Longhorn Cattle

Longhorn Cattle

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The Spanish brought the first longhorn cattle to America in 1493. Descendants of these longhorns formed the first cattle population in North America. Some of these escaped into the wild. The first European settlers in Texas brought with them cows. These cows mixed with the Spanish breeds already in Texas and soon grew into considerable herds. It is estimated that by the end of the American Civil War there were about six million longhorns in Texas.

In the second-half of the 19th century cowboys took longhorn from Texas to the railroad cowtowns of Abilene, Dodge City, Wichita and Newton. The cattle business eventually spread to Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

In 1867 Joseph McCoy arranged to move cattle from Abilene to the Union Stockyards in Chicago. Longhorns, with their long legs and hard hoofs, were ideal trail cattle; they even gained weight on the way to market.

Longhorn Cattle - History

The Texas Longhorn was fashioned entirely by nature in North America. Stemming from ancestors that were the first cattle to set foot on American soil almost 500 years ago, it became the sound end product of "survival of the fittest". Shaped by a combination of natural selection and adaptation to the environment, the Texas Longhorn is the only cattle breed in America which - without aid from man - is truly adapted to America. In his book The Longhorns, J. Frank Dobie states this situation well: "Had they been registered and regulated, restrained and provided for by man, they would not have been what they were."

With the destruction of the buffalo following the Civil War, the Longhorns were rushed in to occupy the Great Plains, a vast empire of grass vacated by the buffalo. Cattlemen brought their breeding herds north to run on the rich grazing lands of western Nebraska, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Montana. Thus, the Great Plains became stocked largely with these "bovine citizens" from the Southwest. And, the Texas Longhorns adapted well to their expanding world. They had reached their historical heyday, dominating the beef scene of North America like no other cattle breed has done since. However, the romantic Longhorn era came to an end when their range was fenced in and plowed under and imported cattle with quick maturing characteristics were brought in to "improve" beef qualities. Intensive crossbreeding had nearly erased the true typical Longhorn by 1900.

Photo courtesy of Dickinson Cattle Co. Inc. www.texaslonghorn.com
Fortunately, beginning in 1927, the Texas Longhorn was preserved by the United States Government on wildlife refuges in Oklahoma and Nebraska. Also, a few southwestern cattlemen, convinced of the Longhorn's value as a genetic link and concerned for their preservation, maintained small herds through the years. The Texas Longhorn has been perpetuated further by members of the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, which was formed in 1964. Thus, the Texas Longhorn was rescued from extinction. It was unfortunate for today's beef industry, however, that most of the continuing interest in the Texas Longhorn was in its historic and academic aspects. The Longhorn's genetic prospects and economic potential were almost completely overlooked for many years.

The longhorn now appears headed along another important new trail. Lean, natural meat, offering more nutrition per calorie, is in demand, and the longhorn fills the bill. Those who have tasted longhorn beef pronounce it tender and full of flavour.

But changes in the U.S. food chain don't happen overnight. It requires 107,000 cattle every day to supply our taste for beef, and longhorns number only about 100,000. Though it will be a while before we can ask for "longhorn lean" at supermarkets, the outlook is optimistic that its singular attributes will help strengthen other breeds and thus revitalise the industry.


The most spectacularly coloured of all cattle, with shadings and combinations so varied that no two are alike, they reach maximum weight in eight or ten years and range from 800 to 1500 pounds. Although slow to mature, their reproductive period is twice as long as that of other breeds. Most longhorn cows and bulls have horns of four feet or less. However, mature steers have an average span of six feet or more and a 15-year-old's horn span reach up to nine feet.

It does not take eight to ten years for Texas Longhorns to reach their maximum weight and they are by no means slow to mature. Texas Longhorn heifers have been known to conceive while still nursing their mother and produce a living calf without assistance before they are even 16 months old. This is not slow maturity.

Photo courtesy of Dickinson Cattle Co. Inc. www.texaslonghorn.com
Longhorns have a natural resistance to the most common cattle diseases and parasites, including the worst enemy of range cattle, the screw worm. Soon after a calf is born, blow flies deposit eggs in its navel, and under the cow's tail. The cows instantly lick the worms off the calf and themselves. If the worms infest some part of a longhorn's body that it can't reach, it will stand for hours in deep water, drowning them.

Texas Longhorn cattle eat a wider range of grasses, plants, and weeds than do most other cattle. Texas Longhorn owners are able to use pastures that require less fertilizer and weed killers than owners of other breeds of cattle.

The Texas Longhorn produces a very lean beef (more meat less fat per ounce). Studies at major universities have shown that Texas Longhorn beef is significantly lower in cholesterol than other breeds of beef cattle. A Texas Longhorn's, who was raised on grass without chemicals or supplements, meat is lower in cholesterol than a skinless chicken breast. The Texas Longhorn owner can feel good knowing he is producing a heart healthy product for consumption. Their Meat is very tasty and a pretty bright red colour.

The Texas Longhorn is the living symbol of the Old West.


  • Lean Meat - The breed produces naturally less fat and lower cholesterol for today’s health conscious public.
  • Longevity - Texas Longhorns breed well into their teens. More live calves over the years mean more dollars.
  • Browse Utilisation - Less supplemental feed is needed because the cattle take advantage of the forage available.
  • Disease/Parasite Resistance - A natural immunity developed over the centuries means fewer veterinarian bills and less maintenance for todays cowman.
  • Reproductive Efficiency - Large pelvic openings and low birth weights result in live calves. Busy cattlemen can say “goodbye” to sleepless nights.
  • Docility - Longhorn cattle are intelligent, easy to work and to handle.
  • Adaptability - The breed thrives in climates from the hot, damp coastal regions to the harsh winters of Canada.
  • Hybrid Vigour - Heritable quality enhances your present breed and gives you a new genetic pool.
  • No two Texas Longhorns are alike. They all differ in colour pattern, size, horn length, and personality.
  • Tradition and Nostalgia - The Texas Longhorn is the living symbol of the Old West. Wherever the western influence is desired-front pasture, cattle drive, or tourist attraction-you’ll find a demand for this magnificent breed.
  • Horns and Hide - The Texas Longhorn is worth money even after it has outlived its usefulness as a beef producer. Top dollars are paid for the horns, skulls, and mounts that are used in the popular Southwestern decor of businesses and homes.
  • Pure Pleasure - Intelligent and easy to work with, the Texas Longhorn is easily trained to exhibit in the show ring, lead or drive in parades, pull wagons, and yes, even to ride!


Texas Longhorns are becoming fairly popular and are mainly distributed across America and Canada although some Texas Longhorn exports are gaining pace.

References (the above information was cited from the following sites)

They're Back! A History of Texas Longhorn Cattle

Spanish explorers are given credit for bringing the first long-horned cattle to the New World. Columbus, in 1493, brought them to Santo Domingo. A few years later Cortez stocked Longhorn cattle on his holdings in Mexico, naming that grand estate Cuerno Vaca, "Horn Cow."

In 1540, Coronado took a cumbersome number of sheep, goats, hogs, and at least 500 head of Spanish cattle as food for his expedition to find the Seven Cities of Cibola. Some of those Longhorns were abandoned along the way, left to run wild and twenty-five years later, they numbered in the thousands, available to anyone able to catch them.

Other breeds took the long sea voyage to North America but would not survive their new surroundings. Eventually, in Virginia during the early 1600's, British colonists managed to maintain a breed of English bovines that would later be known as Native American cattle. But it was to be Spanish animals from the Andalusian Mountains of southwestern Spain that would eventually influence the history of the North American continent and become the cornerstone of America's legendary cattle, the Texas Longhorn.

