Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Connecting the Past and Present: The age old tradition of Livestock Branding

by Natalie Bright

The alarm clock blasts the silent morning. Time to get cracking, on eggs, that is.  The scene outside my window hides in shades of gray, and I’m thinking about the dugout dating around1895 that established the headquarters of the Sanford Ranch.
The dirt dwelling has endured many transformations through the years as evidenced by crumbling cement, sagging roof, and rusted plumbing. How many countless families and ranch hands have called this crude shelter home? I wonder about the woman who once lived there. Garland Snow Whiteside Sanford would have risen before sunrise, just like me, for spring branding.
She most likely had great dreams of building a life in this place where no one had ever lived before. Arriving as a newlywed in 1901, the original dugout became the back room to a two-story dwelling. Years later the wooden house was destroyed by fire, however the dugout remained and was used for a cowboy bunkhouse.
As I listen to sizzling bacon, I imagine Garland Snow had a cast iron skillet much like mine. I wonder if she was lucky enough to have a wood-fired cook stove, or perhaps she cooked on an open flame.
With spurs jangling, hungry men file past me for breakfast. I realize that time has not changed the fundamental need for the working cowboy. These men really do work from “can see to can’t”. In the pre-dawn light, I watch a frenzy of brushing, saddling and stock trailer loading. Our Ranch Manager wants everyone in their assigned pastures by first light.
The joy of another opportunity to greet the rising sun on horse back shows on the old-timers faces. The younger men are unable to suppress their grins, and the perceptive, skittering horses are anxious as well. In what seems like no time at all, men, horses and cattle will squeeze through a gate into a set of working pens and the peaceful morning will explode with frantic calls of mommas and the answering bawls of their babies.
 The sky dawns bright orange, pink and blue. I figure Mrs. Sanford might have taken a moment to appreciate the stunning site before she washed dishes, stirred beans, and prepared the beef brisket. The menu hasn’t changed much.
As a western writer, it’s important that I strive to help others understand about the rich traditions, the magical land, and the back-breaking labor that  embraces a part of history. Some people might not realize we’re still here. We are. Just over the next rise, at the end of the paved road, this centuries old work continues.

 Let the wilderness drive us forth as wonderers, scatter our broken bones upon these sands…it shall not kill the purpose that brought us here…the dream still lives, it lives…and shall not die.PAUL GREEN

Natalie Bright is an author, blogger, and enjoys speaking about history and story craft. Her stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications, most recently this March “A Cowboy’s Life” will appear in Appleseeds. She is represented by Mr. Stephen Fraser, of The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, NYC, who is currently shopping her western novels for middle grade readers. She holds a BBA from WTSU, her husband is a geologist and cattle rancher, and they have two teenaged boys. She’s on the web at Facebook/Natalie-Bright-Author, Twitter @natNKB, Amazon Author Pages, Pinterest/natbright, her website is, and she blogs every Monday at


Heidiwriter said...

I have many great memories of riding out with my dad to gather the cattle for branding. It was hard, hot, smelly work, but the rewards(and the memories) are great! Thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog post. Thanks for sharing, Natalie!

Alice Trego said...

This is a great post! Thanks, Natalie, for sharing your perspective on ranch life and what it might have been like more than a hundred years ago for the original owner of the dugout. While I'm not from a ranching background, your images that came to my mind are most excellent to give me a small taste of the ranching life.

Linda Broday said...

Nat, I've GOT to get out there and see your ranch. That old dugout would draw me. So much history pressing around you. I'm so glad you "see" both the past and the future. I think it's awesome. A very interesting blog. You have a gift for storytelling and putting a reader there with you.

Anne Schroeder Author said...

Neat piece of work, Ladie. I enjoyed your post and the images you create.

Anne Schroeder Author said...

Neat piece of work, Ladie. I enjoyed your post and the images you create.