Mixsonian Wilbur

The Brand
A Deeply Rooted Story

Certificate of Brand

In 1947 Morris’s dad, Wilbur renewed his cow brand although it wasn’t all that necessary as most farms were fenced by this time.  In the old days the only fences farms had were around their vegetable gardens, houses and barnyards.  Most of their fields and land were not fenced, cows were left to free range on their and any adjacent lands, with the cows mixing with neighbor’s cows.  To determine who the cows belonged to, they were branded.  In the spring of each year the cows would be rounded up. It would be a group effort with the men from nearby farms gathering then ride out into the surrounding woods on horses, round up any cows and newborn calves born that spring and bring them to a branding pen along with the mother cows.  Ridding though the woods and rounding up cows and calves took a special kind of horse for riding though the woods and getting uncooperative cows to go where you wanted was not that easy.   In Grandma Mixson’s writings she described Wilbur’s horse,  “The horse his father gave him was called “Knot.” Knot was a born cow pony. He could cut a cow from a bunch of cows, just turn his head to the one you wanted and he’d get him. He never would go too close to a tree or limb she was looking out for the rider too.”

After the cows and their calves were rounded up and put into a holding pen, a hot fire would be made, and the ends of each farmer’s branding iron placed into it until the ends became red hot.  The calves stayed with their mothers, so who owned the calf was based on the brand on the mother.   With the cows and calves gathered it would be time for pulling a calf out of the pen and placing the brand on it.  Wilbur volunteered to go first to get a calf.  Getting on Knot, rope and lasso in hand, rode out into the pen and Wilbur pointed Knot at a calf and pretty much sat back and watched Knot do all the work.  Knot headed to the calf, and quickly separated the calf from its mother. Wilbur hardly had to do anything other than a light touch on the reigns. With Knot between the calf and the mother, Wilbur easily places the lasso around the calf’s neck. Knot seeing this done, headed to the branding area pulling the calf where the other men pulled the calf to the ground and hold it down.  This being one of Wilbur’s calves, they pull out Wilbur’s “WD Joined” branding iron press it into the calf’s middle left side.  The calf cried out, its mother staring distraughtly, an ointment of grease mixed with healing ointment is smeared on the fresh burnt brand and the calf released which then ran back to its mother.   The process was repeated with different men and horses fetching the calves until all were branded.

It was quite a production, often taking a day to round up the cows and calves and another to do the branding.  Although the cows ran free, each farmer kept track of how many cows they had and how many were bearing calves.  Occasionally a cow might be lost due a harsh winter, sickness or predator, although there weren’t that many predators anymore, bears long gone, alligators in the ponds were common but they seldom attacked a cow.  In the earlier days there would be the occasional panther, but one hadn’t been seen in many years and Morris as a boy thought they were just a legend.  The farmers usually knew when a cow died, they saw vultures, or buzzards as they called them, circling in the sky and went to investigate.   Cows never died of old age, they would be butchered after they no longer could bare calves or give milk.

The spring branding was a social event, with neighbors and family helping.  Wilbur had eleven brothers and sisters, several of which were married and lived on adjoining farms were all there to help.   It was hard work, riding into the woods and brush, rounding up the cows, low hanging tree branches could knock a rider off his horse, wasps nest in the trees, rattle snakes on the ground were always a challenge, but it was necessary.  To make it a little more fun, the men often made a challenge out of it, who gathered the most cows, who had the best horse and so on.  Wilbur did quite well in the early years when his pony Knot was younger.   It wasn’t just an event for the men but for the families as well.  The women would make and bring all sorts of food to feed the men for lunch and dinner after a hard day’s work.  The younger children, many cousins in one way or another, played. The older boys would help the men with branding, learning the process for they could do when they grew up and had farms of their own. 

This all would come to an end for by 1950, most all the farms and land were fenced in and with the cows contained, branding was no longer needed.  Some farmers still did so for a while in case a cow got free, but it was no longer necessary to go into the woods, gather and separate cows.  The spring branding event became individual farmer branding, and then faded out entirely.  

Wilbur would be the last generation to have free range cows as it was known. Wilbur fenced in his land and cows no longer free ranged.  Morris helped his dad brand a few calves growing up, but by 1949, Wilbur no longer branded his cows.  Morris would be the first generation to leave the farm and move to the city.   In the early 60’s I remember going to Grandpa’s and him and grandma talking about having to go fetch a cow that got out and “walking the fence” after a storm to make sure some tree hadn’t fallen and take down the fence.   The rusted “Joined WD” branding iron hung on the wall in the old barn.

Updated: 03-15-2023