THE TEXAS LONGHORN:
Living Legend of the American West


     The migration of the Texas Longhorn cattle from south Texas to the northern plains and the Kansas railheads in the decade following the War Between the States was the largest movement of animals under the control of man in the history of the world. Some nine million head of Texas cattle were driven up the trails by men who, returning to Texas in 1865 after losing a war, found nothing in their new and vast state from which to make a living but millions of rangy free­roaming and rancorous cattle hiding in the brush and the arroyos of the  brasada country and the coastal plains of south Texas.

     The frontier days of the early 1800s are well documented. The cattle drives of the late 1800s are legendary. Journalists, novelists, fine artists, photographs, and adventurers of all kinds from the United States, Europe, and Great Britain were drawn to Texas and the Territories west of the Mississippi to witness and profit from the opening of a new frontier rife with opportunity and danger. Their stories have been famously recorded, and their failures and successes have resonated through the world.

     The exploration and settlement of North America west of the Missouri River, whether by Iberian colonialists in the sixteenth century, Spanish missionaries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, or homesteaders in the nineteenth century, were made possible by the venerable, tenacious, magnificent Texas Longhorn.

     First brought to the North American continent in 1521 by an emissary of Hernán Cortés, just six months prior to the subjugation of Mexico City and the establishment of New Spain for the crown of Emperor Charles V, the ancestors of today’s Texas Longhorns originated around the salt marshes of the Guadalquivir River valley in the Andalusian mountains of southwestern Spain, where they had been isolated by an impenetrable ring of peaks and raised on open range since medieval times. Transplanted to the New World, the estimated thirty heifers and three bull calves that landed on the banks of the Pánuco River near Tampico, on the eastern coast of Mexico, were to influence the history of North America no less profoundly that the Industrial Revolution three centuries earlier.

     The mottled hide and the sharp, twisted, spreading, and often lyre­shaped horns of the Texas Longhorn are emblematic of one of nature’s unique creations. For almost three hundred years, the descendants of the Andalusian cattle brought to the western hemisphere by Christopher Columbus in 1494 roamed freely and multiplied in millions by the laws of survival of the fittest. They gained a reputation for being fiercer that a bear, more cunning than a mountain lion, and as elusive as wild game.

     The first cattle to set foot in North America and the only breed of cattle to evolve without human management, the Texas Longhorn is virtually a genetic gold mine. The Longhorn can thrive in country where no other breed can live; subsist on weeds, cactus, and brush; range days away from water and stay fit and fertile whether it’s living in the scorching, parasite infested tropics or in the arid, sub­zero winters of Montana.

     The Longhorn cow will calve before the age of two, and will have a calf every year of her life, often until the age of twenty and beyond, doubling the calf production of every other breed. She never has trouble delivering a healthy calf, seldom needs veterinary attention, and isn’t depleted by parasites. She will wean a strong, fat calf that is sixty percent of her own weight in seven months no matter how severe the conditions, then breed back in thirty days. Old Texas Longhorn ranchers boast that their cows calve every nine months and fifteen minutes.

     On the brink of extinction at the turn of the twentieth century through cross­breeding to the fat English bulls that came out with the railroads in the late 1860s, the Texas Longhorn was revived by the U.S. Congress in 1927 with the establishment of a national herd at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Cache, Oklahoma. This herd endures today as the leading source of seedstock.

     Where the Texas Longhorn once carried the dreams of westward expansion into a new century, today the breed’s future looms even brighter, its role defined at the opening of yet another century as a source of naturally grown, high­quality, savory beef with the fat and cholesterol of the leanest of seafood.



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Last Modified: December 2, 1997