Applying Brands: History of Branding
Brand History in Western Canada
Brands are used to identify range cattle throughout Western Canada for more than a century are as old as the livestock industry itself. The appearance of visible brands on the hides of a good herd of ranch cattle can be considered to be similar to a serial number of a private trademark. When applied properly, a brand is more tamper-proof than a birth certificate and most certainly as personal as a calling card.
The scar tissue that makes a good brand visible may not be too eye-appealing to some folks, but woven in with those old brands are more ranch history and rangeland stories than most people realize. In many cases, over a period of more than a hundred years, numerous old ranch brands have become better known than the people who owned them.
Our early history reveals that during ancient times, the Egyptians, and later the Greeks, discovered the advantages of signifying the ownership of an animal with a permanent mark by burning a brand on with a properly heated hot iron.
With the coming of the Spaniards to North America, branding made its first appearance on this continent in old Mexico and soon extended to Texas and the American southwest as it gradually became settled. The custom of branding cattle in that part of the world did not become a common practice until after the Civil War in 1865, since there were no markets for beef in the south and herds were put together and trailed north into Texas. Branding became necessary when several livestock owners made up trail herds for the long trip north, and the means of brand identification was certainly a beneficial factor when they arrived at their destination. These first brands were called "trail brands".
From Territories to Provinces
An ordinance with respect to the marking of livestock in the Northwest Territories by the use of brands was passed at the second session of the Council of the Territorial Government at a meeting in North Battleford on August 2nd, 1878. This represented the first movement towards the recording of cattle and horse brands throughout the ranching regions of Western Canada. When the term "Northwest Territories" is referred to in this article, it means the portion of the Territories that became the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905.
The photo on the left shows that some things haven't changed.
The Lieutenant-Governor of the Northwest Territories was given the authority to declare Stock Districts in which the Clerk of the local Magistrate Court acted as Brand Recorder. It was his responsibility to designate a mark or character to interested livestock owners who wished to obtain a brand to mark their livestock, as well as what position on the animal it would occupy. The first brand district organized in the Territories was at Fort MacLeod during 1878 and David Laird was the man you had to locate in order to register a brand.
During 1898, the legislative act of recording brands became the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture of the Territorial Government. The different stock districts were no longer allowed to register brands, and one recording office for the Territories was set up in Regina. At this point, approximately 3,052 cattle and horse brands had been registered.
When the Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were founded in 1905, Alberta established its own office for recording brands at Medicine Hat. During 1923, the office was moved to government headquarters in Edmonton. There is very little evidence on record as to exactly when this move transpired, except for a few scattered dates on aged colored paper that still exists in the old files.
This same office was located close to the Provincial Legislature in Edmonton for more than five decades, and because of a political platform introduced by the Conservative Government during 1971, the office was decentralized to Stettler in February 1975. During this fifty-year period, a fair number of men had served as Brand Recorders and by this time, more than 50,000 brands had been registered and were in active use by cattlemen throughout Alberta. At that time, the province of British Columbia had registered approximately 8,000 brands and Saskatchewan had 28,000 brands registered.
The Story Behind the Book
There has been considerable controversy over the disputed issue of how many brand books have been published since the first brand ordinance of 1878. There is evidence available that indicates the first brand book was compiled in the Northwest Territories during May, 1888 by James Henderson and printed by W.T. Walker, a publishing company out of Winnipeg.
This book contained the bylaws of the Alberta Stockgrowers Association, which outlined to ranchers their responsibilities with respect to prairie fires, cattle rustling, unbranded livestock and annual roundups. It also contained the first ordinance to be enacted for the marking of stock, which included a list of early registered brands and the ranchers who owned them.
The Henderson Directory Company, also out of Winnipeg, published the second brand book in 1889 and the third edition in 1894. A supplement to the 1894 book was printed during 1896 and the fourth edition brand book was published in 1898. The Calgary Herald tackled the enormous task of printing the next brand book in 1900. This same company printed another edition in 1903 and a supplement book in 1904.
By 1905, the Government Printers of the Territories had accepted the responsibility of printing a brand book and published a supplement book that same year, as well as another supplement in 1906. The brand book printed for 1907 was a joint effort between the Agriculture Departments of both Alberta and Saskatchewan. Seven years passed before the next book was put out in 1914 that covered the period between 1907 and 1913. A supplement to this book was also printed in 1914 and another supplement book was published in 1915. The King’s Printers of the Provincial Government published their first book in 1919, which listed all the brands that had been issued for the three years previous. Another book was printed in 1921 that took care of the new brands registered during 1919 and 1920. The first brand book published after the Brand Office was moved to Edmonton was printed in 1925. Twelve years passed before the next book was published in 1937. Another supplement was printed in 1941 and a large red book was put together in 1947.
During the next decade, the livestock industry in Alberta changed considerably, with an explosion in the cattle population. The number of new cattle brands registered was enormous and a new style of a brand book was produced in 1954. Since 1958, a new brand book has been published every four years with the same number of supplement books printed during the even numbered years between. Amongst these were a centennial edition printed in 1978 and a supplement to that book in 1980. Including the first brand book published well over a century ago, there has been a total of 40 books printed up to and including 2002. Among these were 24 official brand book publications, with the other 16 being supplementary editions.
Written and Submitted by H.G. Pallister