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Texas Longhorns: made in America

Pat Martin
Grand Junction, Colo.

An evolutionary marvel, the Texas Longhorn, has a history that can be traced back to Moorish ancestry in North Africa. Their destiny took them to Spain and then to Santo Domingo with Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. By 1521, the cattle were being imported into Mexico, but the first recorded entrance of Spanish cattle into America occurred in 1565, when Menendez de Aviles took a herd into Florida. Only the hardiest animals survived the long journeys at sea with little feed and water, establishing a genetic trait that would serve them well in the future.

During the late 1500s, explorers, settlers, and expeditions to establish missions brought the cattle into Texas, where they became known as “Coriollos.” These cattle propagated as they escaped, were scattered by Indian raids, or abandoned when missions failed.

Over the next century, other immigrants infiltrated the Southwest, bringing with them Northern European breeds of cattle. The wild Spanish “Coriollos” interbred with them, and the Texas Longhorn was born. With their lanky bodies, long legs, and tremendous horns, they stood apart from their counterparts, both in hardiness and in temperament. A Texas Longhorn bull was not something to tangle with! There was probably no meaner creature in Texas. The bull’s horns averaged 6 feet from tip to tip, although some grew to as much as 8 feet long. In addition, the sharpness of the horns of any length, the speed and muscle power of the bull, and the ease with which he could be aroused and enraged, made him a dangerous and uncontrollable animal.

Adaptability was the name of the game, and the Longhorn, defined and refined by nature and its environment, was the epitome of that word. It thrived in conditions no other breed could tolerate. Desirable traits became genetically coded into its being, traits such as hardiness, longevity, fertility, ease of calving, and a resistance to disease and parasites unequalled in the bovine world.

Except in years of drought, the climate and range conditions in Texas were ideal for raising cattle. In addition, the liberal land system made it easy to acquire large sections of land. Taking advantage of the vast, unoccupied, open range that was Texas, many ranchers got their start in ranching without owning an acre of land; they simply used public lands to graze their herds. Ranchers grew rich and powerful as their herds multiplied year after year.

Most folks believe the trail drives we’ve heard and read so much about began after the Civil War, but according to author J. Frank Dobie, Texas Longhorns were being driven into Missouri and Louisiana as early as 1836, and some accounts indicate it began with Anglos driving cattle to New Orleans as early as 1832. There is also one report of a herd being driven from Texas to New York City around 1850! How would you like to have been a hand on that trail drive? The toughness and endurance of the Texas Longhorns made them well-equipped for long drives, and they were unique in that they could be fattened on the trail.

In 1836 Texas declared its independence from Mexico, becoming the Republic of Texas, and it was admitted to the Union in 1845, the same year Charles Goodnight started his cattle business.

With the advent of the Civil War in 1861, Texans went away to fight for the Confederacy, and their herds of Longhorns were left to fend for themselves. The cattle survived drought, blizzards, dust storms, heat and cold with a tenacity displayed by no other breed, and managed all the while to multiply in great numbers. It’s estimated there were over 5 million Longhorns roaming the Texas ranges at the end of the Civil War. This overabundance of cattle depressed the market there, but people in the Northeast were willing to pay high prices for Texas beef, with a sirloin steak in New York selling for the exorbitant price of 25 to 35 cents per pound.

In 1866, over 260,000 head were moved up the Shawnee Trail to Kansas and Missouri, but less than half reached their destination, thanks to storms, floods, Indians, and rustlers. That same year, because of rampant rustling, the Texas Legislature enacted the “tallying law,” which permitted anyone to gather cattle on the ranges and bring them to an inspector to be tallied, but ownership had to be established.

An evolutionary marvel, the Texas Longhorn, has a history that can be traced back to Moorish ancestry in North Africa. Their destiny took them to Spain and then to Santo Domingo with Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. By 1521, the cattle were being imported into Mexico, but the first recorded entrance of Spanish cattle into America occurred in 1565, when Menendez de Aviles took a herd into Florida. Only the hardiest animals survived the long journeys at sea with little feed and water, establishing a genetic trait that would serve them well in the future.

During the late 1500s, explorers, settlers, and expeditions to establish missions brought the cattle into Texas, where they became known as “Coriollos.” These cattle propagated as they escaped, were scattered by Indian raids, or abandoned when missions failed.

Over the next century, other immigrants infiltrated the Southwest, bringing with them Northern European breeds of cattle. The wild Spanish “Coriollos” interbred with them, and the Texas Longhorn was born. With their lanky bodies, long legs, and tremendous horns, they stood apart from their counterparts, both in hardiness and in temperament. A Texas Longhorn bull was not something to tangle with! There was probably no meaner creature in Texas. The bull’s horns averaged 6 feet from tip to tip, although some grew to as much as 8 feet long. In addition, the sharpness of the horns of any length, the speed and muscle power of the bull, and the ease with which he could be aroused and enraged, made him a dangerous and uncontrollable animal.

Adaptability was the name of the game, and the Longhorn, defined and refined by nature and its environment, was the epitome of that word. It thrived in conditions no other breed could tolerate. Desirable traits became genetically coded into its being, traits such as hardiness, longevity, fertility, ease of calving, and a resistance to disease and parasites unequalled in the bovine world.

Except in years of drought, the climate and range conditions in Texas were ideal for raising cattle. In addition, the liberal land system made it easy to acquire large sections of land. Taking advantage of the vast, unoccupied, open range that was Texas, many ranchers got their start in ranching without owning an acre of land; they simply used public lands to graze their herds. Ranchers grew rich and powerful as their herds multiplied year after year.

Most folks believe the trail drives we’ve heard and read so much about began after the Civil War, but according to author J. Frank Dobie, Texas Longhorns were being driven into Missouri and Louisiana as early as 1836, and some accounts indicate it began with Anglos driving cattle to New Orleans as early as 1832. There is also one report of a herd being driven from Texas to New York City around 1850! How would you like to have been a hand on that trail drive? The toughness and endurance of the Texas Longhorns made them well-equipped for long drives, and they were unique in that they could be fattened on the trail.

In 1836 Texas declared its independence from Mexico, becoming the Republic of Texas, and it was admitted to the Union in 1845, the same year Charles Goodnight started his cattle business.

With the advent of the Civil War in 1861, Texans went away to fight for the Confederacy, and their herds of Longhorns were left to fend for themselves. The cattle survived drought, blizzards, dust storms, heat and cold with a tenacity displayed by no other breed, and managed all the while to multiply in great numbers. It’s estimated there were over 5 million Longhorns roaming the Texas ranges at the end of the Civil War. This overabundance of cattle depressed the market there, but people in the Northeast were willing to pay high prices for Texas beef, with a sirloin steak in New York selling for the exorbitant price of 25 to 35 cents per pound.

In 1866, over 260,000 head were moved up the Shawnee Trail to Kansas and Missouri, but less than half reached their destination, thanks to storms, floods, Indians, and rustlers. That same year, because of rampant rustling, the Texas Legislature enacted the “tallying law,” which permitted anyone to gather cattle on the ranges and bring them to an inspector to be tallied, but ownership had to be established.


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