Guns of the Old West Winter 2018BrandedRounding up the latest Singe Action Army from Taylor’s&Co 1/2
By Dennis Adler
I have been writing about cattlebrand engraved handguns for years, and the interest in this uniquely American style of engraving never seems to fade. Branding cattle and horses (sometimes even saddles and other leather goods for identification) was not only a common practice in the American West, but oftentimes a necessity.
Branding livestock as a means of displaying ownership was the only absolute way to keep herds separated on the open range when grazing steers could wander off and mingle with other cattle. Most of the time, everything got sorted out, ranchers knew each other, but other times the wrong cattle were taken and even sold. Stock detectives were employed to oversee problems (commingled cattle and rustled cattle) and brands were the surest way to identify one owner’s steers from another’s.
Brands were almost impossible to remove, but a few inventive cattle rustlers were known to have used “running irons” a type of branding iron that could make subtle but distinctive changes to known or established brands, some of them good enough to fool even the most seasoned stock detectives and lawmen. In Texas alone there were literally hundreds of registered cattlebrands. Most were simple but distinct like the famous 101 ranch, the Running W, the OK brand, XIT, the Bar Diamond Bar and 45 brand; others were more cleverly designed, and a few downright confusing but unforgettable, and almost impossible to alter.
Mixing it up
Letters and numbers could be turned backwards and combined together or used with a symbol, such as a letter or letters inside a diamond or circle. Another variation was to take some letters like a W or an M and extend the top or bottom corners making it into what was called a “flying” prefix, tilt the letter (italicize it) and the prefix became “running” like the famous King Ranch “Running W.” Last, and one of the most popular variations, was to put a curve under any number, letter or symbol to make it “rocking.” One of the most famous was a reversed lower case h with the curve beneath. It looked like rocking chair. While branding cattle was commonplace, putting cattlebrands on handguns or rifles was not.
The technique really didn’t become popular until Ft. Worth, Texas, engraver Cole Agee made it his personal style in the 1940s, long after the “Wild” in Wild West had been tempered by 20th century life. Agee’s engraving paid homage to famous Texas cattlebrands, and he was the undisputed king of the art. Just about everyone who engraves cattlebrands today is following or adapting a version of the original Agee style.
There were, however, a handful of Texas cattlebrand guns engraved long for Agee started (and which may have inspired him); two of which were owned by famous (or infamous) Texas legend Judge Roy Bean of Langtry, Texas. Bean’s Peacemakers were engraved with 17 registered Texas cattlebrands, and this was more than 50 years before Agee engraved his first Colt. One of Bean’s single actions was featured on the July 1953 cover of American Rifleman, and in the early 1980s was displayed in John Bianchi’s Temecula, California Frontier Museum.
The gun bore a combination of period scrollwork and cattlebrands. Around 1988 Bianchi sold it (and other guns and displays in his Frontier Museum) to Gene Autry when he began building his western museum in Los Angeles, California’s famed Griffith Park.
Do they brand cattle in Italy?
Cattlebrand designs are well established, especially those used by Texas cattlemen. The Cole Agee guns along with later examples by Weldon Bledsoe, David Wade Harris, Weldon Lister Sr., and John J. Adams Sr., have been the inspiration for this latest Pietta cattlebrand engraved single action being introduced by Taylor’s & Co.Engraving steel is labor intensive and cattlebrands even more so because of the sometimes elaborate designs and need for a punch dot background. This has always made cattlebrand engraved Colts and other Single Action revolvers quite expensive in comparison to traditional scrollwork and floral engraving styles.