Branding Irons  –  Part I

Branding!  It started more than 4,000 years ago.  Cattle are still branded, or burned on the hip.  Tombs in Egypt show ancient cowboys at work with an iron two thousand years before Christ.  The Mission and Pueblo era in California employed branding. 

The Albert Dickey Collection is far more extensive and is awaiting further exploration and viewing opportunities will expand.  Albert had his own brand – the Flying A.  His collection, gifted to the California Agriculture Museum in 2016, represents the evolution of brands in the West.    

The oldest brand on display is #63.  The brand dates to 1749 from Chihuahu Mexico.  SYM identifies Rancho Dark of the Moon.  #25, the Circle M brand, identifies the Murchio Brothers in Clayton City from 1870.

These brands each tell their own story.  We encourage you to read the symbols and see if you are able to identify the name of the owner.

Branding, Meat, Hide, and Tallow

During the Mission and Pueblo era herds of horses, cattle, and sheep increased.  Sheep provided wool for cloth, horses were used for transportation and herding, and cattle were butchered for their hides, tallow and meat consumption. 

Herds of animals ran loose in early California.  The brand was seared into each animal to identify its ownership. The rancheros each had their own brand.  Animals were rounded up in a large enclosure, or coral, to examine and count the herd.  The young would be branded.  Those that were to be branded were forced through a gate, and then lassoed. 

The rodeo and Matanzas was the annual practice of gathering the cattle together.  The herd was killed and skinned; the hides were tanned (dried in the sun).  The best of the tallow was removed and placed in bags made of hide.  The other fat was made into soap.  The premium pieces of meat were cut into thin strips or torn into shreds and dried in the sun known as Jerked beef or seca.  The hides and tallow were sold to dealers in the pueblo or to vessels at San Francisco. 

Early California Herds and Crop Production during the Mission and Pueblo Era

California’s agricultural history is divided into several periods.  The Mission and Pueblo era is punctuated by the abundance of stock grazing that flourished in pastoral communities.  Although grain, pumpkins, peas, and beans were cultivated during this time, the grain growing era began to flourish during the gold rush era when new immigrants mechanized and cultivated entire valleys.  The fruit and vine growing era followed and gained prominence as tractors and harvesters evolved.  Transport was elevated to transcontinental systems of railroads to supply what became known as the industrial revolution.   

More men and women were needed for cultivating and harvesting grain.  During the Mission and Pueblo era Native American Indians cleared the land, ploughed, planted grain, built irrigation ditches, irrigated the soil, harvested the crops, and thrashed the grains.  Corn was also husked, beans peas and lentils were picked, and wild grapes were gathered.  The implements were primitive.  The plough was composed of two pieces of timber and a sharp piece of iron was positioned to dig into the soil while oxen drew the plough.  The product was stored by the Missions. 

The demand for larger grain yields occurred during the California Gold Rush.  Early pioneers engineered mechanized reapers, threshers, harvesters, seed cleaners, and began combining these functions to harvest larger crops and reduce the back breaking activities of pioneers.