Cole Agee And Weldon Bledsoe

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Cattle 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 with
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, renowned,
Ft. Worth engraver, Weldon Bledsoe who in turn learned from famous Cole Agee.

David’s wife was instrumental in him having the opportunity to meet Weldon
Bledsoe in the 1980’s. She was working for the plating company where Mr.
Bledsoe took his guns and had Mr. Bledsoe engrave a firearm for David for
Christmas. David immediately became interested in learning to engrave firearms.
However, before Weldon would take him on as his student Mr. Harris had to
convince him that he was seriously interested in keeping the legendary engraving
style alive . Bledsoe stated that he would not teach anyone else to engrave because
prior apprentices would not carry on the tradition as he had taught them.

Weldon Bledsoe taught David Harris that an engraver does not pick
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 just comes
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 seeing other
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 in.
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 90% of
my work is done with the chisel that Weldon taught me to make, the same as Cole
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. His canvas
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 law enforcement
individuals as well as many wealthy and famous people. He was commissioned in
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.

Cole Agee
Cecil Coe [Cole] Agee was born November 1, 1901, in Runge, Texas where
the population was largely of Mexican descent. Cole spoke Spanish fluently and
maintained connections in Mexico where he was known to prospect for gold and
uranium. In his younger years Mr. Agee had been a lawman wearing a deputy’s
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 a gun
engraver a few times and without a single lesson, he practiced on scrap steel until
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. The
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 took
him to a specialist in Houston. He obtained relief and began a long road to recovery.
The splinter was never removed and Agee suffered permanent damage to his eye.

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 to have
flown with the forces of Pancho Villa during the Early Mexican Revolution Period.

Cole worked with W. T. McTeer Engraving Company in Ft. Worth which
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 to
resign and establish his own shop at his home on Christine Street in Ft. Worth.

Soon Mr. Agee was engraving pistols for his former law enforcement
friends. He used time consuming detailed work and much of his engraving was
embellished with gold inlays and gold washing. His scroll style was of the bold,
tip-up interlock technique.

As a result of his connections in Mexico, President Miguel Aleman
commissioned Cole in the late 1940’s 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, Maria,
suggested the Texas cattlebrands and presented him with a booklet entitled A
Century of Texas Cattlebrands published for the 1936 Texas Centennial. He
selected 20 brands for the Mexican president’s .45 Colt Single Action. President
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 north to
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 iron
shaped in a configuration.

Brands are considered the trademark for the rangeland signifying pride of
ownership in livestock. Cattle rustlers using “running irons”, were ingenious in
changing brands.The most famous brand change involved making the X I T brand
into a Star with a cross inside.

Agee continued
Cole Agee turned out beautiful pistols for Col. Homer Garrison, Jr., of the
Texas Department of Public Safety, and for Texas Ranger Capt. M. T. “Lone Wolf”
Gonzaullas, and Ranger Capt. Clint Peoples.

At the time of his death in June, 1955, Cole Agee was reported by his
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 signing
his work. Therefore, there have been copies sold as Agee to uninformed collectors.

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
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 moved
from New Orleans and was doing work for Haltom Jewelers. Bledsoe liked gun
work which Haltom did not handle. He heard of Cole Agee and soon visited him at
his shop.

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 was introduced
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. Weldon
Bledsoe kept the booklet until his own death.
Weldon told David Harris on several occasions that Agee was a gambler and
he suspected fowl play in his death.

After graduating high school, and attending college, Weldon Bledsoe was
drafted into the U. S Army prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. He served as a
Surgical Technician, but after World War II broke out he requested and was
assigned to flight training. He was trained to fly the B-17, later qualifying in the
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 war’s most
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 stated prior,
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, and angular
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 scroll work.

Some sources claim Cole Agee never signed his work, however David Wade
Harris states that he has seen one signed. “It is a Colt Woodsman engraved in
cattle-brands. and signed by Cole in a brand that is just a ‘CA’”. After engraving
many firearms Weldon decided to come up with a signature or “mark”. He used
‘B’ with ‘W’ in the top loop ‘H’ in the bottom loop.

As stated earlier, Cole Agee did 15 or 20 cattlebrands. Weldon Bledsoe
estimated that he had done 300 to 400 cattle brands. Some of the most valuable
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 94AE
.45 commemorative carbines and 150 colt .45 “Brand Inspector Centennial” pieces.
Weldon declined explaining that he was too far into semi-retirement to take on
volume work. The Association sent the work to an engraving firm. Their work was
excellent, but not the real McCoy.

David Harris told this author the following concerning Weldon Bledsoe and
Cole Agee:
“Weldon almost always engraved the 2 lazy 2 P brand on his cattle brand
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 in
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. He said
that Cole could engrave a cattle-brand gun in less that 6 hours. Weldon said he
could do one in about 8 hours.

“There are always people that want to spread bad rumors about people like
Weldon and Cole, maybe to make them sound more exciting. I knew Weldon very
well. Just to keep the record straight, he was a very good man that would give you
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 now
and his hands would shake alot. He would hold his hammer in one hand and His
chisel in the other, and as his tools approached the work, they would shake
uncontrollably, but when they made contact with the work piece, they where under
absolute control. Weldon was amazing to watch as he worked. Just watching the
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 that he
engraved, he could only see out of one eye. He went blind before he died. I
remember seeing him in the hospital waiting room and walking up to him and
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 just lost
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 by
Weldon Bledsoe whom Agee mentored. In the 1980’s, Weldon taught David Wade
Harris who now carries on the same tradition began almost a century ago by Cole

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