By 1783, 1,400,000 hides were shipped to Europe from Buenos Aires alone. Some Mexican ranchers were known to be branding as many as 30,000 calves yearly. This New World breed of Spanish Cattle became known as Criollo, or "cattle of the country".

During the next 300 years the Criollo, ancestors of the Texas Longhorn were bought, sold, stolen and fought over. Some were selectively bred, while at the same time thousands were surviving very well on their own. In the 1800's, Longhorn cattle were plentiful across the western face of America. Feeding the growing population of gold seekers caused the price of Longhorn beef to soar from $1.50 to as high as $30.00 per head in the region of San Francisco. 1,000 head of Longhorn cattle were taken to southern Alberta, Canada in 1876, which multiplied to nearly 40,000 head in the next 8 years.

Longhorn cattle have made it through freezing weather, floods and droughts, Indian raids, the Civil War, and tough conditions through which no other cattle could have survived. Most ran free, requiring no one to care for them. Rugged, hearty, and unharmed by many of the diseases affecting other breeds, the Longhorn relied then as now on intuitive cunning, endurance, strength and their long horns to protect themselves and their young.

Whether raised by ranchers or rounded up from the wild, Longhorns were eventually taken north in phenomenal cattle drives. According to history and present day authorities, it was the Longhorn that was responsible for opening the Dodge City, Kansas cattle market. Buyers from New York to Wyoming arrived early just to watch the magnificent long horned cattle being driven into the stockyards.

Author J. Frank Dobie's fascination with the Longhorn led to intense research on the subject and subsequently an excellent book, The Longhorns , which details the history of this exceptional breed of cattle. Dobie writes, 'After 1888 the north-flowing stream of Longhorns became a dribble. By 1895, the trails out of Texas were all fenced across or plowed under. Ten million cattle, it had been authoritatively estimated, were driven over them between 1866 and 1890.'

By the 1920s, Longhorn cattle had become a rare sight. Six ranching families preserved and bred pure Texas Longhorn stock. They were the Wright, Yates, Butler, Marks, Peeler, and Phillips families. Each for many years raised stock completely unrelated to the other herds. Their efforts planned or otherwise, were the vital factor that prevented the breed from extinction. In 1927, to insure their preservation, a government herd was established at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Cache, Oklahoma. All of today's Longhorn breeders are raising direct decedents of animals collected and protected by these seven entities.

But even in the mid-twentieth century the plight of Longhorn cattle was precarious. The 1959 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica states, '. longhorn cattle once numerous on the western ranges of the United States. brought to America by Spaniards are now practically extinct.'

For over 500 years, Longhorn cattle made important contributions to the history of this continent: feeding explorers, pioneers, Indians, and Armies. As a beast of burden they pulled more conestogas westward than any breed. They created historic wealth, health and now a modern industry that is thriving again. Having survived the threat of extinction, Longhorn cattle are once more increasing in numbers, popularity and profitability. Known for their naturally lean meat, Longhorn beef is sought after for its healthy properties. Colorful hides and long-horned skulls have become popular and valuable decorative items. Riding steers and trophy animals attract attention because of their gentleness, colorful coats and enormous horns.

In 2007 at the prestigious Texas Longhorn Legacy Sale, select cows with over 70 inches of horn tip to tip, grossed over $2,000,000 in 113 premium lots. When the gavel came down on the highest selling animal, the final bid was $82,000. In 2006, one cow sold for a record breaking $100,000. She held that honor only a few minutes before being outdone by a cow selling for $150,000.

Somewhere in time, the name Texas Longhorn was used to describe these unique Spanish cattle and it became their official name. Across the Americas, Canada, Mexico, and parts of Europe, Texas Longhorn cattle are being bred and raised. Ranchers are eager to maintain the heritage, lean beef quality and legacy of this truly incredible animal.

To wrap up this history lesson, it seems appropriate to quote Dobie again. In his introduction to The Longhorns , he states, 'The Texas Longhorn made more history than any other breed of cattle the civilized world has known. . he will remain the bedrock on which the history of the cow country of America is founded.'

Longhorn Cattle - History

© David M. Hillis, Double Helix Ranch
Professor of Integrative Biology
University of Texas at Austin

L Brilliant Mary (a Texas Longhorn cow) with a newborn calf

I have listed some of the questions that I'm frequently asked about Texas Longhorn cattle here, along with my responses. If your question about Texas Longhorn cattle isn't answered here, please send me an e-mail, and I'll either answer you myself or find someone who can.

You also might want to look on my Links page for links to other web sites about Texas Longhorns, as well to web pages for other Texas Longhorn ranches and cattle sites.

What is the origin of Texas Longhorns?

Unlike most breeds of cattle, no one set out to develop Texas Longhorn cattle as a breed. Instead, they evolved in North America from descendants of cattle brought into the Americas by the Spanish in the late 1400s and early 1500s (the first cattle were brought into Hispaniola in 1493). However, the cattle did not descend directly from Spanish stock. Rather, the first cattle to be imported by the early Spanish explorers were from the Canary Islands. These cattle, in turn, were imported from Portugal, and the closest relatives of Texas Longhorns among existing European breeds are Portuguese cattle breeds (such as the Alentejana and Mertolenga). These early imports of Iberian cattle from the Canary Islands soon became feral in northern Mexico (which included lands that became the Republic of Texas in 1836, and part of the United States in 1845). These wild herds underwent intense natural selection the only cattle that could survive were highly disease resistant, could live on harsh range conditions (through droughts, floods, heat, and cold), and could defend themselves and their calves against predators.

In the early 1800s, wild longhorned cattle were found throughout much of Texas. During the California Gold Rush of the late 1840s and early 1850s, there was great demand for cattle in California, and cattle began to be driven from Texas by the tens of thousands to meet the demand. This practice was interrupted by the U.S. Civil War, as well as the end of the California gold rush. Texans who returned to Texas after the Civil War had few sources of income, but there were lots of wild cattle in Texas, and few cattle were left in the eastern United States. Texans began to round the cattle up and drive them up to the rail heads in Kansas, where they were shipped to the east coast cities to satisfy a growing demand for beef. Many famous cattle trails were established, such as the Chisholm Trail and the Goodnight-Loving Trail, and many millions of cattle (then called "Texas cattle") were driven up these trails for shipment east.

During the late 1800s, large ranches began to be established in Texas. Fences were built, cattle were captured and contained, and the days of free-ranging cattle came to an end. Although these ranches originally kept Texas Longhorns, most soon turned to importing "improved" European breeds of cattle. The European breeds produced much more fat than did Texas Longhorns, and tallow was the primary driving force behind cattle prices at the time. However, several ranchers kept herds of the original Texas cattle, either for nostalgia or because they appreciated the abilities and qualities of these cattle. By the 1920s, the longhorned cattle were rare enough that the United States government paid to assemble a herd of Texas cattle at the Wichita Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma, to preserve them from extinction. About a half-dozen private herds were also maintained through (or started in) the first half of the 1900s, and most modern Texas Longhorns can be traced back to these seven "families"of longhorns (the Wichita Refuge, Butler, Marks, Peeler, Phillips, Wright, and Yates lines).

