Who is Old Joe?

He’s the bleached buffalo skull with “THE” between his horns and “WESTERNERS” below his chin. You’ll find him on letterheads and publications issued by Corrals and Posses from Chicago to Washington, Los Angeles to London, Omaha to the Czech Republic. No Westerners tradition runs deeper. And fortunately because of the reportorial genius of the late Elmo Scott Watson, we can trace Old Joe back to his beginnings.

“Our very first skull (drawn, I think, by Burleigh Withers) was in brown ink on tinted stock bearing the sole word ‘Westerners.’ The same sketch, sometimes copied by a stylus in inept hands, was used for letterheads and for the first two years of the mimeographed Chicago Brand Book. By the third year it was on both nameplate and masthead in the now familiar form.

“The artist seemingly copied the Charles Russell skull long used by the Potomac Corral as its emblem. But who was he? And when did he do it?

“The Old Joe sketch first shows up in the beautifully executed scroll attesting Honorary Life Membership in the Chicago Corral for Sergeant Charles A. Windolph, one of the 24 Seventh Cavalry Troopers awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25-26, 1876. Windolph, serving with Gen. Marcus Reno, had risked his life to fetch water to the wounded. The scroll was ready in October, 1944.

Old Joe
“It seems to have been done under the enthusiastic direction of Wyoming-reared Burleigh Withers, himself an artist. Noting that scrolls had been sent to three Honorary Life Members, the other two being Fairbault Wells, a veteran of the 1890-91 engagement at Wounded Knee, and Stewart Edward White, whose novel “The Westerners” may have suggested our name—it added: The calligraphy on these scrolls is by resident member Raymond F. DaBoll and buffalo skull emblem of Westerners, is painted in gold on them by M. Martin Johnson,” a Chicago Westerner who became a charter member of the Los Angeles Corral.

The LA Corral’s first Branding Iron, 1947, had the insignia artistically centered on its nameplate and also its masthead. No objection was raised in the Windy City, although the design had been filed as a trademark in Washington, September 20, 1946, and was later registered as in use since 1944.”

And so Old Joe began making the rounds until he became a part of every member group of Westerners International. The emblem shown on this page is the Old Joe on the wall in the WI Home Ranch at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

(This information was taken from an article by the late Don Russell, long-time editor of the Chicago Branding Iron.)

Old Joe