The show’s now-infamous Yellowstone Ranch brand is steeped in America’s incredible ranching history, one full of practices that predate the country itself.
As television’s #1 cable drama, Yellowstone has taken on a life of its own in American pop culture. The fascinating show is steeped in the history and traditions of the West. As such, much of the Dutton’s iconography has become instantly recognizable. Chief among them? Yellowstone Ranch’s distinct ‘Y’ brand and logo. But where, exactly does this symbol come from? As it turns out, the history of this simple piece of production genius is as fascinating as ranching itself.
To cut straight to the chase: the Yellowstone Ranch brand is a Hooked Rocking Y. As it appears, it is a combination of two historical cattle brands: the Hooked Y and the Rocking Y.
While both are still in regular use separately (amongst real-life American ranchers), Yellowstone seems to have a firm hold over the combination symbol they’ve chosen. This, of course, makes the Dutton’s brand distinct for the show, and a stroke of marketing genius.
In reality, the Rocking Y itself – without Yellowstone‘s distinctive incorporation of the Hooked Y – is a registered American cattle brand dating back at least 130 years. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture, among other states, list the Rocking Y in active use by ranchers as their signifying brand. In addition, Texas hosts a Rocking Y ranch, as does Arkansas in the form of “Rocking Y Feeds & Agriculture.”
How Are Cattle Brands Like ‘Yellowstone’s Designed?
How exactly do ranchers, such as those still using the Rocking Y, choose their brand? According to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association’s Texas Brand Registration, “The best rule to follow is to keep the image simple. Simple brand designs are easier to read and are less painful for the livestock.”
As for designing the brands themselves, the association states that “A brand design consists of 2 or more symbols. Many brands have 3 units in the design. Few brands have more than 3 units.” In the case of Yellowstone’s ‘Y’, these three units would be the Y at the heart, the hooking on the upper points, and the rocking curve at the base.
When choosing a brand, the symbol is “based on 4 kinds of marks, used alone or in combination,” the registry continues. These marks are:
- Letter of the alphabet
- Lines and circles
Most commonly a letter of the alphabet, like Yellowstone‘s famous Y in question, is the symbol’s basis. Once the design is chosen, the cattle are branded with the symbol – but not just anywhere. “Brands records include the design of the brand and its position on the livestock,” Texas Brand Registration states. As such, the placement of the symbol is just as important as the symbol itself.
From Egypt, to Spain, to Mexico, then Texas: The Incredible History of Cattle Branding
When it comes to the “why” of cattle branding, the answer is far more straightforward. When done correctly, branding creates a distinguishing mark that allows ranchers to keep track of their livestock. This, of course, allows for the identification of wayward or stolen cattle, and their return to their owners.
The history of branding, however, is far more fascinating – yet every bit as straightforward as the practice itself.
“Most things have changed in the last 200 years, but cattle branding isn’t one of them,” the trade continues in kind. “The practice dates back to the beginning of livestock tending, and Ancient Egyptian brands like this lion-headed bronze iron burned hieroglyphics into cowhide in just the same way as ranchers do today (although with significantly more deference to the gods),” cites Modern Farmer.
As for the North American history of cattle branding, the practice first came to the ‘New World’ when the Spanish brought cattle ranching to Mexico. How do we know this? A central brand registry has existed in Mexico City since at least 1537 – far pre-dating the United States as a country.
“Cattle branding followed the Spanish into Texas and it grew alongside open range grazing in the mid-1800s to become the de facto means of identifying a cow from Bismark to Baja,” Modern Farmer adds.
Now, as they say – you know! As for Yellowstone’s indelible use of their brand in-show, well, that’s an entirely different matter. And one we’d suggest taking up with ‘Yellowstone’ TV: What Does It Really Mean To Be Branded By The Yellowstone Ranch? next.