In 1964, the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America (TLBAA) was founded, and a registration process was established. Thus, Texas Longhorns became a registered breed. Today, Texas Longhorns are bred and valued for many different reasons. Their naturally lean meat is now considered an advantage, and the ability of Texas Longhorns to thrive on natural range conditions (without the use of antibiotics, added hormones, or the use of feedlots) makes them a favorite for the lean beef, range-fed beef, and organic beef markets. They are also widely raised for their beautiful colors and horns, and by people who appreciate the history and qualities of the breed. Texas Longhorn bulls are often used as service sires on other breeds of cattle, because the crosses produce fewer birthing difficulties and calves that grow quickly and have few health problems. At the Double Helix Ranch, we were attracted to Texas Longhorns because of their high genetic diversity and associated high fitness, in addition to their historical interest and their beauty. Traits that stand out in Texas Longhorns are their natural disease resistance, great longevity, high reproductive rate, ease in birthing, ability to thrive under harsh range conditions, and an ability to defend themselves against predators. We have never lost a single Texas Longhorn calf to disease or predation, and they thrive without extensive care or supplemental feeding.

For more detailed information on the history of Texas Longhorn cattle, I recommend T. J. Barragy's excellent book, Gathering Texas Gold, in addition to J. Frank Dobie's classic book, The Longhorns. See also Alan Hoyt's eleven-part series on the History of the Texas Longhorns (originally published in the Texas Longhorn Journal).

Are Texas Longhorns difficult to control, and can they be dangerous?

Most modern Texas Longhorns are gentle cattle and are among the easiest of breeds to handle and control. Their gentle disposition and striking looks make them favorites as riding steers, and their general health and adaptability make them ideal for weekend ranchers. Texas Longhorns that interact regularly with people are easy to handle as with any breed, however, cattle that rarely see humans can grow wild and wary.

Of course, caution is required among Texas Longhorns because of the long horns. Although our cattle have never attacked or harmed a human on purpose, they can and do use their horns to manipulate objects and to scratch their bodies, so reasonable care should be exercised around the cattle to avoid accidental contact with the horns. Texas Longhorns will also defend their calves against dogs, so we are careful to keep our dogs at a safe distance from the herd.

What kind of fences do I need to keep Texas Longhorns?

Any fence that will hold other breeds of cattle is sufficient for Texas Longhorns. We prefer to use barbed wire fences, because they have proven to be the most dependable for us, and the maintenance costs are low. However, many breeders use simple one or two-strand electric fences with great success, and of course plank, pipe, and wire mesh fences are more than adequate. We avoid electric fences because they can be difficult to maintain over long distances and because they are subject to grounding problems (usually created by deer crossing) and loss from lightning strikes in our part of the country. However, if they can be closely monitored and maintained, electric fences are effective at controlling Texas Longhorns. If you have fences that are keeping other cattle or stock in or out of your property, then they should be adequate to contain most Texas Longhorns.

As with any breed of cattle, a few individual bulls will not respect fences, and will either jump over or go through them. We have had more trouble keeping our neighbors' bulls (of other breeds) out of our pastures, however, than we have had keeping our Texas Longhorn bulls in. We once had a bull that was a fence jumper, and so we culled him. We now select bulls in part for their disposition, and we rarely have any trouble with our bulls crossing our fences.

Do Texas Longhorns require much veterinary care?

No. Texas Longhorns have minimal health problems. You should follow the standard vaccination program for cattle in your part of the country provide reasonably good pasture or hay, adequate minerals as needed for your area, and a source of clean drinking water and follow a regular program of parasite control as recommended by your vet. If hay or pasture quality is poor, you may need to supplement their diet on a seasonal basis. If Longhorns are getting sufficient nutrition (including minerals), and have been vaccinated as recommended by your vet, health problems are quite rare.

Do Texas Longhorns have many birthing problems?

No. We have never had birthing problems with any Texas Longhorn calf, and birthing problems are virtually nonexistent in the breed. This is one reason why many commercial cattlemen use Texas Longhorn bulls as service sires with cows of many of the European breeds. The resultant calves are born without difficulty, and crossbred cattle typically gain weight very quickly.

What are the markets for Texas Longhorns?

1. Breeding stock (private treaty sales and dedicated auctions)
2. Bulls for service sires
3. Steers for riding and western nostalgia
4. Stock for rodeos (ropers)
5. Cattle for organic meat, lean beef, and range-fed beef sales (as appropriate for the individual breeding program)
6. Cattle for the mainstream beef market (easy to sell at local sales barns, but typically the lowest price)

How quickly do the horns of Texas Longhorns grow? How do they grow?

In an article published in Texas Longhorn Journal in December 1999, Malcolm Goodman suggested that Texas Longhorn bulls reach about 50% of their eventual tip-to-tip horn measurement at about one year of age (on average). By four years of age, they have reached approximately 95% of their maximum length. The horns of the average Texas Longhorn cow reach 50% of their eventual tip-to-tip measurement a little later, at about 15 months of age, and they reach 95% between five and six years of age. They continue to grow, but usually slow down considerably with age. These are just averages, of course, and there is a great deal of variation depending on the shape of the horns. The horns of steers continue to grow at a reasonable rate throughout life, because the low levels of testosterone in steers allow the growth plate of the inner bony core to remain unossified.

Horns grow from the base, not the tips, and "growth rings" can be seen near the base of the horns of older cows. Cows produce a new ring in association with each calf they produce, although these growth rings can get quite close together on older animals. Horns consist of a bony core, surrounded by flesh and blood, and then an outer layer of keratin. On many animals (especially animals with light-colored, rapidly growing horns) one can see the reddish color from the blood supply beneath the keratin layer, particularly near the growing base.

What are the widest horns of Texas Longhorn cows, bulls, and steers on record?

This is a hard question to answer, because many claims have been made over the years that are difficult to verify. In addition, there are at least two common ways to measure horns. The tip-to-tip measurement is the easiest to reproduce: it is simply the straight-line measure from one horn tip to the other. The "total horn" or poll measurement attempts to measure the horns along their curve, to get a measure of the total length of the horns. This measurement is much harder to replicate accurately, but it is a better reflection of the total horn length. The tip-to-tip measurement assigns longer values to straight, lateral horns than to upwardly curving horns of the same total length.

Given the difficulties of comparing measurements made by different people, the best answer I can give to this question is to point to the annual Horn Showcase competition conducted by the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America. This competition obviously does not include all the living Texas Longhorns, but owners of the longest-horned animals tend to be very proud of their cattle, and so the winners are at least among the longest-horned Texas Longhorns. Although there are some anecdotes of even longer-horned steers in the distant past, recent selection for very long horns means that the Texas Longhorns that are alive today are probably among the longest-horned animals that have ever been a part of the breed.

At the 2006 Horn Showcase:
1. The Texas Longhorn cow with the widest horns (tip-to-tip measurement) was Day's Feisty Fannie, at 82"
2. The Texas Longhorn cow with the widest horns (total horn measurement) was
Sunrise Hope, at 97 3/8"
3. The Texas Longhorn bull with the widest horns (tip-to-tip measurement) was Superbowl, at 76"
4. The Texas Longhorn bull with the widest horns (total horn measurement) was Wyoming Warpaint, at 96 1/4"
5. The Texas Longhorn steer with the widest horns (tip-to-tip measurement) was Watson 101, at 101"
6. The Texas Longhorn steer with the widest horns (total horn measurement) was Gilbralter at 126 1/2"

What are the branding requirements for registered Texas Longhorns?

