Sunday, February 25, 2018

What’s in a Brand

What’s in a Brand
The Mark of Permanence
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

                        On a bright summer morning before the turn of the century when the King Ranch
was reviewing the possibility of buying our farm management company, Met West Agribusiness, I met then CEO, Jack Hunt, at the Madera airport. It wasn’t Jack, though, that alerted me to the fact the men from Texas had arrived. There, parked directly in front of the bank of windows looking west, was a gleaming white Citation. There was no question who it belonged to.
            On its tail was the famous "Runnjng W":

What’s in a Brand
Several years ago, I was doing some research for an article for CJ Hadley and I found some interesting history on Charles Goodnight including references to his road brand, PAT. It was also a brand he used in Colorado where it was originally recorded in his wife’s name. As a “road brand”, it would have initially been applied to cattle trailed west out of Texas, through New Mexico, and on into Colorado (it was probably not used later when Goodnight riders trailed cattle out of the Panhandle into Kansas).
As I write this, off to the left side of my laptop is a new brand card, NMB13537. It displays the PIT and stipulates left rib cattle and left shoulder and hip horses. To my knowledge, it has not been used on horses for at least 75 years, and, due the requirement to spread it across that expanse, it never will. How do I know that?
It has my name on it.
Although it is new to my ownership, I have known it all my life. It has immense sentimental value. The herd of cattle that forded the Gila River at what was then known as the Shelley Crossing in 1888 wore that brand. They had been trailed out of the Panhandle, caught the Butterfield Trail south and west to Franklin (now El Paso), crossed the Rio Grande, pushed on to San Vicente (now Silver City), New Mexico Territory and arrived on the high mesa straddling the Sacaton drainage north of what is now known as Cliff, New Mexico and sixteen miles northwest from where they crossed the river.
There were only two trailing riders. The gringo was Lee Rice and the black cowboy was Boze Ikard. They had both ridden for Mr. Goodnight. Mr. Ikard had been with both Goodnight and Loving soon after the war while Mr. Rice wasn’t a JA cowboy until 1880 (Ikard was likely not part of the later Palo Duro to Dodge City drives. Rice “went up the Trail” each of the eight years he rode for Goodnight).
Anecdotal evidence now suggests that the cattle had been gifted in lieu of wages when Mr. Goodnight retired to pursue other interests including mining in Mexico. I have every reason to now believe Mr. Rice and his partner, Mr. Ikard, patterned their own road brand in respect to their employer and mentor, Charles Goodnight. They substituted the A in PAT for and I in PIT and moved the brand to the left rib from the left hip.
Soon after their arrival, Ikard returned to Texas where he became a respected farmer near Wichita Falls. Rice remained in what was to become Grant County for the remainder of his life. Although no longer in Rice hands, the Rice Ranch is widely known by area residents. It is a beautiful place.
The Mark of Permanence
 I don’t know when I first saw calves branded with a hot PIT. I was just a little guy, though, when my own maternal grandfather, Carl, son of Lee and Mary Belle Rice, had me in the corral with him. Lee had died in the previous decade and the PIT had been transferred to Carl in the estate settlement.
The brand was then gifted to my uncle, Bill Rice, son of Carl and Leona, when Carl died. Uncle Bill retained it and kept it current until it was gifted to his son, Bryan. Bryan faithfully kept it current and registered. It became a symbol of heritage in those years more than a brand. That began when the Bill Rice family left the Gila country in service to the United States living in northern Arizona, Albuquerque, Missoula, Montana, Washington, D.C. and, finally, in Ft. Collins, Colorado.
For those who follow the Sunday Westerner, you know that we lost Bryan recently. Part of the ensuing process was making a decision on the brand’s future status. In a closed circle, we discussed it and it was determined I should take it.
            So, there it lies in a certificate of brand card form, and downstairs it stands in an iron form beside the fireplace, but it is so much more than that. It is a symbol of a family’s history. It was born in Texas, carried by Texas cattle to New Mexico, and formed a link through time and space. It endured drought and celebrated good times. It was part of the union of Lee and Mary Belle Rice, it was present with the arrival and departure of children and elders, and it marked the course of Rice history now for 130 years.
            It is a treasure.
            The immensity of the effort it took to create those places that too people now call home is staggering. I am awed by the diligence, the ingenuity, and the fortitude it took to accomplish it. And, yearly, the smell of burning hair marked the gift and the accomplishment to continue. All those cattle, all those horse tracks, and all that history is held together by that simple marker.
            It is no burden to now act as steward of this symbol. It is an honor, and … I am humbled by the task.

                Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Rice and Ikard likely watered those original PIT cattle at our current headquarters and along the Butterfield Trail at what was then known as Neire Springs.

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