History Wrangler’ Rob Lennard has a million and one stories about Alberta’s past.
But few capture the imagination quite the same way as his stories about cattle rustlers.
“People appreciate hearing about the cattle rustlers,” said Lennard, historian at the Bow Valley Ranche and official ambassador of the Cowboy Trail. “Before barbed wire fences, you had tens of thousands of cattle that they’d let roam in the spring and bring home in the fall.
“Of course they would brand them, but the rustlers would have a straight rod tucked in their boot. They would burn it and modify the brand so that they could claim they were their cows.”
With his Stetson, leather vest, and calf-high replica boots, Lennard looks like he stepped right out of the 1800s, when the West was wild and the Mounties always got their man.
Speaking about historical figures with the familiarity of a close friend — and occasionally breaking into song when the mood strikes him — Lennard weaves tale after tale about the people, places, and events that have shaped Alberta’s cowboy culture. They include the first Calgary Stampede when Florence LaDue lassoed two horses while lying in the dirt to the notorious Sundance Kid’s two-year stint breaking horses at the historic Bar U Ranch.
But that’s all in a day’s work for the History Wrangler.
“I love history. It’s something I’m very passionate about. There’s history up at a high level, but what I do is find the really fascinating, cool history. If I can make history fun and interesting, that’s what I love to do.”
Lennard is an accomplished author and musician who engages with over 20,000 children a year through 14 programs at the Bow Valley Ranche and through his annual Cowboy Trail Tour, where he stops at small towns across Alberta to share songs and stories about Canada’s wild west.
“Driving down the Cowboy Trail is like God’s country. With all due respect to Highway 2, on the Cowboy Trail, you really enjoy the journey,” said Lennard.
“Having that journey that’s steeped in history is really important.”
This year, Lennard’s tour kicked off in Manitoba, bringing history to the western Prairies as part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebration.
“Canada’s 150th is an opportunity to celebrate the province that we live in. There’s so much of our history that encompasses that great ranching history,” he said. “It’s important to take pride in where we’ve come from. Ranching history is so rich.”
As part of that celebration, Lennard is holding a contest where ranchers can share the history of their family’s cattle brands. There will be prizes and winners will have their brand stories featured in a song written and performed by Lennard on Sept. 1 at the Bow Valley Ranche to celebrate Alberta’s 112th birthday.
“There’s a story behind every brand,” he said. “Ranchers all have a history for their brands, so this is a great opportunity to showcase their brands and talk about the history of their brands.”
Rancher Stuart Somerville sees the value in “keeping old things like that alive.”
“When you’re a multi-generational farm or ranch, all those little bits of tradition are important,” said Somerville, who ranches near Endiang. “Lots of traditions go extinct through time, but when you have those little parts of the brand — like great-grandfather’s initials — that’s an important link. It’s part of why you stay.
“Multi-generational links are important and strong, and they’re one more reason to stay at it.”
Somerville’s farm was homesteaded in 1907 by his great-grandfather, who kept a small herd of cattle. Originally, his great-grandfather’s brand was H monogram P quarter-circle up, so when Somerville went to register his own brand, he kept the HP (his great-grandfather’s initials), but with a quarter-circle down.
“Traditions are important. They’re a part of our culture,” he said. “It’s part of the story of yourself and it’s part of the story that you want your kids to have one day. You end up fostering those things a lot more because you want them to carry on. It’s been a part of your life, and you want to see it be part of someone else’s life.
“We don’t think about it too much in our day to day, but it drives a lot of what we do.”
To share your own brand story for the History Wrangler’s Canada 150 brand contest, email Lennard at [email protected]. In 150 words or less, share a story about your cattle brand, including the year it was registered, the story behind the design, and approximately how many animals have been branded over the years.
The contest closes July 6 and is open to all Alberta farmers and ranchers with a registered brand.