Registered Texas Longhorns must be branded with a holding brand (the brand of the individual ranch or owner) as well as by a unique private herd number. Branding can be done with either fire brands or freeze brands. Brand designs should be registered with both the breed association and your state, county, or province of residence (according to local brand registration regulations). In Texas, cattle brands must be registered in each county where a ranch has operations. Registration is made at the County Courthouse (and renewed once a decade).

Where can Texas Longhorns be raised? Do they require a hot, dry climate?

Texas Longhorns are raised throughout North America, as well as in a few European countries and in Australia. They thrive in both hot and cold climates, and everything in between. There are highly successful Texas Longhorn breeders all over North America, in every place where cattle are raised. They thrive where other breeds have difficulty living, but they don't require a hot, dry climate. They also thrive in Canada, in the Pacific northwest, on the northern Plains, in the northeast, and in the southeastern states.

What do Texas Longhorns eat?

Like all cattle, Texas Longhorns eat mostly grass and forbes. However, Texas Longhorns graze (and browse) on a wider variety of plants than do most cattle. By utilizing a wider variety of plants, they do less damage to rangeland (since they don't just target a few favorite species), and they can thrive under a wider variety of conditions.

Can Texas Longhorns be kept safely with horses?

We keep our horses in a pasture with Texas Longhorns, as do many other breeders, and have not experienced any problems. Pasturing cattle and horses together is often recommended to maintain pasture quality and reduce parasite loads of both cattle and horses (since the internal parasites of cattle cannot survive in horses, and vice versa).

Decoding the genetic history of the Texas longhorn

Texas Longhorn cattle have a hybrid global ancestry, according to a study by University of Texas at Austin researchers published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study of the genome of the Longhorn and related breeds tells a fascinating global history of human and cattle migration. It traces back through Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the New World, the Moorish invasion of Spain and the ancient domestication of the aurochs in the Middle East and India.

“It’s a real Texas story, an American story,” said Emily Jane McTavish, a doctoral student in the lab of biology professor David Hillis. “For a long time people thought these New World cattle were domesticated from a pure European lineage. But it turns out they have a more complex, more hybrid, more global ancestry, and there’s evidence that this genetic diversity is partially responsible for their greater resilience to harsh climatic conditions.”

To reconstruct the genetic history of Texas Longhorns, McTavish, Hillis and colleagues from the University of Missouri-Columbia analyzed almost 50,000 genetic markers from 58 cattle breeds. The most comprehensive such analysis to date, it was funded in part by the Cattlemen’s Texas Longhorn Conservancy, which helped the scientists get access to samples used by ranchers.

Among the findings was that the Texas Longhorn breed are direct descendants of the first cattle in the New World. The ancestral cattle were brought over by Columbus in 1493 to the island of Hispaniola. They traveled the rest of the way to the continent in 1521 on the ships of later Spanish colonists.

Over the next two centuries the Spanish moved the cattle north, arriving in the area that would become Texas near the end of the 17th century. The cattle escaped or were turned loose on the open range, where they remained mostly wild for the next two centuries.

“It was known on some level that Longhorns are descendants from cattle brought over by early Spanish settlers,” said Hillis, the Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor in the College of Natural Sciences, “but they look so different from the cattle you see in Spain and Portugal today. So there was speculation that there had been interbreeding with later imports from Europe. But their genetic signature is co mpletely consistent with being direct descendants of the cattle Columbus brought over.”

The study reveals that being a “pure” descendant of cattle from the Iberian peninsula indicates a more complicated ancestry than was understood. Approximately 85 percent of the Longhorn genome is “taurine,” descended from the ancient domestication of the wild aurochs that occurred in the Middle East 8,000-10,000 years ago. As a result, Longhorns look similar to purer taurine breeds such as Holstein, Hereford and Angus, which came to Europe from the Middle East.

The other 15 percent of the genome is “indicine,” from the other ancient domestication of the aurochs, in India. These indicine cattle, which often have a characteristic hump at the back of the neck, spread into Africa and from there up to the Iberian peninsula.

“It’s consistent with the Moorish invasions from the 8th to the 13th centuries,” said Hillis. “The Moors brought cattle with them, and brought these African genes, and of course the European cattle were there as well. All those influences come together in the cattle of the Iberian peninsula, which were used to stock the Canary Islands, which is where Columbus stopped and picked up cattle on his second voyage and brought them to the New World.”

Once in the New World, most of the cattle eventually went feral. Under the pressures of natural selection they were able to re-evolve ancient survival traits that had been artificially bred out of their European ancestors. Selection for longer horns allowed them to defend against wild predators. They became leaner and more able to survive heat and drought.

“The Longhorns that were in the area when Anglo settlers arrived almost looked more like the ancestral aurochsen than like modern cattle breeds,” said McTavish. “Living wild on the range, they had to become very self sufficient. Having that genetic reservoir from those wild ancestors made it possible for a lot of those traits to be selected for once again.”

McTavish said it’s possible the indicine heritage in particular helped, because the climate in India and Africa tended to be hotter and drier than in Europe.

The Longhorns remained wild on the range, or very loosely managed, until after the Civil War, when Texans rounded up the wild herds and began supplying beef to the rest of the country. Since then the fortunes of the Longhorns have waxed and waned depending on how their unique genetic profile intersects with the changing needs of American consumers.

“The Longhorns almost went extinct starting in the late 19th century,” said Hillis. “A lot of the value of cattle at that time had to do with the fat they had, because the primary lighting source people had was candles, made of tallow, and Texas Longhorns have very low fat content. Ranchers began fencing off the range and importing breeds from Europe that had higher fat content. That’s when Americans began developing their taste for fatty beef, so then the other cattle became valuable in that respect as well. The only reason the Longhorns didn’t go extinct was because half a dozen or so ranchers kept herds going even though they knew that these other breeds were more valuable in some sense. They appreciated that the Longhorns were hardier, more self-sufficient.”

Hillis, who raises Longhorns of his own out at the Double Helix Ranch, said that the winds of history now seem to be blowing in the Longhorns’ direction. They can survive in hotter, drier climates, which will become increasingly important as the world warms. They provide lean and grass-fed beef, which is seen as healthier by many consumers. And their genes may prove valuable to ranchers, who can use the increasingly sophisticated genetic information to selectively breed the Longhorns’ toughness into other breeds of cattle.

“It’s another chapter in the story of a breed that is part of the history of Texas,” he said.


Breed Color: Speckled hides of various colors but most commonly a golden brown Speckled hides of various colors but most commonly a golden brown
Breed Weight: 272 to 545 kgs 272 to 545 kgs
Breed Height: Unclear Unclear
Horns: Long lyre-shaped horns Long lyre-shaped horns
Temperament: Docile, active and intelligent Docile, active and intelligent. All bulls should be handled with extreme care and caution.
Matures at age: 6 to 8 months or 9 + months 6 to 8 months or 9 + months
Puberty Age: 6 to 15 months 9 to 1o months
Breeding Age: 13 to 15 months 1 year
Breeding Traits: See Cow breeding & Milking Info Cover 25 to 30 Cows in 1 season

The Wild History of the Texas Longhorn

What a difference a century makes. Today Texas longhorns are celebrated as living flags, rugged icons of the American Southwest. But a little more than 100 years ago, the big beasts had an image problem.

During the era of open ranges and extended cattle drives, longhorns thrived. Yet as industrialization took hold, they fell out of favor. With extinction looming, the breed was saved at the eleventh hour by organized conservation efforts — and a burst of Old West nostalgia.

