Del Valle family's cattle branding iron (dV), Rancho San Francisco, 1830s-1840s.
On display in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County's permanent "Becoming Los Angeles" exhibit, which opened July 14, 2013.
The Rancho San Francisco was the Santa Clarita's main Mexican land-grant rancho, comprising more than 48,000 acres of the SCV when it was granted to Lt. Antonio del Valle in 1839.
If you live in Newhall, Saugus, Valencia, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic or western Canyon Country, the Del Valles probably owned the land underneath your home at one time.
Museum signage reads:
Branding iron for cattle at Rancho San Francisco / Owned by Antonio del Valle / 48,612 acres / Present-day Santa Clarita / 1834-1844.
Note: We don't know what those dates are supposed to mean. (Not all signage in the exhibit is correct.) Although he may have possessed it earlier, Antonio del Valle formally received the rancho Jan. 22, 1839, when it was granted to him by Gov. Juan B. Alvarado. After Antonio's death on June 21, 1841, the property passed to his heirs, who held it until 1865 when the drought of the early 1860s killed their cattle and wiped them out. The Del Valles continued to live at the western edge of the property, which became Rancho Camulos, until ~1924 when they sold it to August Rübel.
About branding irons:
From Southwestern Colonial Ironwork: The Spanish Blacksmithing Tradition by Marc Simmons and Frank Turley, Santa Fe, N.M.: Sunstone Press 2007.
The practice of branding livestock with an iron, for purposes of identification, was brought from Spain and introduced into Mexico at least by 1528. Government ordinances in 1574 specified who could possess branding irons and regulated their manufacture. Blacksmiths were not allowed to make an iron unless requested to do so by the man who owned it. Ownership of each brand was established through a registry kept by municipal or provincial officials. If a smith made a branding iron not properly registered, he was subject to a fine of 100 pesos.
... In addition to private stockmen, friars also obtained irons to mark the cattle, horses, and mules in their mission herds. Moreover, an official iron, often referred to as "the brand of his Magesty," was burned on all government livestock, much as the United States Army at a later time marked its stock with the letters US.
Throughout the Hispanic world, the prevailing custom was to rebrand animals each time they were sold. This meant that upon sale the old brand had to be cancelled or "vented." The venting iron was usually no more than a simple bar which could be applied over the existing brand. An inventory of 1737 for Mission Guevavi in southern Arizona lists un fierro con su venta. The fierro was a registered brand and the venta, its venting iron. On cattle ranches and at other missions, as at Guevavi, the two irons were kept together as a set.
Spanish colonial branding irons consisted of an iron handle with shank, connecting rods, and a stamp, forged either of steel or iron. Irons tended to be short, 40 to 80 cms. In overall length, as compared to modern examples which run to 1 or 1¼ meters. Shanks could be of either square or round stock and averaged 1.3 to 1.5 cm. in thickness. Lap welds, still to be seen on many specimens, indicate that shanks were pieced together by the smith from odd scraps. Often, he finished off the shank with a ring handle formed as a rattail.
Mexican branding irons of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries commonly have a short shank with socket into which a handle of hardwood can be fitted. The advantage of this design over the older iron handle is that head cannot run up the handle and burn the user...
A series of rods, normally three or four in number, connected the branding iron shank with the stamp. Ends of individual rods were either riveted or welded to the stamp. The opposite ends were fagot-welded together and the resulting unit lap-welded to the shank.
Branding irons used by the American cowboy as a rule were formed of characters representing letters, numerals, geometrical forms, and pictures. These could be easily "read" or "called" aloud at roundup time when cattle belonging to different owners were tallied. Spanish brands, on the other hand, were frequently of such intricate design that latter-day cowhands of the Southwest referred to the Spanish marks as a "skillet of snakes."
Some colonial irons used in the Borderlands did incorporate standard characters as part of their overall design, or occasionally even as the main element. Initials of owners and crosses were prevalent. The California padres favored a stamp using the stylized initials of their missions. An exception was Mission San Gabriel which, instead of having an iron with the letters SG, used a T superimposed upon an S. The TS stood for temblores (earthquakes). San Gabriel, because of its unstable location, was nicknamed "Mission of the Earthquakes."
Whenever possible, Spanish frontier smiths used stock or tapered section for the forging of stamps. This was practical since the base of the stamp, where it joined the connecting rods, was thickest, while the face or burning surface was narrower, providing a clean line when applied to the animal. The tapered section was practical for another reason: when the branding iron was in use the thick base held the heat, allowing it to "run" continuously to the thin stamp edge.
In forging, the several parts or elements of the stamp were welded, riveted, or half-lapped together before being attached to the connecting rods. Whether one or all of these joining methods was used depended upon the complexity of the stamp design. The smith often slightly rounded the edges, corners, and angles to discourage blotching when the hot iron burned the hide.
About NHMLA's "Becoming Los Angeles" Exhibit:
The 14,000-square-foot permanent exhibition is the largest in the Museum. It tells stories in six major sections: Los Angeles and the region at the time of Spanish contact; the Spanish Mission Era; the Mexican Rancho Era; the early American Period; the emergence of a new American city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; the Great Depression and World War II, to the present.
Some of the stories are well known, such as how the acquisition of water through the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913 allowed Los Angeles to grow. But there are other natural and human influences might surprise you: how cattle, the Gold Rush, floods, a plague of grasshoppers, railroads, and outlandish booster campaigns all played a part in transforming the region into an agricultural and industrial empire; the pivotal role Los Angeles played in World War II; and the dynamic diversity of the earliest settlers.
Come meet L.A.'s Native Americans, colonists and settlers; rancheros, citrus growers and oil barons; captains of industry, boosters and radicals; filmmakers, innovators and more.