Brands, Hand Engraved Guns and Fire Arms, A Dying Art?
Three Texas Engravers
by Jimmie Patterson©
David Wade Harris
In his shop near Granbury, Texas, one can still find an engraver totally
immersed in his craft using hand made tools to enhance a hand gun or rifle
famous cattle brands. David
Wade Harris born July 11, 1963 in Oak Cliff, a Dallas
suburb, is a master engraver who was taught hand engraving by the late,
Ft. Worth engraver, Weldon Bledsoe who in turn learned from famous Cole
Davids wife was instrumental in him having the opportunity
to meet Weldon
Bledsoe in the 1980s. She was working for the plating company where
Bledsoe took his guns and had Mr. Bledsoe engrave a firearm for David
Christmas. David immediately became interested in learning to engrave
However, before Weldon would take him on as his student Mr. Harris had
convince him that he was seriously interested in keeping the legendary
style alive . Bledsoe stated that he would not teach anyone else to engrave
prior apprentices would not carry on the tradition as he had taught them.
Weldon Bledsoe taught David Harris that an engraver does
up a hammer and chisel and start right in any more than a painter picks
up a brush
and starts putting strokes on a canvas.
David says, After looking an area over for a little while a pattern
to mind or is visualized. Once I see the pattern in my mind..... I really
just trace the
image that I see there. Also, I can duplicate patterns and pictures from
The technique is as follows:
First: Rub or dab beeswax onto the area to be drawn on.
Second: Dust talc or baby powder on it so as to give a white area to draw
Third: Draw in the powder.
Fourth: Use hammer and chisel to work in the design.
I use many different types, sizes, and shapes of chisels. But about
my work is done with the chisel that Weldon taught me to make, the same
taught him to make. It is the key to this craft or way of engraving.
Just as he was taught to do, David Wade Harris works in
solitude using the
same style tools that have been in use for over 300 years. He is an artist.
is a firearm. With hand made tools instead of paints and brushes Mr. Harris
transforms an ordinary rifle or hand gun into a work of fine art. His
work is sought
after world wide.
Mr. Harris has engraved firearms for Texas Rangers and
individuals as well as many wealthy and famous people. He was commissioned
1992 by "America
Remembers to engrave a signed and numbered series of 200
Winchester 94s with famous cattle brands (The American Cowboy Tribute).
He is currently doing a series of 100 Henry Rifles.
Cecil Coe [Cole] Agee was born November 1, 1901, in Runge, Texas where
the population was largely of Mexican descent. Cole spoke Spanish fluently
maintained connections in Mexico where he was known to prospect for gold
uranium. In his younger years Mr. Agee had been a lawman wearing a deputys
badge in several places including Texas and Mexico.
Later as a bartender in New Mexico he reportedly had to
shoot a man dead
when trouble erupted between two patrons, one of whom pulled a pistol.
While in San Antonio Cole Agee had the opportunity to observe
engraver a few times and without a single lesson, he practiced on scrap
he scrolled out his first pistol.
In 1935 in Carlsbad, while engraving, Cole caught a flying
steel shaving in
his left eye. There was no doctor who could treat such a delicate injury.
treatment administered only made the matter worse. Cole lay for hours
in pain in a
dark room with wet compresses over the eye. Finally his young wife, Maria
him to a specialist in Houston. He obtained relief and began a long road
The splinter was never removed and Agee suffered permanent damage to his
In 1942 Cole was turned down for military service because
of his defective
left eye. He loved flying and according to Weldon Bledsoe, Cole claimed
flown with the forces of Pancho Villa during the Early Mexican Revolution
Cole worked with W. T. McTeer Engraving Company in Ft.
was one of the best known engraving companies in the country. He and McTeer
helped each other and the firm drew work engraving guns for leading sportsmen,
dealers, and collectors near and far. After 3 years with McTeer, he decided
resign and establish his own shop at his home on Christine Street in Ft.
Soon Mr. Agee was engraving pistols for his former law
friends. He used time consuming detailed work and much of his engraving
embellished with gold inlays and gold washing. His scroll style was of
tip-up interlock technique.
As a result of his connections in Mexico, President Miguel
commissioned Cole in the late 1940s to do a Colt Single Action asking
him to use
his own imagination to create an unusual one of a kind. Some say his wife,
suggested the Texas cattlebrands and presented him with a booklet entitled
Century of Texas Cattlebrands published for the 1936 Texas Centennial.
selected 20 brands for the Mexican presidents .45 Colt Single Action.
Aleman was very pleased with the creation.
Until modern times, to prevent theft, livestock being driven across country
were required to be road branded. In early history, brands
were painted on with
pine tar or paint. Later, when the vast trail herds of cattle were driven
market, hot iron brands were used.
A brand consists of a letter, numeral, character, or symbol or a combination
of one or more of any or all of these. Cattlebrands are read from top
to bottom and
left to right and the science of brand reading almost requires a language
of its own.
Amazingly, every numeral and letter of the alphabet can be made with an
shaped in a configuration.
Brands are considered the trademark for the rangeland signifying pride
ownership in livestock. Cattle rustlers using running irons,
were ingenious in
changing brands.The most famous brand change involved making the X I T
into a Star with a cross inside.
Cole Agee turned out beautiful pistols for Col. Homer Garrison, Jr., of
Texas Department of Public Safety, and for Texas Ranger Capt. M. T. Lone
Gonzaullas, and Ranger Capt. Clint Peoples.