Colonial Cattle

A 2013 genetic analysis found that Texas longhorns are descended from ancient lineages of both Middle Eastern and Indian cattle. Those two groups eventually came into contact in north Africa, resulting in hybrids who made their way to southwestern Europe.

Enter Christopher Columbus. On his transatlantic journey in 1493, the explorer took along several mixed-lineage bulls and cows acquired from the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco. With these animals, Columbus introduced domestic bovines to the Caribbean — and by extension, the New World.

Other Spanish travelers arrived in the region with cattle from the same general stock. In 1521, the beasts spread into mainland Mexico. And as Spaniards colonized present-day Colombia, Venezuela and Texas, their livestock tagged along.

It didn't take long for Texan cattle to start going native. The San Francisco de los Tejas Mission established one of the area's first domestic herds in 1690. By 1710, what we now know as eastern Texas — where the mission resided — was teeming with feral cattle.

Survival of the Fittest

Wild cows and bulls in those days would've faced many of the same challenges as their ranch-reared counterparts. The area that is now Texas was full of predators, droughts were common and some native plants were poor in nutrients. Natural selection favored long-horned animals (of both sexes) because they had an easier time fending off wolves and coyotes. Likewise, lean cattle with a tolerance for extreme temperatures were more likely to survive in this harsh environment.

Early in the 19th century, a fresh wave of immigrants diversified the gene pool. At the invitation of Spain and Mexico, thousands of Anglo-American settlers came to the area. The transplants were accompanied by herds of cattle descended from northern European breeds.

As these bovine latecomers mingled with the wilderness-hardened natives, an all-new breed emerged. Originally called the "Spanish cattle," "mustang cattle," or simply the "wild cattle," it came to be known as the "Texas longhorn" after the American Civil War.

No matter what you call them, full-grown Texas longhorns are intimidating animals. On neutered bulls, or "steers," the eponymous horns often measure 7 feet (2.1 meters) across from tip to tip. The Guinness World Record-holder is a steer named Pancho Via who currently resides in Alabama. From end to end, his super-sized horns are a jaw-dropping 10 feet, 7.4 inches (3.2 meters) across!

Changing Priorities

Such weaponry presents logistical challenges. Jean Norman, the owner of Our Heritage Guest Ranch in Sioux County, Nebraska is an experienced rancher. She and her family have kept longhorns for many years. Norman recalls that one heifer her late father purchased was quite the escape artist.

"Her horns arched and curled forward," she says in an email. Using these, the animal plucked staples from a number of fenceposts, "thus freeing the barbed wire." Occasionally, the offending cow would join forces with other longhorns to create sizable holes in the fencing.

Barbed wire fences almost doomed the breed. There was huge demand for western cattle after the Civil War. Back then, most ranchers west of the Mississippi allowed their animals to graze freely instead of fencing them in.

Self-reliant Texas longhorns didn't need much supervision and they could subsist on all kinds of wild plants. So the breed was a good fit for this "open range" approach to ranching. Furthermore, lengthy cattle drives over vast distances became a common sight by the 1850s. Longhorns had the physical stamina to survive the treks.

But the spread of railroads made prolonged cattle drives obsolete. At the same time, the popularization of barbed wire fences in the 1880s basically killed the open range era. Cowmen were now expected to confine their animals with sturdy fencing.

Texas longhorns had a reputation for being standoffish. It was an attitude that served them well out in the wilderness, but enclosed ranches created a demand for more docile breeds — and fattier ones to boot. Another strike against the longhorn was a national panic about Texas Fever, a historic disease linked to cattle from the Lone Star State.

An American Comeback Story

At the dawn of the 20th century, it looked like the breed's days were numbered. And then a funny thing happened. With the longhorn population plummeting, romantics started to eulogize the animals. They were compared to the American bison, another victim of modernization and railroad expansion. Songs like "The Last Longhorn" used the beasts to remind listeners of a — supposedly — simpler time when the West was considered wild.

The University of Texas further mythologized the breed in 1906, when the school's athletic teams became officially known as "the Longhorns." The current live mascot goes by the name Bevo XV.

Twenty-one years later, U.S. Forest Service Rangers scored federal funding to raise a (real) longhorn herd in Oklahoma's Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Combing the Southwest, the activists assembled 37 cattle. By 1929, the protected herd had expanded to 54 animals. Other herds were soon established in Texas state parks while private ranchers organized an ambitious breeding program.

By 1988, there were 125,000 registered Texas longhorns. Since then, this figure has risen to more than a quarter-million individuals. One thing that helped the breed stage its comeback was an emerging health food market in the 1980s, weight-conscious consumers developed an appetite for lean, low-fat meats — and longhorn beef fit the bill.

Even NASA got in on the action. Visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and you'll find some magnificent steers grazing within a few hundred yards of a Saturn V Rocket. Launched in 1996, the Johnson Space Center Longhorn Project has set aside 60 acres (24 hectares) of grassy land for dozens of the iconic cattle. Here, grade school students lend a hand in both raising top-quality animals and showcasing them at livestock conventions.

Rocketry and longhorns. It doesn't get more Texas than that.

President George W. Bush hosted two Texas longhorns at his presidential inaugurations: the University of Texas' live mascot Bevo XIII at his first inauguration and Bevo XIV at his second.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Donald E. Worcester, &ldquoLonghorn Cattle,&rdquo Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/longhorn-cattle.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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History of the Texas Longhorns Part Eight: Dodge City Citizens 'Welcomed' Longhorn Drives

As the railroads and quarantine laws steadily moved westward, they left in their wake towns that the Texas Longhorns had built and established into prosperous entities. But as the cattle trade left, these towns settled down to quiet farming communities, usually glad to get rid of the 'hell-raising' cowboys that had made them prosperous. Along with the reasons for westward movement previously mentioned, the annihilation of the buffalo was a major cause for the opening of the limitless grasslands in the West.

When the white man had first seen the Great Plains, it appeared to be one big pasture of buffalo that ranged from South Texas to Canada. Sometimes, herds hundreds of miles across covered the earth like a slowly-moving brown quilt. In spring, the buffalo moved northward across Kansas, close-cropping the grass as they went. Most cattlemen knew that where the buffalo had ranged, the pastures would be spoiled for two years.

Everyone except the Indian seemed to want to wipe out the buffalo, for one reason or another: the soldiers wanted destruction of the herds as a means to keep the Indian on the reservations the railroads, deeply hurting from the depression of the seventies, were glad to haul meat, hides and bones to eastern markets freighters and merchants loved the business that came from buffalo hunting.

The Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 gave the Indians the right to hunt buffalo in Kansas, but no white man could hunt south of the Arkansas River, which was then the southern boundary of Kansas. The Army never made any attempt to enforce the law, which highly upset the Indians.

In 1870, J. Wright Mooar asked the Commandant of Fort Dodge what might happen if he went hunting below the line. Officer Richard I. Dodge laughed and said, "Boys, if I were hunting buffalo, I would go where buffalo are."

Several efforts were made to save the buffalo, but they were turned down immediately. In 1872, the Kansas State Legislature passed an act to 'prevent the wanton destruction of buffalo,' but was countered with an executive pocket veto. Congress also tried in 1872 and 1874 to prevent 'useless slaughter of buffalo,' but were also vetoed. Meanwhile, the killing went on, setting the stage for the Texas Longhorn to take over the vast prairies being left vacated by the buffalo. During the heyday of the big hunts, one newspaper stated that a hunter from Dickinson County, Kansas, had killed as many as 658 buffalo in one winter. At seeing this, the editor of the Dodge City Times couldn't pass up the chance to prove the prowess of Ford County hunters: "Oh dear, what a mighty hunter! Ford County has twenty men who each have killed five times that many in one winter. The best record, however, is that of Tom Nixon, who killed 120 at one stand in forty minutes, and who, from the 15th of September to the 20th of October, killed 2,173 buffaloes. Come on with some more big hunters if you have any."

