Ride for the Brand

I spent one summer moving cows around Cuddy Mountain near Hells Canyon with my grandfather Henry.

Some of the top of Cuddy Mountain is flat, but there's a lot of steep too.

Some of the top of Cuddy Mountain is flat, but there’s a lot of steep too.

I learned a lot about him, horses, cows and the work we need to do. This reflection comes because of a phrase I have been hearing around the statehouse, “Ride for the Brand”.

At the beginning of our legislative session this year, I was sent down with two fellow State Senators to the Governor’s office to tell him the Senate was ready to hear his State of the State address. The lead Senator greeted the governor with a hearty hello and declared, “Governor, I want you to know, we are here to ride for the brand!” They shook hands and clapped each other on the shoulder. I stood in the back ground. And then later I heard a Republican House freshman describe his campaign motto had been “Ride for the Brand”. I remember receiving an invitation in 2010 to our reelected Governor Otters inaugural party with the “Ride for the Brand” motto on the inside of the card. So this motto has caught my eye. Just what does it mean, to me and to my fellow public servants?  Am I branded, a “D” behind my name on the ballot? Do we work for the brand or for the greater good? I am wondering.

I met Henry on the Snake River at the base of Brownlee Dam the summer of my thirteenth year. He put me on a horse to ride in to the “retirement” ranch they had settled into, Starveout Ranch, high up above the Wildhorse River on the flank of Cuddy Mountain.

That summer Henry and Helena, just newly retired, had agreed to ride the Cuddy Mountain range for Helena’s cousin Holworth Nixon.  His cows were up on the Forest Service range that had been theirs before retirement. We left Starveout, with its green pastures, milk cows and chickens, running water and propane lights, no electricity, no phone to climb to the top of Cuddy Mountain, stay in a cow camp shack with a wood stove, haul water and herd cows. I loved it.

We rode for the brand of Holworth Nixon, which was a Circle “C”. Henry and Helena’s brand was an “O Cross Bar”. Henry rode for years for Albert Campbell and the OX ranch. I found out the “O Cross Bar” brand is still available from the Idaho Brand Board, one of the first registered in 1949 and last renewed in 2000, the year Helena died. I don’t think I will pay the $126 to get it registered.

Up on Cuddy Mountain at the cow camp at Summer’s Grave we would have a predawn breakfast of sourdough pancakes, collect the horses that had been hobbled and saddle and ride off to move cows. The top of Cuddy Mountain is a timbered rolling expanse all above 6000 elevation. I was at the mercy of Henry and Helena’s local knowledge. But by the end of the third week, places did start to look familiar. In the morning we would head out to “Paddy Flat” or “Windy Knob” or “Jims Point” and find some cows grazing. We would ride around until we had a bunch, then start moving them across to “Green Saddle” or “Bacon Meadows”. Along the way I often got the story about why it was called “Bacon Meadows”.

Henry had a colorful vocabulary. I counted once and it came to a fifth of the words he uttered were profane. He only used four cuss words, but he used them a lot. “She’s a damn good mare.” “That sumbitch fooled me.” “Helluva fine day.”  As we were trailing the ambling white face cows Henry nodded ahead and informed me, “There’s a goddamed OX cow”.  I hadn’t noticed. But I looked closer and she had a big OX brand on her side. We were riding Circle C cows.

“What do we do?”

“Oh hell, they’ll come git the sonovabitch come fall. Damn stupid to run her off up here, but that ol’ sonovabitch Albert Campbell used to make us do that.” Henry grinned and shook his head. “He was a helluva businessman.”

We didn’t drive off the cows that weren’t our brand that summer. But we noted it, or at least Henry did. He kept track, but kept them together. It seemed to work on the mountain. It seemed the fair thing to do. I would hope we can keep the work of our state in such perspective.

I’ll always remember that summer. Henry died that fall, a stroke. I barely got to know him. I hope my grandkids know me better. And I hope I have as much to teach them.

Schmidt Grave


About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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One Response to Ride for the Brand

  1. Jenny Horai says:

    Wow, Dan. Cried when I read that. Beautifully spoken from a life that you’ve honestly lived. May God help us all to do the right and fair thing. And may we live our lives learning as we go, gathering wisdom — helpful knowledge — passed along when we are given the chance. You have much to give those grandkids!

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