The Flying R, Circle C, Shiloh, Bonanza, or the High Chaparral, every ranch, real or fictional, had a brand, a symbol burned into the hide of the cattle to stamp ownership and help protect them from rustling. But it was not just ranches that had a brand and unique symbols of individuality—cowboys had them too.
The famous Indian Crazy Horse had several battle rituals, including painting his body with lightning bolts and white spots to denote hailstones. He would either tie the body of a hawk against the side of his head or wear a war bonnet with buffalo horns and a dozen eagle feathers. Often he wore a red blanket like a cape. Likewise, all the great chiefs, like Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Black Elk, and Quanah all had their unique headdresses, war paint, clothing, and accessories.
Doc Holliday had his guns backward and cross drew. Clint Eastwood, as the man with no name, had his poncho and ever-present cigar. Custer had his flowing blond locks. Buffalo Bill, his buckskin jacket and beard. The Lone Ranger had his white horse and a mask. Many, like Wyatt Earp, had the power of their sheriff’s stars—and his handlebar mustache was legendary. John Wayne had his unusual gait, his gravelly voice, and the tendency to pause midsentence for extra effect. Rooster J. Cogburn had his eye patch. Davey Crockett had his coonskin hat, while the Cisco Kid sported a sombrero.
All these things played a part in creating the worldwide Parelli brand for my friend Pat Parelli with his golden horse logo, cattleman’s hat, hand made by Nathaniel’s, and of course his moustache.
The symbols of brand are not always visual. Legendary locomotive engineer Casey Jones was famous for his peculiar skill with the train whistle. His whistle was made of six thin tubes bound together, the shortest being half the length of the longest. Its unique sound involved a long-drawn-out note that began softly, rose, and then died away to a whisper, a sound that became his trademark. The sound of it was described as “a sort of whippoorwill call.” People living along the line, upon hearing it, would remark, “There goes Casey Jones,” as he roared by.
You might not know the name Ennio Morricone, but he was in a big way part of Clint Eastwood’s rise to stardom, with his haunting soundtrack for the spaghetti western series. With just a few notes of its twangy tones—“wha wha wah”—instantly Clint springs to mind, even fifty years later.
Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, used his voice as his signature and made over 640 recordings, including more than 300 songs written or co-written by him. His records sold more than 100 million copies, and he has more than a dozen gold and platinum records, including the first record ever certified gold. His Christmas and children’s records Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) and Peter Cottontail are among his platinum recordings. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the second all-time best-selling Christmas single, boasts in excess of $30 million in sales.
California bandit Black Bart robbed stagecoaches alone, never shot anyone, and wore socks over his boots so he could not be tracked. His real name was Charles E. Boles, originally from London, England. He was known as a gentleman outlaw who enjoyed writing bits of poetry, which he left in empty strongboxes to the pursuing posse.
I’ve labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.
—Black Bart, 1877
All these examples are symbols, primal code for creating a brand. Symbols of power, mystery, action, adventure—traits others aspire to emulate. These symbols were often copied later by other famous people to enhance their image. Patton wore a steel helmet and pearl-handled six-shooters on both hips, while MacArthur sported a flat cap, sunglasses, and a clay pipe. Both generals stood out a mile and used their headgear and accessories as trademarks for their personalities. All these Leaders understood the effect of using these seemingly insignificant symbols as a way to increase their power and build their own personal brands.
Create your own personal signature color, hat, or eyeglasses—it’s a powerful way to stand out from the crowd!