My youngest daughter, Shelby, was digging through some old books of mine the other day and came across one in particular. She brought the book “Cowboyin’” by John McQuarrie, published in 1995, to show me. Well, she was extra excited when I told her I had appeared in a couple of photos in this book. We thumbed through it together, and looking through the OH branding section brought back good memories.
Cover of the book Cowboyin' by John McQuarrie
The book is a collection of photos taken by John at ranches in Southern Alberta and BC. John had a natural gift in that he had an eye for what made a good picture. Other than the sheer beauty of the photography, what makes it special for me is that I have a relationship with so many of the people and the places in that book.
Pictured here are my friends and brother at an OH Branding. Left to right are Greg Weibe, Mark Stewart, Sandy Stafford, and myself.
Back then, we lived just outside of Longview, Alberta, just a few miles north of the famous OH Ranch. Bud Maynard was the ranch manager at the time and ran a really good outfit! I met Bud back in 1989 when he was first hired on at the OH. Our paths first crossed when one afternoon he brought some colts over to Tom Bews indoor arena, which was just down the road from the OH. These colts were pretty green, and Bud wanted to get a few rides on them on good ground, seeing as it was late in the fall and the weather wasn't very nice. One thing that I noticed right off the bat was that Bud liked to keep things pretty cowboy.
Bud Maynard at the OH Ranch
From his gear to his dress and the way he talked. Bud was an old-school-cool cowboy, and I liked him right away. Bud liked to run the OH Ranch in much the same way. Using traditional methods as much as possible, so knowing this about him and his system of operating the ranch, anytime I was asked to come help out, I would jump at the opportunity to ride back in time, with Bud leading the way!
One of the most looked-forward-to events on a ranch is usually the branding, and the OH was no exception. At that time, if my memory serves me correctly, the OH Ranch would run between 800-1000 head of mother cows in two separate pastures. We would take the chuck wagon out on the first day and do any repairs to the pens that were needed. The cattle would have been gathered earlier and put into a smaller pasture, closer to the trap, so they would be easy to gather in the morning.
While we were getting the corrals in good order, the chuck wagon cook would be getting supper ready back at the wagon. Our horses would be put into the branding trap, allowing them to mow down the grass that had grown up, getting the ground ready for the cattle the next day. Soon supper would be called, and we would line into the grub line to fill up our plates and settle down by the fire to a great meal. After supper, we would check on our horses, throw them some feed and top up their water, and finally, roll out our bed rolls by the fire. Many a good tale was shared before we would call it a night. Sliding into our canvas-covered sleeping bags under the stars, we’d get some shut-eye before a big day of cowboying. Sleeping under the stars, warmed by a fire, is good for a cowboy's soul.
Branding day would start early at daybreak. We’d catch and saddle our horses, then meet for breakfast at the wagon. While we were having our breakfast, more riders would be coming in from the headquarters, they would step down, grab a coffee and wait for Bud to give them instructions. After, everyone had a cowboy coffee. Bud would head over and get his horse and step on, this was our signal that it was time to get going on. We would all gather around, and Bud would tell us where he would like us to begin gathering from and who would ride with who.
Off we would go, excitedly, to gather the cows and their calves and trail them down to the branding trap. Once at the trap, we’d begin to sort some but not all of the cows from the calves. The thinking being it was a good idea to leave some mamas with the babies to serve as sitters. Cows are special animals in that they will look over other cows' calves while they rest or graze.
Once this step was done, it was time to get the branding irons hot and the meds ready to administer. Bud would come around in his quiet manner and ask each person if they’d mind starting off with a certain task. He’d assign you to branding, wrastling, tagging, or administering vaccines. Bud always made a point to give everyone a chance to rope as well, which we all loved to do. We all appreciated him for thoughtfully allowing every cowboy a chance at the best gig at the branding.
In this methodical manner, we would work through a good number of calves in a timely but not rushed manner. When it got to be around noon, the dinner was called, and everyone would head for the cook's chuckwagon. After filling up, Bud would come around and assign everyone their afternoon jobs. When we would brand at two traps, some of the hands would leave to start gathering the second trap while the main crew would finish up the first branding.
The OH branding was always special because it always felt like an old-time branding. Taking the wagon out wasn’t necessarily something that had to be done, but it was because we all enjoyed reliving a part of the past cowboy culture that so many of us enjoy.
Looking back, I really appreciate people like Bud Maynard for taking the time to make his brandings more than just a job but a living piece of tradition and history.
Until next week, happy trails!