[Cryptography] cattle branding and rustlers

Ray Dillinger bear at sonic.net
Sat Nov 19 18:42:06 EST 2016

I've lost the message I'm responding to, so this will appear outside
that thread.  But there were several protections for cattle (and other)

First of all, if you were in a state as opposed to a territory you had
to pay to register your brand at the county seat, and they would flatly
refuse it if it looked anything like, or had any lines that looked like,
another registered brand in the same county - so they were acting, sort
of, as a CA.  The benefit was that you knew nobody in the county had a
brand that yours could be modified into, and vice versa. If you wanted
to be sure, or just had a big ranch, you could register the same brand
in several nearby counties.  Ranchers could inspect the brand registries
of surrounding counties at the county seat, so that they could pick
brands that were mutually exclusive in lines from anybody nearby, or
figure out whom to return strayed animals to.

In the territories they didn't have county seats/CAs so things were a
bit more uncontrolled.

The US army had a brand for its animals (cattle, and oddly enough,
camels) in the territories that as far as I know no one ever
successfully modified to resemble a different brand.  In fact it's one I
can type.  It said "US ARMY".

The letters were smaller than the letter parts of most brands but the
brand overall was of similar size.  Greater complexity probably meant
that animals would be more prone to developing infections or otherwise
suffering more during and after branding, but also would have made it
effectively impossible to modify undetected.

I remember reading about it and seeing it in old photos, but I get so
many fake hits when I do an image search that I can't find an example

There was a similar but not identical thing that got used by the postal
service on pony express horses.  It was simpler: "US."  You can find
plenty of examples online of that one, because pony express is an iconic
image but the fact that the army used to raise the beef for its own mess
halls is considered an insignificant detail and almost forgotten.

As an additional precaution the US postal service branded horses on the
left front flank (shoulder); everybody else who branded horses was
branding them on one of the rear flanks (hip). So somebody could for
example put a "G" on there so the brand said "GUS" or something, and
that might have worked if the pony express horses were branded on the
rear flank.  But nobody would believe that rancher Gustav both had that
brand AND was branding on the left front flank - even if he had never
touched a postal service horse, having the same peculiar brand location
and the "US" substring would cause everyone to assume he had, or that he
intended to, and that would be Very Bad for Gustav.


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