Cattle Brands Ranchers True West Magazine

How are cattle brands read, and how do ranchers select them?

John Rankin
Rapid City, South Dakota

Interpreting a brand takes some experience and knowledge. You read them left to right and top to bottom (with some variations). Wings represent “flying.” Letters lying on their sides are “lazy.” Letters with little legs are “walking.” Cursive letters mean “running.”

Some outfits are recognized by the brand rather than the name. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company was better known as the Hashknife because the brand resembled a camp cook’s hash knife.

Cattle outfits register their brands with the state, county or cattlemen’s association to prevent duplication. They have to make sure their brand is not already taken. They also try to create one that isn’t easy for rustlers to alter.

Frankly, ear tags are much easier to see than brands.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at

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