You probably already know that “State Forty Eight” is a brand of Arizona clothes. Our brand. But that’s not what this post is about, so if you want to see our stuff, go to our merchandise pages elsewhere on this site, then come back. We’ll wait.

Hey, glad you’re back! Hope you found something you like.

So like we said, State Forty Eight is the brand name of an Arizona clothing company. But some of us in SFE HQ were having a discussion the other day about just what that means — the “brand” part, not the “Arizona clothes” part. We all know that part really, really well.

Somebody in the office asked thoughtfully, staring into a still-swirling, just-stirred mug of coffee, “Just what does it mean to have a ‘brand’?” This question was a pretty transparent excuse to stand there chatting and working on that coffee mug rather than getting back to a desk and working on work. But y’know, it’s a good question. Particularly in a state that has much deeper roots with the concept of “brand” than a lot of the others.

So we did a little research on Arizona brands and found a fascinating presentation from the state Department of Agriculture: “A History of Arizona Livestock Brands.”

Arizona brands aren’t just for Arizona clothes

“Ah, clever wordplay,” you say, “pivoting from the contemporary meaning of Arizona clothes ‘brand’ to the agricultural.”

We appreciate the assumption of cleverness, but a pivot? No. Not really. We were surprised to learn that’s actually where the meaning of the word brand comes from.

If you’ve ever watched a western movie that includes lots of cows among the cast of extras you’ve probably seen branding in action. It’s kind of like you getting a tattoo, with a few differences:

  • It’s over much faster, but ...
  • It’s gotta hurt a lot more. (We’ll be honest, we don’t like to watch those parts.)
  • It doesn’t come with color choices.
  • If it turns out bad the other cows don’t laugh.
  • While you might choose to get a tattoo on your calf, a calf would not choose to get branded.

What those cowpokes knew as a brand was that smoking logo (that must have smelled awful) done with a “branding iron.” But the original meaning of “brand” was the thing that made the mark — according to Merriam-Webster, “pieces of wood set burning at the fire, perhaps for use as a light or a weapon.”

Or, in Egypt of about 4,700 years ago, marking cattle to prove ownership. The brands looked different — they used hieroglyphics — and the cows looked different, too, mostly because they were oxen. But that’s when the burning stick and the mark it left started to mean the same thing.

What Arizona cows should be wearing

Travel forward about 4,600 years, then west 7,500 miles to a place with slightly less desert than Egypt. The cattle business was booming in the Arizona Territory, and In 1887 the government established the first law enforcement agency in the territory: the Territorial Livestock Sanitary Commission. That’s right: The first federales in the territory had the task of regulating the cattle industry for purposes of guaranteeing the health of Arizona-sourced meat. In 1895 the TLSC required all livestock ranchers to register their brands, and in 1897 published the first Arizona brand book with pictures of all of them. Kind of an Arizona clothing company catalog for cows.

When the Arizona Department of Agriculture was created in 1990 it took over the Livestock Sanitary Board. And it’s with the ADA’s help that we can provide these ...

Fun facts about (other) Arizona brands

  • If you keep a cow in your backyard, it doesn’t have to be branded. Just range livestock, the law says. That’s so you can prove ownership if some of your herd goes maverick. “A brand is like a VIN on a vehicle,” the ADA says.
  • House pets do not need to be branded. (That’s not from the ADA. That’s from us, just FYI. You can let go of the cat now.)
  • There are currently more than 9,000 brands registered in Arizona. In 1908, four years before statehood, there were 11,600.
  • If you’re thinking about building a herd but you’re too softhearted to burn your logo into ’em, you might consider freeze branding. That uses liquid nitrogen or dry ice to cool the branding iron to below freezing. Still no picnic for the cow, but could be worse.
  • There are also electric branding irons, so no fire needed. Just a long extension cord. Still smelly (for you) and hurty (for them).
  • Of course, if you want to start a herd but don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of buying a bunch of cattle, you could always use a running iron to change your neighbor’s brand on his cattle to yours. We do not recommend this! It is illegal — a class 4 felony — though not so long ago it could have resulted in a necktie social.
  • Interesting, non-Arizona fact: The word “maverick” for an unbranded cow was actually the name of a legendary rancher in San Antonio, Texas. Samuel Maverick refused to brand his cattle because he felt sorry for hurting them. So when a wandering cow didn’t have a brand, people in the area would say, “That’s a maverick.” (Some of his neighbors said his actual reason wasn’t so much being nice to the cows, but the fact that it allowed him to claim any cows found without a brand.)
  • Brands can become logos, like for Bar-S Foods (bacon, hot dogs, lunchmeat) and the King Ranch Editions of the Ford pickup trucks.
  • To remind you of the importance of labeling your stock, the ADA reminds you, “A brand is a cow’s only return address.”

Our brand (of Arizona clothes)

Clothes aren’t cows, of course. Still, we think our logo would make a pretty cool brand: shape of the state, our name spelled out in negative space.
But we don’t have any cattle, and if we did we’d really hate the hurty part of branding them. So we’d rather put our brand on you. It won’t hurt a bit, we promise. In fact, those fabrics are so soft and comfortable, you won’t mind wearing our brand a bit. And unlike those poor cows, you can take our brand off anytime you want.

Maybe just on laundry day.