ROPE, THROW, AND BRAND ‘EM: CATTLE BRANDING AT PIPE SPRING
Ron Motter demonstrates how a branding iron works at Pipe Spring
In the 1870s
and beyond, the Arizona Strip was a series of ranches. On such a
vast expanse of grazing land with few marked boundaries, cattle
from one ranch might easily mingle with animals from another. Ranchers
had various ways of marking their cattle so that they had no trouble
telling their property from their neighbor’s property. Since
cattle rustling was fairly common, brands were also important in
identifying and recovering stolen animals.
when the new calves were born, a ritual would take place. The spring
roundup and branding were common activities all over the Strip.
Individual unique brands were some of the ways the local ranchers
identified their ranches and their herds.
a hot, noisy, smelly affair. The heat of the branding irons, the
stench of burning hide, the bawling of the outraged calves, and
the shouts of the ranch hands made for a colorful and chaotic scene.
The branding ritual was a part of seasonal activity at Pipe Spring
Ranch, and later Pipe Spring National Monument, into the 1980s.
These days at
the Monument, the interpretive staff takes visitors back to the
heyday of ranching on the Arizona Strip with branding demonstrations
by Park rangers in historic costume. Ranger Ron Motter substitutes
slices of a cedar post for the hide of a live cow (thus eliminating
any trauma to either calves or visitors!) and burns samples of old-time
brands into the wood. Says Ron, “We don’t brand live
beasts, but I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve to guarantee
that visitors don’t miss out on the total experience—and
that means the sound and the smell, too.”
are usually delighted to take a sample brand home with them, and
older guests often share stories of their own ranching and branding
experiences. Others fantasize about what life would have been like
“back in those days” at Pipe Spring. “It’s
not quite the same as being there”, says Ranger Ron, “but
it’s pretty close. And if our visitors leave wanting to know
more, then I know I’ve done something to spark an interest
that will help keep the history of Pipe Spring and the Arizona Strip
and many other activities illustrating pioneer life on the Arizona
Strip, will continue at Pipe Spring through the summer and fall,
seven days a week. Pipe Spring National Monument is located 14 miles
west of Fredonia, AZ on State Route 389, and 60 miles east of St.
George, UT on UT 59 and AZ 389. Summer hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(AZ time). For more information and demonstration schedules, call
928-643-7105 or visit the Monument’s web site at www.nps.gov/pisp.