The Elkhorn Brand Rides Again
By Lucinda D. Schroeder
MISSOULA, Mont.--(Ammoland.com)- The day had been long and the ride difficult. As the two riders slipped through the Teton Wilderness, they came upon the Continental Divide and stopped at Two Ocean Pass. For a few moments they reminisced about a hunt that took place in this area during September 1891.
The hunter was Theodore Roosevelt.
Two Ocean Pass got its name from a single creek that divides here, with one fork flowing east and one west. The forks of the creek were appropriately named Atlantic Creek and Pacific Creek. When Jim Bridger first wrote about this anomaly, few people believed him. But Roosevelt was so impressed by the area that he wrote, “There is no more beautiful game-country in the United States.”
The abundance of game was precisely why in 2006, the two riders came to this area. Not to hunt, but to hunt for poachers who ruthlessly steal game from ethical hunters. The riders were Special Agents Tim Eicher and Dominic Domenici of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. They were in this remote wilderness because areas like this are exactly where serious wildlife criminals go to poach game.
Eicher and Domenici, both stationed in Wyoming, are modernday cowboys who reflect Roosevelt’s ideals of accepting duty, and living the “strenuous life.” Beginning their wildlife enforcement careers nearly 30 years ago, these agents were drawn to their work by what Roosevelt described as “living the hardy life of the wilderness and of the hunter in the wilderness.”
Aside from being a hunter, Roosevelt was also a rancher. In Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, he wrote about his beloved Elkhorn Ranch in North Dakota. It was there that he designed a brand for his cattle and horses. The brand was registered in the Dakota Territory as the “Elkhorn Brand.”
The idea of branding livestock originated with the ancient Egyptians and was later introduced to the American West by the Spanish who traveled north from Mexico. As opposed to the more elaborate Mexican designs, most American brands were simple. The Elkhorn brand fittingly resembles an elk horn with three points. Hired cowboys rode for the brand from 1884 to 1899 when Roosevelt reluctantly sold his ranch.
In Out on the Range, Roosevelt explained the practice of branding for the benefit of his Eastern reading audience: “All cattle are branded, usually on the hip, shoulder, and side, or on any one of them, with letters, numbers, or figures in every combination, the outfit being known by its brand. Near me, for instance, are the Three Sevens, the Thistle, the Bellows, the OX, the VI, the Seventy-six Bar, and the Quarter Circle Diamond outfits. All brands are registered, and are thus protected against imitators, any man tampering with them being punished as severely as possible….”
But as time and history has shown, none of the brands of the Old West ever carried as much significance as the Elkhorn Brand. The cowboys who rode for it were fiercely loyal to the Elkhorn Ranch and the cowboy principles made famous by Theodore Roosevelt. Accepting a life of isolation and hard work, these cowboys understood the value of a strong character, and strived for it.
In The Roundup, Roosevelt wrote about the characteristics of the American cowboy: “Meanness, cowardice, and dishonesty are not tolerated. There is a high regard for truthfulness and keeping one’s word, intense contempt for any kind of hypocrisy, and a hearty dislike for a man who shirks his work… a cowboy will not submit tamely to an insult, and is ever ready to avenge his own wrongs; nor has he an overwrought fear of shedding blood.”
In 2005, Special Agent Tim Eicher applied to the Wyoming Livestock Board to register the famous Elkhorn Brand for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The application was approved in June 2006, and shortly thereafter Eicher and Domenici branded their mountain horses and pack mules with Roosevelt’s brand.
Today, in the Roosevelt tradition of cowboy, hunter, and conservationist, the Elkhorn Brand rides again in Wyoming. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents now ride the brand as backcountry lawmen in the very areas that Roosevelt hunted and finally set aside for future generations. Their job is to catch wildlife violators and bring them to justice. The Elkhorn brand has become the symbolic connection between their work and the rich conservation legacy left by Roosevelt.
From his Cody office, Eicher said, “We support ranching, the cowboy way, and conservation. By getting the Elkhorn Brand registered for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we’re making a statement about our principles.”
While president, Theodore Roosevelt created the Forest Service and designated 150 National Forests, which included the Two Ocean Pass country. He also established several National Parks, Bird and Game Preserves, and Pelican Island, the first National Wildlife Refuge. His actions established the philosophy that wildlife and wilderness should be protected for its own sake.
As usual, Roosevelt said it best, “Wild beasts and birds are by right not the property merely of the people alive today, but the property of the unborn generations, whose belonging we have no right to squander.”
It is the policy of the Boone and Crockett Club to promote the guardianship and provident management of big game and associated wildlife in North America and maintain the highest standards of fair chase and sportsmanship in all aspects of big game hunting, in order that this resource of all the people may survive and prosper in its natural habitats. Consistent with this objective, the Club supports the use and enjoyment of our wildlife heritage to the fullest extent by this and future generations. Visit: www.boone-crockett.org