Here’s a trick question: what does a cowboy do with his branding iron when he’s not cremating the flank of four legged beasts?
Well, in the Rogue Valley, he uses it to burn a wall at the Expo. And not just to brand it, but to turn perfectly good lumber into a series of black marks. You’d think these boys would have gotten their fill of writing on walls as a child, but they didn’t. They are aided and abetted by the staff at the Expo, themselves often taking part in the action.
The boys did all this on the Tuesday evening preceding the Wild Rogue Pro Rodeo, setting the stage for some more mayhem, only this time inside the arena. There a bunch of others who never grew up get a chance to dance on the backs of bulls, and do pirouettes while dismounting in a sometimes rather awkward and ungainly manner. Sometimes, they even hurt themselves, all for the glory and bragging rights and for the purse that often doesn’t pay their way and certainly doesn’t pay for the medical bills.
But you have to respect the fact that they haven’t grown up, haven’t gotten over the desire to make their mark on something, even if it is a two-dimensional cedar wall built in the shape of storefronts, reminiscent of an old west town.
Branding is different now, the boys use propane heaters rather than open fires fueled by mesquite limbs and sage brush. But the irons are the same and there were many representatives of more than 300 brands registered in Jackson County. It has been rumored that many states do not use branding as identification but this group uses the branding iron, and it’s pleasing to see that they are carrying on the tradition of the older generation.
Even the young fellows got into the act and some were seen burning brands, although their brands were at about half the height as those burned by their older brethren. Once those boys got started, there was smoke rising from the wall, often times enough to alert Fire District #3. It is one place the kids can play with fire and not get into trouble. Not that any of them got out of line during the wall burning.
The Expo furnished hamburgers and cold beer for the event, also a warm-up for the rodeo. And for just a few moments, this group, many with familiar names of valley cattlemen, were connected to their roots on the range when the country was young and wild. That doesn’t seem a bad place to be.