The History of the Spur. [London]: Connoisseur (Otto), 1911. Digital Public Library of America. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.

Livingston, Phil. “The History of the Vaquero.” American Cowboy. Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc., 2013.

Schencks, Tao. “The Parts of a Cowboy Spur.” Ezine Articles. N.p., 27 May 2008.

Object: Cattle brand

I-0008a (3)

I-0008a
Branding Iron
Mexican
Mexico
Date: Unknown
Material: Iron

cattle branding

Photo via: Library of Congress: John C. Grabill Collection (LOT 3076)

This hand-forged branding iron consists of the letters “L” and “S” which is believed to have been used at the La Sirena (Spanish for The Mermaid) Ranch in Mexico. Cattle brands such as this one are used by ranchers to brand their livestock. In order to brand calves two cowboys, referred to as flankers, restrain and position it for branding. The glowing, hot branding iron is placed on the calf’s hide momentarily. The heat of the iron burns the brand into the hide of the calf.

med_res wire

Photo via: The Portal to Texas History: Framed Barbed Wire #4

Branding cattle distinguishes one’s ownership over certain cattle. This was highly important for ranchers since there were no fences in the West to distinguish one’s property from another. Barbed wire that was sturdy enough to contain livestock was not invented until 1873. This invention offered an affordable way for large areas of land to be fenced in. Many ranchers chose to fence off their ranch land with barbed wire to keep their cattle from wandering. However, not all ranchers wanted to fence off their land. Even now, much of the ranch land in Texas remains open range, meaning that the cattle are free to roam and are not confined to a certain area through the use of fences.

In 1504, Hernando Cortés reached the New World, and by 1518 he set out on a mission to secure the interior of Mexico. On his way to Mexico, Cortés brought along his cattle that bore burned crosses on their hides to distinguish them from other herds. The tradition of branding cattle caught on with Mexican cattle ranchers and spread northward as the cattle industry moved into Texas. Early Mexican ranchers typically used abstract symbols for their branding iron designs but later shifted to using initials. Current branding irons can be made up of symbols, initials and numbers.

Branding iron designs are decided upon by the rancher and are typically read from top to bottom, right to left or outside to inside. In the cattle driving era, cowboys carried small brand books that were filled with all of the brands of local herds. These brand books assisted the cowboys at roundup time in returning stray or stolen cattle to their owners.  Once government regulations gained stronger footholds in the West, ranchers filed their brands with their county land offices and courthouses. Today, branding iron designs used in the United States must be legally registered. Modernization of the cattle ranching industry has resulted in the abandonment of traditional branding irons, like the one from La Sirena, in favor of electronic ear tags.

Cattle ranching has played a major role in Texas’ economy since the 18th century when herds were brought into the San Antonio and Goliad areas to feed missionaries and soldiers. After this period, cattle ranches became privately owned enterprises. By the early 19th century, cattle ranches were widespread in Texas which was, at this time, part of Mexico. By 1836, Texas gained its independence from Mexico and claimed the herds of cattle that remained on their land. Texas has since had larger numbers of cattle than any other state (the all-time high was nearly 11 million head of cattle in 1968). [Lauren Thompson, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

The following video talks about King Ranch, one of the largest ranches in Texas today.

Additional Resources

Craighead, John R. 2013 The History of Cattle Brands and How to Read Them.  John R. Craighead Company, Inc. http://kidscowboy.com/history-of-cattle-brands

Devil’s Rope Museum. A Brief History of Barbed Wire. Selected Essays on Barbed Wire. http://web.archive.org/web/20100721013911/http://www.barbwiremuseum.com/barbedwirehistory.htm

Richardson, T. C. and Harwood P. Hinton. Ranching: The Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/azr02

Wheeler, Heather. 2013 American West: The Cattle Industry. History on the Net. http://www.historyonthenet.com/American_West/cattle_industry.htm

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