At the time of his death in June, 1955, Cole Agee was reported
widow, Maria, to have engraved 15 to 20 cattle brands. The
number of scrolls
that he cut is unknown. Agee did not keep records and was not known for
his work. Therefore, there have been copies sold as Agee to uninformed
It is reported that Cole Agee sometimes engraved the hammers
on his scroll
guns, but never engraved the hammers on his cattle brand guns.
Weldon Bledsoe, born February 17, 1916 in Margaret, Texas, never engraved
a hammer on any gun. He was a Ft. Worth engraver who in 1950 had just
from New Orleans and was doing work for Haltom Jewelers. Bledsoe liked
work which Haltom did not handle. He heard of Cole Agee and soon visited
Cole felt that there was ample business for both of them
and readily shared
his skills, even disclosing his special shortcuts. In due time Weldon
to the cattle brand design. Agee is believed to have personally tutored
Bledsoe as he
began working cattle brands himself. Cole Agee gave the Texas cattle brand
booklet to Weldon. Agee died in 1955 of a presumed heart attack or stroke.
Bledsoe kept the booklet until his own death.
Weldon told David Harris on several occasions that Agee was a gambler
he suspected fowl play in his death.
After graduating high school, and attending college, Weldon
drafted into the U. S Army prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. He served
Surgical Technician, but after World War II broke out he requested and
assigned to flight training. He was trained to fly the B-17, later qualifying
B-25 and C-54. He flew 25 missions in the South Pacific and European theaters.
His crew was one of three surviving crews returning from one of the wars
strategic raids, knocking out the infamous ball bearing plants in Schweinford,
After the war he attended a trade school in Los Angeles
on his G. I. Bill and
chose jewelry engraving. He intended to return to Texas and engrave silver
decorations for parade saddles. However, he never cut a single one. As
he worked for a jewelry engraving firm.
One source claims Weldon Bledsoe stated that contrary to
what some believe,
he was never actually a student of Agee, but was permitted to observe
him five or
six times. He said Cole taught him a few tricks of the trade, shortcuts,
usage of the hammer and chisel.
According to some collectors, even their scroll work can
be difficult to differentiate. The Agee/Bledsoe cattle brand work was
100% alike to the extent that they
agreed upon individual patterns which neither would ever duplicate. Weldon
almost always engraved the '2 Lazy 2 P' brand. Weldon said that Cole engraved
the 'Bar None' brand as his mark. It has even been found on some of Agee's
Some sources claim Cole Agee never signed his work, however
Harris states that he has seen one signed. It is a Colt Woodsman
cattle-brands. and signed by Cole in a brand that is just a CA.
many firearms Weldon decided to come up with a signature or mark.
B with W in the top loop H in the
As stated earlier, Cole Agee did 15 or 20 cattlebrands.
estimated that he had done 300 to 400 cattle brands. Some of the most
Agee Bledsoe cattlebrands have been gold plated.
In 1991 Bledsoe was approached by The Texas &
South Western Cattle
Raisers Association of Ft. Worth to put the cattlebrand on 200 Winchester
.45 commemorative carbines and 150 colt .45 Brand Inspector Centennial
Weldon declined explaining that he was too far into semi-retirement to
volume work. The Association sent the work to an engraving firm. Their
excellent, but not the real McCoy.
David Harris told this author the following concerning
Weldon Bledsoe and
Weldon almost always engraved the 2 lazy 2 P brand on his cattle
guns. I also know that there is at least one gun out there
that is signed by Cole Agee. I have seen it. It is a Colt Woodsman engraved
cattle-brands. and signed by Cole in a brand that is just a "CA".
Weldon always talked about how fast of an engraver that Cole was.
that Cole could engrave a cattle-brand gun in less that 6 hours. Weldon
could do one in about 8 hours.
There are always people that want to spread bad rumors about people
Weldon and Cole, maybe to make them sound more exciting. I knew Weldon
well. Just to keep the record straight, he was a very good man that would
the shirt off his back. He didn't smoke, drink, or any other notorious
thing. He was
always happy and smiling.
I remember when Weldon was teaching me to engrave. He was older
and his hands would shake alot. He would hold his hammer in one hand and
chisel in the other, and as his tools approached the work, they would
uncontrollably, but when they made contact with the work piece, they where
absolute control. Weldon was amazing to watch as he worked. Just watching
way he worked is what inspired me to be an engraver. He was truly a craftsman.
As Weldon got older he began to lose eye sight. About the last year
engraved, he could only see out of one eye. He went blind before he died.
remember seeing him in the hospital waiting room and walking up to him
shaking his hand in greeting. He said, "I know you, I recognize your
voice, but I
can't see who you are." He had not seen the doctor yet, but had apparently
his sight. He seemed very worried, but still smiled and had a happy disposition."
Cole Agee is believed to be the first to engrave cattle brands followed
Weldon Bledsoe whom Agee mentored. In the 1980s, Weldon taught David
Harris who now carries on the same tradition began almost a century ago
Harris takes pride in the traditional method and tools
he uses. He knows of
only one, maybe two other engravers, who still make their own tools. "I
try to keep
the tradition alive that Weldon taught me," Harris said. "I
still do it all by hand with
a hammer and chisel.
There is now available, A very nice book on Cole Agee, Showing
pictures of his work and also having documentation. Click
here to see order info.
Roger N. Conger, Cole Agee A Complex Person, Arms Gazette,
Oct/Nov 1980, p15.
Dick Staff, Cattle Brand Guns A Tribute to the American Cowboy
and The Western
Frontier, The Gun Report, Nov. 1994, p 16.
1995 The Hood County News
The History of Cattlebrands