The Dayton Museum has a display of the local cattle brands, and it's easy to see that a rancher could easily find his cattle by the brand used. Cattle rustling in the Old West was a serious offense punished by hanging or some other swift justice. You could probably get away with murder or stealing a man's wife easier than rustling his cattle, which were his bread and butter. He took all kinds of steps to identify his property.
There were always those unscrupulous villainous persons who found ways to alter brands. So the rancher always tried to create brands that were difficult to alter without detection. It was up to the cattleman to register his brand at the county seat.
One of the oldest, registered brands in Lyon County was that of S.S. Buckland of the Buckland Station. The Miller-Lux Ranch (one of the largest in the West) had two brands registered in Lyon County. A good book to read about the Miller-Lux Ranch is "The Cattle King."
There weren't many fences in the Old West, so cattle mingled together on the range. Herds were so large that cowboys came from all around to help brand, giving the wives a chance to catch up on all the gossip.
The iron had to be applied red hot so that the brand was deep enough to show but not injure the animal. Cattle were also waddled and their ears were clipped to add further identification.
Many brands remained with the ranch when it was sold. Brand books were published (the first official brand book in Nevada was dated 1924) so one could find who owned a particular brand. Brands and their history tell many stories of the Old West, with each brand revealing a tale of its own.
The Dayton Museum is located on Shady Lane and Logan in Old Town Dayton.
The Web site is daytonnvhistory.org Group tours are available. Call 246-5543, 246-8382 or 246-0441. The Historical Society of Dayton Valley meets every third Wednesday of the month at noon. Please call for location. Visitors are welcome.
• Ruby McFarland has lived in Dayton since October 1987, she serves as a board member of the Dayton historical society and a docent at the museum.