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Ranger ron Motter demonstrates branding at Pip Spring National Monument
Ranger Ron Motter demonstrates how a branding iron works at Pipe Spring


In the 1870s and beyond, the Arizona Strip was a series of ranches. On such a vast expanse of grazing land with few marked boundaries, cattle from one ranch might easily mingle with animals from another. Ranchers had various ways of marking their cattle so that they had no trouble telling their property from their neighbor’s property. Since cattle rustling was fairly common, brands were also important in identifying and recovering stolen animals.

Each spring when the new calves were born, a ritual would take place. The spring roundup and branding were common activities all over the Strip. Individual unique brands were some of the ways the local ranchers identified their ranches and their herds.

Branding was a hot, noisy, smelly affair. The heat of the branding irons, the stench of burning hide, the bawling of the outraged calves, and the shouts of the ranch hands made for a colorful and chaotic scene. The branding ritual was a part of seasonal activity at Pipe Spring Ranch, and later Pipe Spring National Monument, into the 1980s.

These days at the Monument, the interpretive staff takes visitors back to the heyday of ranching on the Arizona Strip with branding demonstrations by Park rangers in historic costume. Ranger Ron Motter substitutes slices of a cedar post for the hide of a live cow (thus eliminating any trauma to either calves or visitors!) and burns samples of old-time brands into the wood. Says Ron, “We don’t brand live beasts, but I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve to guarantee that visitors don’t miss out on the total experience—and that means the sound and the smell, too.”

Young visitors are usually delighted to take a sample brand home with them, and older guests often share stories of their own ranching and branding experiences. Others fantasize about what life would have been like “back in those days” at Pipe Spring. “It’s not quite the same as being there”, says Ranger Ron, “but it’s pretty close. And if our visitors leave wanting to know more, then I know I’ve done something to spark an interest that will help keep the history of Pipe Spring and the Arizona Strip alive.”

Branding demonstrations, and many other activities illustrating pioneer life on the Arizona Strip, will continue at Pipe Spring through the summer and fall, seven days a week. Pipe Spring National Monument is located 14 miles west of Fredonia, AZ on State Route 389, and 60 miles east of St. George, UT on UT 59 and AZ 389. Summer hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (AZ time). For more information and demonstration schedules, call 928-643-7105 or visit the Monument’s web site at www.nps.gov/pisp.

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