Cattle brands of Grant County

Grant County Beef Country Sign. Photo by Carla DeMarco
Grant County Beef Country Sign.

Drive any of the three main approaches to Silver City and a moment comes when your eye is arrested by a homely, hand-painted billboard showing dozens of cattle brands grouped around the silhouette of a cow. It doesn’t take higher math to put two and two together:  A lot of Grant County’s residents and acreage are in the cattle business.

All of the brands pictured have current registration, or did when the billboards went up about ten years ago. Pick any brand and chances are, right now it’s moving through the greasewood on the warm hide of some foraging ungulate.

Plain or fancy, cattle brands provoke curiosity. Those versed in reading brands have a leg up.

Take the Hattie Brand brand, for example. Since brands are read either left-to-right or, in this case, top-down, a cowboy might guess that a hat combined with the letter E suggests a woman named Hattie. Indeed, it was registered in 1903 to Hattie Shelley and handed down until today great-grandson Jerrell Shelley uses it on the original ranch near Cliff.

A brand can be as simple and as enigmatic as an Indian petroglyph. The Rafter Brand brand, (read:  rafter diamond), of unknown origin, is now held by the McCauley family, south of Silver City. Less mysterious is the hourglass brand (of the Hourglass Ranch on the Mimbres River) registered in 1918 by a partner in the Gruen Watch Company, presumably to remind him of his grubstake. Nowadays it serves great-grandson Kevin Giraud.

Cattle crossing a Grant County road. Photo by Carla DeMarco.
Cattle crossing a Grant County road.  Photo by Carla DeMarco.

At least one brand now in Grant County carries the cachet of legend. Harlie Cox of Faywood inherited (and still uses) the XIT brand, once the emblem of the granddaddy of all Texas ranches. Comprising the northernmost ten counties of the Texas panhandle, or somewhere around three million acres, the ranch was enclosed by 1,500 miles of fence. The brand had ideal attributes for its day:  It could be stamped with a simple iron bar; it was difficult to alter; and it stood for something most people could remember - ten counties in Texas.

A cattle brand protects a marketable product and should not be mistaken for a family crest or coat of arms. To be sure, considerable pride and sentiment may attach to an old brand. But talk to a few ranchers and you’ll begin thinking of a brand as a business logo or trademark rather than a shield to die on. Ranchers tend to be businessmen first, knights second.

And yet romance permeates the humble cattle brand, as it does the West itself. You have to root for a family that puts their Lazy Hart Brandin their brand. And there’s something awesome about any brand that ruled 3 million acres - even if it was in Texas.