Finally, by 1877, Colonel Dodge wrote, "The buffalo is virtually exterminated. no legislation, however stringent or active, could now do anything for or against the trade of the 'buffalo products'." Colonel Dodge also believed that there was an Indian-dressed robe sent in for every five rawhides. In fact, during the years of 1872 to 1874, Dodge found a total of 1,215,000 buffalo killed by Indians compared to 3,158,730 killed by white men. In addition, because of fear that legislation would be passed to preserve the buffalo, the railroads conspired to keep secret the actual number of buffalo hides shipped over their lines. So with the buffalo exterminated and a majority of the warring Indian tribes 'loose-herded' on reservations, the Western United States was fair game for anyone wanting lush rangeland.

It is said that 'civilization follows the plow,' but if that is true in the western United States, then the plow followed the cowboys and the cowboys followed the Texas Longhorn steers. To understand the hardships endured by the Longhorns, along with their ability to endure just about anything, one must also understand the life of the American cowboy and the western cowtown. After all, it would be impossible, let alone unthinkable, to separate the cow from the cowboy in any historic narrative. Therefore, we will look at the hardships encountered by both the cattle and the men that drove them, along with the cowtown of all cowtowns----Dodge City.

Dodge City was different from the other cowtowns. It had been a boom town for buffalo hunters and bullwhackers for half a century. The men that followed the Santa Fe Trail were there. so were the soldiers from Fort Dodge. Everyone had a gun, in addition to excess of money and an abundance of liquor. The only thing on short supply in Dodge was women.

But from the first, the "citizens" of Dodge City were cattle-minded. As early as 1872, 19 year-old D.W. "Doc" Barton drove two thousand head of Longhorns to Dodge City. Because of Indian scares, he took a route through New Mexico and Colorado to the Arkansas River, following it downstream to Dodge City. At that time, there were no loading pens in Dodge, so he moved the herd on to Great Bend. It wasn't until 1875 that cattle started to be shipped out of Dodge on a regular basis. Then the town began working on her world-wide reputation as the Cowboy Capital. Many of the early citizens of Dodge were veterans of the other, earlier cowtowns: gamblers, gunfighters and prostitutes. Many of these were well-acquainted by the time they reached Dodge City, so they worked out a way of life that all could agree upon. As one historian said, "They knew how to raise hell and make it pay."

One summer day in 1876, a wagon train heading west came to Fort Dodge and camped on the prairie nearby. That evening, U.S. Army Surgeon, W.S. Tremaine and several other officers walked out to get the latest news from the travelers. They found the wagons deserted, with bullet holes and arrowheads stuck in their sides. Passing the wagons, they found the settlers kneeling with bowed heads, while their minister prayed: "Oh Lord, we pray Thee, protect us with Thy mighty hand. On our long journey, Thy Divine Providence has thus far kept us safe. We have survived cloudbursts, hailstorms, floods, strong gales, thirst and parching heat ----as well as raids of horse thieves and attacks by hostile Indians. But now, oh Lord, we face our gravest danger ---- Dodge City lies just ahead, and we must pass through it. Help us and save us, we beseech Thee. Amen."

This pretty well summed up the outsiders' view of Dodge City, also known as "The Deadwood of Kansas," "the rip-roaring burg of the West," "The Beautiful Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier," "Hell on the Plains." Dodge ---- a synonym for all that is wild, reckless and violent where was outfitted every expedition against Indians, horse thieves, outlaws where a saloon could be found for every fifty residents and where the only public buildings ever locked were the jail and the church.At first, Dodge had consisted of tents, small shacks and dugouts. Nearly everyone in town sold whiskey or opened a restaurant, but the town grew rapidly. A row of one-story frame buildings was built on both sides of the east-west railroad, forming the Plaza or Front Street. The nearest law was in Hays City, seventy-five miles away, with every imaginable danger between the two points.

Of course, not all of the residents or transients in Dodge were trigger-happy gunmen, gamblers, and "ladies of the evening." The majority of the citizens had come there to establish a new life and better themselves through farming, merchandising or ranching. But the public's imaginations was captured worldwide and forevermore by the American cowboys and the cattle they drove.

By the time Dodge City was established as a cowtown, the world's attention was on the massive cattle drives coming up from Texas and the Indian Territory. Most trail herds averaged twenty-five to thirty-five hundred and normally moved about 10 to 15 miles a day.

The Texas cattle didn't much resemble a 'modern' beef steer, which could never travel a thousand miles at that rate and gain weight at the same time anyway. Historian and author Stanley Vestal described the trailing Longhorns: "The Longhorn was wild, fierce, and sensitive, of mighty stamina, and muscled like a stag. There was nothing logy about him. He had narrow shoulders, a sharp backbone, tucked-up flanks, and a sway-back. There was more horn, hoof and bone to him, though he could get rolling fat. Most cattle get up slowly, hind end first, but the Longhorn ---- like the buffalo ---- seemed to spring up all at once, like a jack-in-the-box. He had a long tail, long legs, and was built to travel."

Buyers and owners reached Dodge well in advance of the herds. As soon as the brakeman on the slowing train shouted out "Dodge City," buyers from Wyoming to New York hurried across Front Street to either the Dodge House or the Alamo, where they immediately registered, then began talking about nothing but Longhorn steers, brands, cattle markets back East, cocktails and toddies.

The herds had started north as soon as the grass was high enough to feed them. Depending on their point of debarkation, they would reach Dodge City after 30 to 100 days on the trail.

For ten years, Dodge City was not only a cattle shipping point, but the greatest cattle market in the world. Many of the herds driven north to Dodge went straight on to Wyoming, Colorado, the Dakotas, Montana, and various Indian Agencies throughout the West.

Of 164 droves coming up the trail in 1880, 33 were herds of breeder cattle headed for the northern and western ranges. By the end of August 1880, 287,000 head of Longhorn had reached Dodge. In 1881, of 153,000 expected, over 100,000 had arrived by June 12. In the second half of that year, 100 railroad trains, made up of around 3,000 cars, each with a capacity of 20 head, carried 60,000 cattle out of Dodge.

In 1885, the last big year of the cattle trade, forecasts started to be made about the size of the Texas drive for the following season before the winter had even ended. Invitations were sent south to attract the cattlemen, and Dodge merchants got together to reduce prices on items in which the cowboys were interested.

While all of this was being advertised in Texas and the Indian Territory, Dodge went on it's annual cleanup campaign painting stores, replacing boards in the sidewalks (if they could be called that), and stocking up on supplies of every imaginable item. Cattle usually began to arrive around April and by May, a steady flow of Texas cattle and cowboys were blanketing the surrounding grasslands and the saloons (and even churches) of Dodge. By the middle of July, usually about 70 percent of the year's drive had been bought and sold.

But cattle would keep trickling in until mid-September, while cowboys who had been hired to drive "breeder herds" on to the north and west would be stopping back by to visit Dodge as late as October. So Dodge merchants found themselves catering to eastern buyers and speculators, northern ranchers, Texas cattlemen and drovers, and the ever-present shrill whistle of the locomotives about ten months out of the year. During the peak season, one thousand to two thousand cowboys would be found in and around Dodge. Many of these men would be busy branding, cutting out, and holding cattle for more fattening consequently, they might hang around Dodge for several months at a time.

