Bird Creek Ranch
Standing in the corner of the back entrance is a metal branding iron that is part of my family’s story, as well as Montana’s history.  The Wagonrod has been my brand since I received the gift of two heifer calves when I was two years old.  This brand, which establishes legal ownership to the cattle wearing it, looks like a simple lollipop.
Even as a young girl, I saw the brand and the cattle it marked as a link to the past.   A schoolteacher from Kentucky, my great-grandfather left for the West on the eve of the Civil War.  He moved his family to Central City, CO, a gold rush boomtown, larger in its heyday than Denver. The first judge of the miner’s court, he soon had to sentence a man to hang for stealing a mule.  So bothered by the prospect, he decided to go to Montana’s gold fields.  Having heard of the Grasshopper Creek strike in Montana, he headed for Bannack and Virginia City, leaving his wife and four children temporarily behind.
Rebecca, my great-grandmother, became a “woman left behind,” a common phenomenon in the old West.  These women managed businesses and cared for families while their husbands followed the gold.  Some men never returned.  While my great-grandmother waited, she ran a successful boarding house business to support her family and mourned the 12-year old son she buried in the gulch in the Rockies.
My great-grandfather returned to move his family to Montana in 1863.  Traveling by ox train, he soon realized that they needed to mark the oxen to prove ownership when the animals were turned loose to graze in the evenings.  As a solution, he pulled the tie-rod out of the back of a wagon and bent the end ring so that the circle of the handle rested on a standing bar. Heating it in a fire, he branded the cattle on the left rib and left hip.  He later registered this brand as the “Wagonrod” in Montana, his new home.
Less than 100 years later, the same brand was passed to me.  Each subsequent year, we heated an updated copy of the brand and marked the animals that would enable me to cross Bird Creek to a world beyond.
© 2012 E.L. Kittredge
A Marker to the Past
Saturday, January 28, 2012