The only reason a man registers a cattle brand is to differentiate his stock from other people’s. And that fact is what led me to a new angle on a story that’s been told more times than a house has nails.
It’s not easy to entice people to read a story they’ve heard before. The way I do it is to find something new to say. The way to do that is to do more research.
I was writing the history of the famous Waggoner Ranch for the book Cowboys of the Waggoner Ranch, published in October 2015. Most stories about the ranch begin with Daniel Waggoner driving a herd to his 160-acre preemption grant on the Rolling Plains of Texas in 1854, or thereabouts. I began to wonder where he got that herd.
His father Solomon died in 1848, leaving twenty-one-year-old Dan sixteen dollars and a gray mare. Solomon’s cattle went to his widow and children. That same year Dan registered his own brand, the D61.
Now Solomon must have had a brand. Why, then, did Dan need one of his own? If Dan registered a new brand, he had acquired cattle, was running them with someone else’s and wanted to be able to tell them apart.
A look at the 1850 Texas census showed Dan as head of his mother’s household of three younger brothers and four younger sisters. It is logical to assume Dan kept his cattle in the same herd with those wearing his father’s brand.
No one knows how he came by his cattle, but, I thought, it must have been a defining moment, a proud moment, when he branded that first calf with the D61. He would have been looking forward to the day he’d drive his herd off his father’s land and into the record books on the 510,572 acres of the historic Waggoner Ranch. There was the angle I was looking for, the first calf that built the herd that made the Waggoner Ranch the largest within one fence in the nation and made Dan Waggoner and his descendants wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
In case you are one of the few who have not read the stories about the ranch being put up for sale in August 2014, it is a fabulous piece of real estate covering six counties about two hours north of Dallas/Fort Worth. Rugged and beautiful, the ranch boasts oil wells, grain, wildlife, lakes, splendid horses and thousands of cattle. It is magnificent.
History lovers, cowboys and half the State of Texas put on mourning when the ranch was put on the market, fearing the operation will be shut down and the land divided. Bernard Uechtritz of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, the listing agent, has held out hope that the new owners will keep the ranch together. He says he expects the sale to be completed the last quarter of 2015.
As far as I know, no one else has written about the first calf Daniel Waggoner marked with that D61 brand or described the fifteen-year-old slave who drove the herd to the plains as the first Waggoner cowboy. This new look at an old story came from research and asking why. It’s a proven way to generate content, whether it’s for a book, for the Web or for marketing.
Here’s my new beginning for the history of the Waggoner Ranch:
Twenty-one-year-old Daniel Dale Waggoner squatted in front of the small fire, watching the branding iron begin to glow. Now head of the family because of his father’s death, Dan had striking blue eyes and a tall frame that had not yet filled out like a man’s.
It was 1848 in Hopkins County, Texas, and he was about to strike out on a trail that would lead him to ownership in a substantial piece of the Lone Star State and unimaginable wealth.
“All right,” he said, pushing to his feet and nodding to his two younger brothers, “it’s ready. Let’s get to work.”
In short order, Dan had applied his new D61 brand to the hip of the longhorn calf, the first of an endless number of cattle that for generations would wear the Waggoner brand.