Since these drovers received six month's to a year's pay as soon as the cattle were shipped out or sold, many of them worked off the boredom and hazards of the trail with liberal amounts of liquor, gambling, dancing with the saloon girls, or just plain having fun. The editor of the Dodge City Times, of course not knowing what these men had been through coming up the trail, wrote about the gun-toting Texas cowboy: "A gay and festive Texas boy, like all true sons of the Lone Star State, loves to fondle and practice with his revolver in the open air. It pleases his ear to hear the sound of this deadly weapon. Aside from the general pleasure he derives from shooting, the Texas boy makes shooting inside the corporate limits of any town or city a specialty. He loves to see the inhabitants rushing wildly around to 'see what all the shooting is all about,' and it tickles his heart to the very core to see the City Marshal coming towards him at a distance while he is safe and securely mounted."

"The program of the Texas lot then, is to come to town to bum around until he gets disgusted with himself, then to mount his pony and ride out through the main street, shooting his revolver at every jump. Not shooting to hurt anyone, but shooting in the air, just to raise a little excitement and let people know he is in town."

But the people of Dodge City seemed to put up with the minor hellraising by the cowboys, and even tried to protect them from gambling thieves, as is shown in this article from the Ford County Globe: "We believe that what is known as 'square games' are among the necessary belongings of any town that has the cattle trade. We don't believe there are a dozen people in Dodge who seriously object to this kind of gambling so long as this is a cattle town, but we appeal to our city officers 'to set down on' all showcase and other bare-faced robbing concerns. Keep them away from our town. They create more bad blood among both cattlemen and citizens than anything else. They are no good to any class of people in the community and they are even despised by gamblers themselves."

The common picture painted by television and Hollywood of the trail-drivin' cowboy has always been one of total independence, ruthlessness, rowdiness, drunkenness and extreme bravery, along with the willingness to shoot anybody down that got in his way or looked at him wrong.

A very few were that bad, but the majority of these men possessed qualities known primarily to mountain men, pioneers, and trailblazers. Their unflagging loyalty to their employer, to the point of dying to save the herd during Indian raids and floods, endeared him to all adventurous persons. Although the cowboy usually had little formal education, his "horse sense" more than made up for that. Like the tough Texas Longhorns he drove, he had found it most necessary to adapt to a wild and rough life, where danger could threaten his existence at any moment.

After being on the trail for months, then getting paid in Dodge City, the majority of these tough men (and the 15 to 18-year-olds which quickly became men) bought new duds, ammunition, possibly a new gun, and then got drunk until their money ran out or they had had enough of the high times of the wildest cowtown in the West. But these men, like the Longhorns, had adapted to the treacherous life of the Old West or they died trying.

James H. Cook, cowboy, plainsman, and author, described the role of the cowboy and plainsman in the West: "I desire to record one fact regarding those who made a success as good 'cowhands' or plainsmen or mountaineers, and who really aided, by their various activities, in paving the way for settlement in the West. Such men had to be known as men of deeds, men of action. No person, as far as I know, has ever accused Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, 'Bigfoot' Wallace, Jim Bridger, or others of their type whose names will remain indelible in the history of the West, of being either loafers, dance-hall artists, or desperadoes.

"The majority of the cowboys of the West were not a drunken, gambling lot of toughs. It required riders with clear heads, brave hearts, and strong bodies to do the work which was required in handling either the great trail herds or the cattle on the ranges. A drunken man riding one of those great herds of wild cattle was a sight I never witnessed. One could as well imagine a man being allowed to smoke cigarettes in a powder factory. A large percentage of the men who lived the life of the open chose and followed that life because they loved it."

One cowboy named Burt Taylor described one instance in which alcohol and cattle didn't mix: "There was another ferry that ferried across the Arkansas River a short ways back from the mouth before it emptied into the Virdigris. This ferry was run by Mrs. Lake Brewer, a Cherokee woman. After crossing the river, the trail from the ferry to Kansas was known as the Baxter Springs Road. Mrs. Brewer would at times, when the river was high, ferry cattle across the river on the ferry boat."

"One winter after I'd taken over the ferry, the river froze over real thick it had begun to thaw and the ice was slipping. Jeff and Floyd Nevins went to Ft. Gibson and bought a bunch of jake came back to the ferry pretty drunk. They got about a third of the way across the river, but because of the noise they were making, all the cattle got in one end of the ferry. Once there, the end the cattle were on, sank, throwing the other end away up out of the water. All the cattle drowned except one brindle steer."

"There was one man on the ferry that could not swim, the others had to hold him on the upper end of the ferry to keep him from jumping into the river as he got scared and lost his common judgment. All the men aboard got soaking wet a skiff was taken out to get Jeff and Floyd, on the way back to the bank, the skiff run upon a large snag and sank."

This same cowboy told of his experiences of swimming cattle across rivers, and the problems involved. "When the river was low, it wasn't much problem getting the Longhorns across, but when the water was high, it was a mightily hard job. The way we handled them when the water was high was, we would start two or three of them into the water, and after they got to where they had to swim, we would pull up beside and get on their backs. We had a stick, and when the steers tried to turn back or go in the wrong direction, we would beat them on the side of the head and make them go straight, after we got the first few started, the others were easy to make follow. A lot of times when the water was real high, it would take us three weeks and longer to get them across. Quite often, we would start a large bunch across the river, lose control of them and they would come out anywhere from one to two miles down the river on the same side we started from. We would ride the steers' backs, jumping from one to the other, we had to leave the steer we would be riding before he got to the bank for if we rode them out onto the bank they would turn and charge us. They were surely the old long horned Texas steers."

While researching this series of articles I drove thousands of miles to sift through court records and newspaper articles, and talked with people who let me glance through crumbling pages of the diaries of their cattle-driving forefathers in search of interesting materials which told of the ways of life--and death-- of the frontier cattlemen and their Texas Longhorns. These stories could be summed up into the dry "high school history book" style, but I would much rather use them in their entirety so as to preserve the colorful narrative that expressed the spirit, stamina, and the close-knit relationships between cowboy and cow.

I would once again like to quote cattleman and author James H. Cook, whose narratives captured the spirit and dangers encountered by the drovers: "I think I can understand how men whose spirits are fired by patriotism in time of war will stand all sorts of privations and hardships, as well as the most intense suffering, such as was endured at Valley Forge, and at times during the War of the Rebellion but what spirit fired and sustained the boys who drove the trail herds during the times of which I write is more than I can explain. I remember hardly an instance, and I think there were actually very few if any, in which men proved themselves to be quitters. To hold onto the stock seemed to be the first consideration with all engaged in the work."

"There are rough spots in the lives of all who have lived in the open, whether the life be that of a soldier, sailor, or plainsman but I think the wild and woolly 'cow waddie' received about as many rough knocks as anybody living on the sunset side of the Mississippi."

"During the storms, the cattle and horses would stampede, and to stay with them, we had to ride as fast as a horse could run. Sometimes it would be so dark that a rider could not see his horse's head. Then a flash of lightning would come, and we could see the cattle tearing madly along and locate their position. The next moment one would again be blinded by the flash. Many were the hard falls the boys had to take when a horse went down while running after stampeded stock on those dark and stormy nights."

