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Subject Guides: Livestock Brands in Montana Guide

Page history last edited by Roberta 1 year, 6 months ago

"Branding on the Crown W."  Evelyn Cameron, Photographer.  MHS Photograph Archives, PAc90-87.G075-007




Livestock Brands in Montana


The Montana Historical Society Research Center currently retains historical brands of the Montana Department of Livestock, Brand Enforcement Division from 1873 through 1980 and 2001 through 2011. The Montana Memory Project contains scanned, searchable images of the brand records. These records can trace a brand through several decades and provide a visual piece of a family’s historical puzzle. The process of finding that record can be quite rewarding.


Brands in Montana were first recorded in 1873 and new brands were recorded as new applications were submitted until 1910. Since 1911, brands have been registered for a ten year period and had to be re-registered in the first year of each decade (i.e. 1911, 1921, 1931...). Within each decade, though, a person could apply for a new brand or transfer their brand to someone else.


Here is an example of what you can learn from a brand registration.

  • Looking for the brand owner Collins in Saco, Montana.
  • When we look in the earliest record grouping (1873-1910), we find the record below. 




  • We can ascertain much from this record. For example, the brand was recorded on June 14, 1902 under the name A.N. Collins, from Saco, Valley County.
  • The record describes where on which species of animal the brand should be placed.
  • The word ‘vent’ means that, when that livestock is sold, a mark (typically a slash) should be placed on the livestock and the record indicates where on the animal that mark should be placed.
  • The record is also stamped with the re-record date, so we know that Collins intended to retain ownership of this brand as of July 15, 1911 for the next decade (through 1920).


Reading the brands themselves, also referred to as “callin’ the brand”, is like learning another language. Brands are composed of letters, numbers, pictures and other symbols such as + (cross), _ (bar), \ (slash), = (double bar), and these may be arranged and combined in any number of ways. The basic rules of reading brands are listed below.

  • Read from left to right, top to bottom, and outside to inside.
  • With a lazy letter, the top is always to the left. If the top is to the right, it reads “lazy F top to the right”
  • Letters with bows (B, D, P, etc.), when turned lazy, they are read as “lazy B bow up” or “lazy B bow down”, depending upon orientation.
  • In the Collins example above, we would call the brand ‘A hanging N’   

To learn more about reading brands, you can find detailed information in the book, Brands Across Montana / by Fred B. Hunnes, 1984, held in most Montana libraries. Or check out our vertical file labeled Cattle Brands.


If you would like to search from home, go directly to the collection on the Montana Memory Project, or link to the MMP from our web page (MHS Digital Collections) .  The images in this database have been scanned from microfilm, thus may not always be legible and your search may not result in any positive hits. In this case, try browsing the owner name or brand symbol indexes that cover 1873-1950. Use this searching guide to help you get started and this By the Decade document for more in-depth information. If you have any questions regarding a search in the Montana Memory Project, contact us at (406)444-2681 or MHSLibrary@mt.gov.


In order to search our microfilm collection (1873-1980), you may visit the Research Center and we will help you with your search. If you are unable to visit us, our research request forms (with instructions and fees) are available by linking to our Research Request page.


The Montana Historical Society Research Center also has Stock Grower’s Association brand books for the years 1890, 1894, 1899, 1903, and 1910 (scanned and available on the Montana Memory Project) and Van Dersal & Conner’s Stockgrowers’ Directory of Marks and Brands for the State of Montana, 1872-1900 / by Van Dersal & Conner (which is organized by county). These books list only those brands owned by members of the Stock Grower’s Association for that specific period of time.


Many counties have compiled their own historical record of brands recorded within that county and you can search for specific county brand books through the Montana Historical Society Research Center Online Catalog


Currently, there are over 60,000 brands registered in Montana. To find out more details concerning brand registrations and re-recording, contact the Montana Department of LivestockOne can even register ‘Heirloom’ or ‘Ornamental’ brands, which are not applied to livestock.


Whether a brand was in fact used on an animal to identify ownership of that livestock or was registered as an heirloom brand, many researchers create quilts, cards, or other keepsakes depicting the brand in order to symbolically preserve their family’s history. 


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 Montana Historical Society Research Center

 225 North Roberts, P.O. Box 201201, Helena, MT 59620-1201, 406-444-2681, 406-444-2696 (fax)



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