One day last week, I opened the back of my car, and in the back were two items: a tuxedo and a branding iron. In the weird context of my life, that combination was perfectly normal. As I drove into town, I got thinking that there probably wasn’t another car in the whole country with that specific cargo mix in it. Both were part of significant cultural events.
The tuxedo was for my role as emcee of the Park City Follies. The branding iron was for an event in Oakley that same day, commemorating the cattle industry in Summit County. The branding party was to get the people still in the cattle business to bring their branding irons in, and burn their brands into a plank of wood. That will hang in the Cattleman’s Hall building in Oakley, preserving a bit of history. A gathering of the clans without the bagpipes.
In the Cattleman’s Hall, there is a large wooden panel with over 100 different cattle brands burned into it. The panel had been created in 1963 as part of the decor for Flinders Mountain Meadows Ranch café, a mainstay that was located on Old Ranch Road and what is now I-80, before the freeway was built. I remember eating there with my family, and being very impressed to see our brand burned into the wall, right next to my cousins.’ Theirs is the Rocking A. Ours is the Diamond Bar X.
Summit County has gone from over 100 active cattle operations in 1963 to about a third that now. And that only counted the cattlemen. The sheep ranchers had their own group of roughly equal size. Reading the names of the ranches that are gone was kind of painful. The brand from the ranch that became ParkWest was there, Bar XL, I think. The Jeremy family brands were there from back when Jeremy Ranch was all about livestock and had nothing to do with suburbia. Brands representing most of Snyderville’s long-gone ranches were there.
Among the remaining ranches, there aren’t more than a handful who are still operating on any scale. I will be the first to confess that my ranch is more hat than cows. When my father died and my uncle, who had been running the place, retired, my brother and I found ourselves in charge of a high-risk business we knew nothing about. The only thing I knew for sure is that I didn’t want to own cattle. We lease the grazing out to a guy who knows what he’s doing. The farming side is easier. The worst thing that can happen to hay is it gets rained on. Otherwise, it stays where you left it. Cattle get sick, they wander off, get lost and die on you. You haul hundreds of thousands of dollars in “inventory” out into the middle of nowhere and turn them loose, hoping to pick them up in the spring with a new calf by their sides. It really doesn’t make sense.
My niece and her husband joined me at the branding party. Afterward, she asked me about the origin of our brand. It’s been the name of the family business for nearly 70 years, but I have no idea where it came from. My brother and sister sort of remembered hearing that it was similar to a brand our grandfather had used, but he went broke in the Great Depression and nobody had any record of anything.
So that led me down one of those all night internet rabbit holes, searching the official Utah State Brand Books through the years. Livestock brands are registered with the State and have to be renewed periodically. They are listed in an official Brand Book, and I was able to access a couple of them on line. My great grandfather’s name was Edward D. Clyde, and his brand was the Lazy E -D. It was a letter “E” lying down with the feet in the air, connected to the “D.” I’m not sure how his bulls felt, going about their business with a big “ED” branded on their sides, but that was in 1913 and nobody talked about such things then.
By 1918, ED had died, and his four sons split his ranch into two operations. I found a brand registered to ED Clyde, Jr.. It was a Diamond Dot X, very close to ours. But I had never heard of ED Jr. It turns out that the “D” stands for Delbert, and great-uncle Bert was my grandfather’s partner. That seemed to close the loop, though there is no explanation why our brand migrated from Diamond Dot X to Diamond Bar X, or why my grandfather and his brother selected that brand back in 1918 in the first place.
In the West, a cattle brand is the equivalent of a coat of arms or family crest. That panel of old and refreshed brands burned into the wall represents a way of life that built Summit County (outside of Park City), and is quickly vanishing. It was very cool to be a part of it. I have no livestock to brand, and unlike John Dutton on “Yellowstone,” I don’t brand the employees. So branding a plank at the Cattleman’s Hall is as good as it’s going to get.