My grandfather John Engwald Sylte, who was the eldest of five sons, once traveled by train through northern Idaho during the tail end of the Dust Bowl years. He was enticed by the surroundings where the lush green of the Selkirk Mountains met the open grassy space of the Rathdrum Prairie.
He had been a soldier in the US Cavalry in Montana and loved horses and working with animals, in general. He and my grandmother settled the family in Idaho and started the ranch that I later grew up on.
At that time, all ranches had a livestock brand. It was a way of identifying which animals belonged to you, as well as a way to deter theft…or just make sure that your cows didn’t get mixed in with the neighbors’ if your fence went down in a storm. They are a mark recorded by the state livestock agency.
I would love to know exactly how my grandparents settled on our particular brand, since there were so many possible variations and combinations to choose from at the time. Brands in many ways resemble hieroglyphics with (sometimes strange) combinations of letters, numbers and symbols that become more “readable” as you get used to them. My grandparents had a shotgun rack in their front sitting room where they displayed all of the brands of friends and neighbors. I remember sitting there on their smooth naugahyde davenport, staring at the marks and trying to decipher each of the symbols, with the smell of my grandmother’s chicken and dumpling soup hanging in the air.
What they came up with is called the “Flying S”. Since the family name is Sylte, the S part is pretty obvious. I think that adding the wings to the top of the S was a nice touch and seems appropriate, given my grandfather’s tendency to dream big and help foster a love of adventure and inventiveness in future generations. The risk-taking has mostly served us well, despite some noteworthy episodes worthy of Icarus. For many years, the cattle on the ranch all carried the mark on their haunches, and it can still be found all around the ranch on gates, signs and other less predictable locations.
I have now spent many years living away from the ranch. Even though my business is not located in Idaho and has nothing at all to do with cattle or ranching, I carry the spirit and history of it all with me as I go about my life. So there you go…they’re not horns, they’re wings.