"Many were the poor old 'leather-breeches' who came dragging themselves into camp the morning after a bad night, either with broken bones or carrying their saddle on their backs, because their pony had fallen and broken his neck or a leg. And I know personally a few of the boys who were crushed to death and had to be left by the side of the trail to wait for the call of the great trumpeter, Gabriel, because of those terrible runs at night."

The Texas cowboy had to endure hardships greater than any other type of frontiersman. Hunters, trappers, and soldiers could usually find some shelter from storms, tornadoes, and Indians, but the drover had to brave the elements in order to stay with the herd. The real cowboy would stay with the herd come 'hell or high water' because he had to. Many unmarked graves lie along the great trails because drovers froze to death in the saddle, were trampled by cattle stampedes or attacked from ambush by Indians. Others met their demise in the cowtowns by gamblers very efficient with their six-shooters, who oftentimes just for sport, prodded the proud cowpuncher into a fight he had no chance of winning.

Author's note: In the last part, I mentioned some investigation being done into the possibility of 'long-horned cattle' existing on the North American continent as early as the fifth century A.D.. Scientists are constantly searching for archaeological evidence to find out what type of life was here first. Some of the newest stories concern a Chinese legend found in the Llang Dynasty, telling of a Buddhist monk who discovered a land he called Fusang, about 13,000 miles east of China. Some persons researching this legend say this would have put the ancient explorers somewhere near southern California. Similarities between the empire noted by the monk and the highly developed civilizations of the fifth century Yucatan's in present Mexico do exist, but according to Professor of Geology, Stephen C. Jett, of the University of California at Davis, there is no substantial evidence to indicate these 'long-horned cattle' were indeed cattle. The animals might have been found to substantiate any claim that true cattle existed in America until Columbus brought that first small group on his second voyage in 1493 -- and those were Spanish cattle.


Longhorn are a breed of cattle descended from cows and bulls left by early Spanish settlers in the American Southwest. They are named for their long horns, which span about four feet (over one meter). By the end of the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) these cattle had multiplied and great numbers of them roamed freely across the open range of the West. Americans found the beef of longhorns stringy and tough. But ranchers in Texas bred the longhorns with other cattle breeds such as Hereford and Angus to produce better quality meat. As beef was in demand in the eastern United States, shrewd businessmen capitalized on the business opportunity, buying cattle for three to five dollars a head and selling them in eastern and northern markets for as much as $25 to $60 a head. Ranchers hired cowboys to round up, sort out, and drive their herds to railheads in places like Abilene and Dodge City, Kansas, which became famous as "cow towns" (raucous boom towns where saloons and brothels proliferated.) After the long trail drive, the cattle were loaded onto rail cars and shipped live to local butchers who slaughtered the livestock and prepared the beef. For 20 years the plentiful longhorn cattle sustained a booming livestock industry in the West: at least six million Texas longhorns were driven across Oklahoma to the cow towns of Kansas. However, by 1890 the complexion of the industry changed. Farmers and ranchers in the West used a new material, barbed wire, to fence in their lands, closing the open range. Railroads were extended, bringing an end to the long, hard, and much glorified cattle drives the role of the cowboy changed, making him little more than a hired hand. Big business took over the industry. Among the entrepreneurs who capitalized on beef's place in the American diet was New England-born Gustavus Swift (1839 – 1903), who in 1877 began a large-scale slaughterhouse operation in Chicago, shipping ready-packed meat via refrigerated railcars to markets in the East.

See also: Barbed Wire, Cattle Drives, Cowboy, Cow Towns, Chisholm Trail, Open Range, Prairie

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Longhorn Cattle - History


From Near Extinction To Distinction

By the turn of the 19th century demand for the Texas Longhorn beef began to fade. It took less than 40 years of fencing,plows and demand for the fat English breeds to drive the Texas longhorn closer to extinction than the buffalo. Six cattle families along with the United States Government are responsible for preserving the Texas Longhorn as a breed.

The Butler family: Named for Milby Butler, a pioneer cattleman who began raising Texas Longhorns in the early 1900's. His cattle trace back to the wild cattle of east Texas and the Gulf Coast. Most of Milby's cattle were butchered after he died in 1971 but the best were saved by several selective breeders. The Butler line is known for exceptional horn growth. Perhaps the most famous Butler cattle were Bevo and Beauty. This sire and dam produced the bull, Classic among others.

The WR (Wildlife Refuge) bloodline: The WR line of Longhorns is a result of selective breeding that began with the acquisition of breeding stock in 1927. That year, the Wichita Refuge searched for Longhorn cattle to preserve the breed from extinction. Refuge employees(Earl Drummond,Heck Schrader, Joe Bill Lee and Elmer Parker Jr.) viewed thousands of cattle and finally located and acquired 20 cows and 3 bulls that were of the Longhorn type. Several bulls and cows were added to the original herd through the years. The success of the breeding program has made the WR line one of the most popular today.

The Peeler family: Named for Graves Peeler. Mr.Peeler raised longhorns, a tradition established by his father starting in 1931, extensively after losing many heads of English-bred cattle in a blizzard. One of the most well known of the Peeler cattle was YO Carmela I, the first cow registered by the TLBAA.

The Marks family: Named for Emil H. Marks. By 1920, Mr.Marks noticed that longhorns were disappearing from the marketplace. He began holding back some of his best animals just to keep the breed alive. The Marks line was among the oldest of the Texas Longhorn bloodlines.

The Wright family: Named for M.P. Wright. The Wright line originated in South Texas where the family had a ranching and slaughter business. When ranchers would bring in longhorns for sale, Wright would select the better longhorns for breeding stock. His first 100 animals were acquired in this way. In 1965, the Wright herd consisted of 222 registered Texas Longhorns.

The Yates family: Named for Cap Yates. Mr. Yates interest in Longhorns resulted in a bloodline known for purity toward the original "old type" Longhorn. Yates began developing an eye for cattle while working as a ranch foreman in 1910, and bought many cattle from Mexico after World WarI. At his ranches in south and west Texas, the only breed of cattle that could survive on the desolate, harsh land were Longhorns.

The Phillips family: Named for Jack Phillips. Jack followed his father and grandfather in raising Texas Longhorn cattle. Phillips had raised Longhorns for 30 years before the TLBAA was formed in 1964. Phillips always looked for long legs, long bodies, slender heads, long bushy tails and good horns. He used the selection rules of conformation first, followed by horns and color traits. Texas Ranger JP is perhaps the best known animals from this bloodline. Known as the sire for size.

Scott - Developed by Walter B. Scott of Goliad Texas. A blend of Peeler and Marks bloodlines.
YO - Charles Schreiner III developed a blend of "WR" and Peeler along with the bull "BOLD RULER".
SPEAR-E - Elvin Blevins of Wynnewood, Oklahoma started this bloodline in 1952. Primarily "WR" with "YATES" influence.
SHAHAN - James T."Happy" Shahan line of Texas Longhorns is the result of selective inbreeding from the Marks, Butler, Peeler and Stanger bloodlines.
WOODS - Grady Woods, great-great grandson of Joshua Westbrook homestead in Newton County east Texas. These cattle are descendents of stock brought to Santo Domingo and Mexico by the Spaniards.
BLR - Bright Longhorn Ranch. Arthur Bright of Le Grand California. "WR" based heard on the west coast starting in 1962.
Ox Yoke T - This line of cattle was developed by Ken Humphrey of Okreek, South Dakota in 1950, utilizing the Fort Niobrara Refuge cattle for 50% with 25% "Yates" and 25% "WR".

Watch the video: Highland Catte - mit Tradition in die Zukunft