Monday, April 16, 2007

Ride for the Brand

In cattle country there is a code of behavior written in the hearts of men who ride the range and work the cattle on ranches from Alberta to Mexico. This code is basic to the belief system of those who rightfully claim the title cowboy. The code is simply this; when you hire on to an outfit, you ride for the brand. Now, for those of us who grew up in cattle country, this code is self-evident. It requires no explanation. However, I've found that as my wanderings have taken me beyond the bounds of cattle country into the realm of "big business", that people don't seem to understand the concept. So, let me explain.

The saying came from the fact that cattle are branded with a mark unique to the ranch that owns them. It was and is a symbol that "these are mine, keep your hands off!" In the days of open range this was especially important because often, ranches shared grazing lands. Throughout the year, the cowboys would brand the new calves with a brand that matched their mother's. Most of the cowboys carried a "running iron", or they would sometimes use a saddle ring which would be heated in the fire and used to apply the brand of the cow onto the calf. The honest cowboys would rope only the calves belonging to cows from the ranch they worked for, or occasionally a "maverick". A maverick was an unbranded calf whose mother couldn't be determined. The mavericks were the real problem. Many cowboy started their own herd by branding maverick calves with their personal brand. Riding for the brand came from the idea that the cowboy, if in the employ of a ranch, should brand the maverick calf with the brand of the ranch that he rode for. It was an issue of loyalty. You worked for the man that was paying you.

The concept of loyalty to an employer is rare in many businesses. Employees are loyal only as long as it is to their advantage to be loyal. Too often, they are just looking for the next opportunity. That concept of loyalty cuts both ways though. Most corporations today look at employees as a disposable asset. They often fire long-time employees for no apparent reason. Often they replace them with someone younger that will work for less money. It's too bad.

It's time we change the business world. Ride for the brand.


Anonymous said...

JUST GOOD, PURTY WORK! The best most honest way to define the sayin'. Now don't it bother ya'll a little bit when some product tries to us this expression?

Anonymous said...

Hi, nice reflection but please, in this age of information on the web, give credit where credit is due. At least a reference to your resource or source of inspiration would be respectable. For those who don't know it, Red Steagall recorded a poem by the name "Ride for the Brand" in 1993. It was actually adopted as my employers mission statement at or around that time. A place of work like no other, employees felt they were treated with regard and dignity. The poem will give you chills.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...


Thank you for your comment. I was unaware that Red Steagall had written such a poem or I would have referred to it in the post. As for the inspiration for the post, I believe that it is self-evident in the post.

I first heard the saying "ride for the brand" from my Grandfather who was riding cowponies and working cattle back in the 30's -- long before Red could have written the poem. It was taught to me as a code of conduct from my very earliest days. It's just the way a man behaved -- or at least a piece of it. It meant simply that you were loyal to the man writing your paycheck. I expect Red learned the phrase in a similar fashion. I guess I'll have to look up that poem now that you've brought it to my attention.

As the post says, I have found that in business today, that is simply not the way most employees feel. That was the inspiration for the post.

I've wondered why this post continues to get so many "hits" -- perhaps your comment gives me a clue. Come back again sometime.

Johnstone said...

I enjoyed this post and shared with everyone on my facebook page.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Thanks, Johnstone. The post continues to be one of my most popular.