By: Tonya Stevenson
Branding, is a busy season of the year, full of hard work that starts many days before the branding. There were the 70 mile trips for supplies and groceries and all the horses to shoe and broncs to top off because each one would be put into service. A couple days before our houses would fill with family and friends who would come to help. I always loved branding time when we were on the ranch, though looking back I might wonder why. We would brand from 10 days to two weeks and then head to the neighbors to complete the month of June.
At that time we had up to 3,000 cows. We tried to brand about 500 a day (giving or taking according to the pastures.) It was usually up by 4:30 a.m. for me to start a breakfast. Breakfast was biscuits and gravy with sausage and scrambled eggs. In the cook house we had a big old stove with 6 burners and big double ovens, plenty of room to bake enough biscuits for the up to thirty-five people we fed, while cooking huge cast iron skillets of eggs, sausage and gravy on top. I was the only woman on our end of the ranch where the most of the branding was done, so breakfast was always my job and breakfast was to be served at 6 a.m. A few minutes before six you’d hear the rattle of the neighbors’ trailers pulling into the yard having already driven 30 to 45 miles on dirt roads. We divided lunches between the three or four women.
My husband would wrangle horses and catch and saddle ours. Then dress the kids and bring them to breakfast. I’d be washing dishes even while the men ate so I could be ready to ride out with them to gather cows. Then the real work began. You usually didn’t get everything wrapped up and ready for the next day until 11p.m.
So why was it so much fun? It didn’t hurt that I had youthful energy. Personally, I have found that working together with others you like can make anything enjoyable. It sure makes a long day go faster. Also, nary a year went by that we didn’t have at least a couple big water fights at the end of the day. Everyone is dusty, hot and tired, so a five gallon bucket of cold water was definitely a needed refreshment; of course it never ended there. Drenched wranglers are not the easiest to run in, let alone peel off. I have hundreds of branding memories, but my best and worst both center around our second daughter. Today I’d like to share the best.
It was just cracking dawn that June morning, we’d already driven 45 miles on dirt roads with a trailer full of horses to reach the gathering spot of our neighbors branding. We jumped our five horses out of the trailer in a rush to get them saddled as fast as everyone else was saddling their one. (Our kids were six, four and two so we had to saddle their horses also.) My four year old daughter was following me back and forth as I am grabbing blankets, saddles and bridles and throwing them on horses, and she was rattling off questions to me like a machine gun. I was trying to answer them on the move, while setting her back out from under the horses as they were fidgeting in the brisk morning rush.
“Mom, why did Jesus die?”
“To pay for our sins.”
“Why did He have to pay for our sins?”
“Because our sins separate us from God.”
“What do you have to do to go to Heaven?”
“You just have to believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose again.”
So on the questions went. I was just throwing back answers without even thinking, focused on the job at hand. I had prayed for my kids’ salvation before they were born and had told them about Jesus all their little lives. They would ask you a question or two and then go their way; this morning. however, she just kept asking one question after another.
Finally, as I was setting her back away from the horse again, to my shame I blurted out? “Why are you asking me all of these questions this morning?”
“Because, I don’t want to go to Hell!” she exclaimed.
I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around to look into those serious big blue eyes. Suddenly it wasn’t important that we rode out with everyone else to gather the cows. The Holy Spirit was convicting her of her need of a Savior. We had told her parts of this story many times until she would dance away content for the time. Now she was not content to drop it, for the Holy Spirit was applying it to her, and she wanted to know how to be saved.
So standing beside our horse trailer, I carefully explained the good news of how Jesus (God’s son) died for our sins, was buried and rose again; so that, if we believe and accept his gift of salvation, we can be forgiven of our sins and given eternal life. That gloriously cool morning with the sun breaking over the mountain, our four year old daughter, knelt in front of the horses and asked Jesus to forgive and save her. I thought she was too young, but she never has doubted her salvation and she still remembers it all.
This last fall she had the privilege of leading her six year old daughter to the Lord.
What greater joy on earth can a Mother have than to know the child you birthed is born again, safe in their Savior’s hand!
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” John 10:27-30