I would like to say a few kind words about a group of people who not enough of us fully appreciate until we need one: brand inspectors.
Brands have been around for nearly 5,000 years; brand inspectors only slightly less. I realize that not every state has brands, or even brand laws, but where you do find brands you'll find brand inspectors. I have met dozens of them in my travels, both men and women, at purebred sales I worked and out in the country as I bought and sold cattle. And to paraphrase Will Rogers, I have never met a brand inspector I didn't like.
Did you know that with only three irons, a small half circle, a large half circle and a straight iron, you can make any brand in the world? And a brand inspector, no doubt, can interpret every one. Whether brands be walking, running, tumbling, rocking, swinging, dragging, flying, connected or lazy, brand inspectors can tell you who they belong to. To the average city dude a brand may look like Egyptian hieroglyphics, they wouldn't know a mill iron from a mule shoe, but to a brand inspector those lines, dots, circles, numbers and pictures speak volumes about history, geography and human nature. They are a rancher's coat of arms and his own unique security code and we all owe a debt of gratitude to brand inspectors everywhere who ensure that our brands are our first line of protection against theft.
It's hard to explain to a layman but the brand a rancher carves on his cows is a very special thing. It's our brand name and we stamp it on our cows, tack, gates, personal belongings and anything else that will burn. My own brand is “US” and although it was first used by the federal government back in 1908 (branded on the left hoof of animals belonging to the feds), for my wife and I it merely means us.
In my state, anytime you sell cattle privately off the ranch you need a brand inspector and just like a good dog, they come whenever called. If you send cattle to the auction the cattle are inspected there. Perhaps this is why my brand inspector for many years, Jim, urged me to send my cattle to auction; not just because I'd get more money for them, but so he didn't have to come out to my place, which was always a daunting prospect. Either the cattle were late coming to the corrals for inspection or they would break out through my leaky corrals. For years I was a cattle trader, buying cheap cattle at sales I worked, and reselling them at home. So Jim had to read many foreign brands that were barely legible, on upside down, splotched or nonexistent.
Brand inspectors are wise and know what's going on in the cattle community. The thing I appreciated about Jim is that he would not spread rumors or talk behind your back. He knew when to keep his mouth shut... except in one case. I followed his advice and sent my cattle to auction and one load was made up of worn out roping steers, wild bulls, drop calves, one-eyed toothless cows and a gomer bull (a bull that was used for heat detection but had his plumbing rerouted so he couldn't breed a cow.) My buddy who works at the auction said that Jim, upon inspecting my load, made the comment, “That Pitts ain't too particular about what he slaps his brand on, is he?”
A couple months later Jim and I were eating some scrumptious cobbler at the auction market coffee shop. Like many auction yard cafes, it has the best food in town and attracts a diverse crowd: tourists, truck drivers, locals and ranchers. While Jim and I were sitting there a transient walked by. He was shoeless, wore long braided hair with beads in it, was wearing filthy camo pants and a shirt that exposed his chest that featured a variety of grotesque tattoos. In the middle of his torso, in what I'm sure was a defiant act against his government, he wore a big brass Civil War replica belt buckle with the initials “US” stamped in high relief. Jim took one look at the guy, who represented everything he detested in life, and said:
“One of yours, I suppose?”