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Branded Winchesters
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May 6, 2015 - 12:45 am
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Its often been a curiosity of mine when I see Winchesters bearing a ranch brand.  They may occur on other models but most I have seen are on 1873 or 1876 models, maybe an 1885, not so much so on the other later models.  When it comes to branding irons, the earlier branding irons were much larger than what we find today.  The livestock branding here in the States was borrowed from our Spanish/Mexican neighbors to the south, and also by way of European influences.  The Spanish were notorious for using large sized brands on their cattle herds.  Regardless of where they came from they were meant to show “ownership” of the item on which they are found.  As cattle hides became worth more for the leather, cattle brands trended to become smaller, taking up a smaller portion of the cattle hide.  Back then, as they are today, most cattle are branded on the hip to give you more usable hide, the meat packers dont like cattle branded on the side, like our “fire brand” across the left rib area, because that is a particular pricey leather cut and it limits what you can do with that portion of the cattle hide.  

I dont know how many of you have ever tried to brand the wood stock on your rifle or carbine but there isnt really a lot of real estate on that wood to get the job done with modern branding irons, at least our ranch’s fire brand.  Our cattle brand measures 4″ tall by 4.5″ wide.  Some ranch brands out there are a tad smaller.  When I decided to brand the 1894 carbine I use for hunting and just all around truck gun, I found there was no way to fit that cattle brand on one side of the stock–so I branded half of the “fire brand” on the right side and the other half on the left.  It reads as a “3” and a “reversed tumbling 3” the best I can tell insofar as its reading or interpretation.  I have no idea how it was derived other than finding doodles in my dads note pad from college back in the late 1950’s.  Maybe it was my grandfathers brand as well–he was a cattleman but I never got to know him past my age of 7 years. 

This got me to thinking about the Winchesters we see with a brand burned into their stocks.  They seem to fit the wood size-wise fairly well (as in the 1876 featured in the Fall 2014 WACA magazine–that brand was likely 3’x 3 1/2″ in size).  So, I got to thinking about the different scenarios that could explain the features of the branding irons used to mark the ownership of these branded Winchesters:

  • The ranch brand was small enough to fit within the limits of the buttstock wood.
  • The ranch brand used was one that would have been used on smaller stock–when you brand, with a smaller sized branding iron, say on a calf, that branding scar will grow as the beef grows.  You wouldnt want to use a large cattle brand on a small calf because the brand scar will grow and potentially become illegible as an adult beef.  So maybe they were intended for smaller stock.  
  • Branded Winchesters may have been branded with a smaller iron used to mark the ownership of saddles, tack, wood buckets, whatever the case, to keep them from walking off at the owners expense.  Maybe a ranch brand was made up to put your mark on everything you had so there was no question regarding who it belonged.
  •   Also, ever notice that branded Winchesters give you an idea of how they were carried.  Most cattle are traditionally branded on the left side, could be why many branded Winchesters you see are branded on the left side.  Some are branded where legible when viewed rightside up–maybe when viewed riding across the saddle horn or just possibly the product of human nature in terms of orientation.  Or, notice the ones that have the brand burned into the wood upside down–so the brand was viewed as rightside up on the buttstock when rifle or carbine was otherwise carried in the saddle scabbard upside down–and the brand visible to all?     

Branded Winchesters have always been a curiosity to me, and I guess they could carry a little premium when one is able to connect an old Winchester with its past.  Was just wondering if you folks had any thoughts on the subject–or to maybe give you something to ponder. 

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May 6, 2015 - 1:23 am
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Hi,

Neat post! We all like conditioned Winchesters, but my heart  has always liked Indian guns and those used on the Frontier. A few years back Leroy Merz had samples of old barbed wire for sale. I sat on my hands too long and it was gone.

Thanks for the history lesson.

Walter Blake

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May 6, 2015 - 2:03 am
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I have a 94 saddle-ring carbine from 1924 that was once the property of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company. It is branded in 4 places with the initials of the railroad….C&O…. on both sides of the buttstock and both sides of the fore end. I have measured the brands, and they all are exactly the same length and alignment, so it’s pretty evident that the branding iron has all three figures on it, rather than each letter being done individually.

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May 6, 2015 - 4:40 am
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001.JPGImage Enlarger002.JPGImage EnlargerAs a cattle rancher, I find branded Winchesters very interesting as well.  Here are pictures of my branded Winchester.  It’s an ancient ’95 (SN 29) that came out of Pahrump, Nevada.  The brand appears to be a miniature version of a ranch brand and looks to me like “3HP”.  I’ve looked through old brand books trying to find this brand, but haven’t had any luck yet.  It’s not hard to imagine this old gun doing ranch duty back in the day. 

  

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May 6, 2015 - 1:35 pm
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Mark, thats an early 95′.  I find the small size of the brand on the forearm interesting.  Too small to be used to brand cattle.   I would venture to guess, as also the case of Jim’s carbine, those brands were made specifically for the purpose of marking guns or other tack and accoutrements.  I dont know if smaller animals like sheep, goats, pigs and such were branded back in the day (requiring a smaller size branding iron), the use of ear notching was more common means to show ownership or date of birth of a particular animal.  Now days ear tags have become the norm when it comes to identifying smaller stock.  I havent looked into the sizes of branding irons used on horses but the ones I have seen over the years seem to be smaller in size than those used for cattle–most folks dont want the brand to take away from the beauty of the horse–that is if you like horses, I find them to be a waste of grass–but thats a long story.  Maybe the irons intended for use on a horse are closer to the size needed to fit within the space provided on a Winchester buttstock.  Who knows?   

As for your brand research, in the early days of ranching the rancher or foreman would have likely carried a book he made up himself of sketches and notes regarding known brands in his area.  When cattle were free range it gave the rancher the opportunity to identify neighbors cattle during a roundup and such.  A system of brand registration came later, but not everyone registered their brand year to year and some ranches went bust and the irons used went cold or fell off active registration rolls.  By registering a brand it made it possible for someone several counties away to carry the same brand (if a common design) on their cattle, and to identify stolen stock–where we are at there are still brand inspectors that make the local sale barns.  Some brands may not have been registered at all, they were locally recognized as belonging to so-and-so.  A hard task indeed to trace some of these back to their owners. 

Thanks for sharing.

Chris 

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May 6, 2015 - 6:31 pm
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While I’ve branded thousands of my own calves over the years, I cringe at the thought of slapping an iron on one of my Winchesters. 

This post has got me thinking, though, about the cheap varmint rifles banging around in my old ranch truck.  I might just put an iron on some of them (or paint our brand on the synthetic stocks). Maybe a hundred years from now, some young collector will come across one and be as fascinated with a beat up and branded bolt action in the obsolete 25-06 as we are with old branded Winchesters. 

Sadly, none of them will have saddle wear, since fellow cowboy Elmer Keith made it so much more convenient to pack a pistol in the saddle when he developed the 44 Magnum. Smile

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May 6, 2015 - 8:59 pm
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Thats kind of what I was thinking when I branded my carbine.  I bought it knowing that I would run it through the ringer over the years and since it was already well used on the outside, there wasnt much I could do to it myself to make it worse.  Hopefully the kids will appreciate it for what it is years down the road. 

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March 29, 2016 - 1:45 pm
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Chris,

Saw this Highwall on Gunbroker and thought of this thread.  Looks like it saw some hard ranch duty.  If some of these old guns could talk, the stories they would tell.  Mark

http://www.gunbroker.com/Auction/ViewItem.aspx?Item=549967754

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March 29, 2016 - 4:31 pm
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Very interesting subject.  Thanks for the information!

 

James

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