Branding Day

Branding day – I can still recall quite vividly the branding iron and the red hot embers that its business end lay in getting red hot and the handle in an elevated position resting upon a rock with the smell of burning oak mixed with the pungent smell of seared hair and flesh in the air. I can still see the shape of the iron – an ‘E’ joined to a ‘J’ making a “JE” stuck together, as my dad’s first name was “Elmer” and his middle name was “John.” The area in North East Texas where we lived had an “open” or “free” range agreement by the land owners in that area, in other words, every man’s cattle roamed as it would throughout the “free-range.” The only way that the cattle owners could keep track of their cattle in this communal range was to identify them with a personal brand of ownership (these brands had to be registered with proper Texas authorities to be authentic).

You could always tell when you were entering a “free-range” area because the main roads were always equipped with a “cattle-guard” where the last fence ended and the “open-range” began. Cattle guards were often deep ditches with a bridge of sorts over them that was constructed of welded round pipes perpendicular to the road with equal spacing between the pipes that caused cows to not try crossing over them for fear of falling between the pipes. Other cattle-guards were made of timbers with much the same construction layout as their pipe relatives. People wishing to keep the cattle away from their houses would make a fence around the house and the driveway would be equipped with a cattle-guard.

Not only were just the beef cattle allowed on the open-range but also there were many hogs that roamed over those areas composed of hundreds of acres that were made up of many private owners properties who collectively shared their acreages. Unlike the beef cattle who were branded the hogs were identified by what was known as “ear-notching.” This method of identification was made by cutting notches in the right and left ears of the swine. Depending on how many notches and how they were placed on the ears physically determined who the owner was that owned that particular set of markings – which also were registered markings. These “V” cuts made with a special notcher or even a pocket knife served as the brand on the hogs.

As a lad growing up in that kind of country I lived to see the time when there was no longer any free-range and the country transformed into properties fenced off with the aid of a surveyor. I also witnessed the passing of the “branding day” rituals because once the free-range was gone there was no longer any need to brand cattle because they were kept within the confines of the owner’s property. Cattle began to be identified not by a hip mark but by the fields upon which they grazed. I remember as a young man after the era of the free-range was ended taking down my dad’s “JE” iron and building a fire and after the brand turned bright red sticking it to the barn door and the wide corral timbers. The iron was a part of history then…. Its use no longer needed. I can still see those blackened imprints burned deeply into the wood of the fence—the fence that condemned the branding iron to a life of rust hanging on a peg on the barn wall.

Among the “free-range” of this world God’s people are still identified by His marks. No organizational properties or personal owner’s acreages will ever be able to prove ownership by their own names –only the Name of Jesus Christ can be cited as a registered owner. The brand was an “epistle known and read by all men” and identified the owner. In this age where the brand is lost to so many that claim to be His and yet graze on fields of compromise and death—we thank God for those that still bear in their bodies the Marks of Jesus Christ! His is the the ONLY registered and authentic mark recognized by spiritual authorities!


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