Longhorn History


Texas Longhorns

Trail Drives and Cowboys 


Charles O'Bryant III
456 Waynick Road
Reidsville, NC 27320

Trail Drives and Cowboys 

Evolution is a strange and wondrous process that has been responsible for the creation of a multitude of forms and shapes in the kingdom of nature -- forms and shapes that are unique to their time and totally adaptable to the environment in which they evolved.  The Texas Longhorn is such a creature.

The Texas Longhorn, an evolutionary marvel, traces its history from Texas to Mexico, to Spain and finally back to Africa.  His origin began in Africa, his voyage began when he accompanied the Moors to Spain and he thrived in the new environment.

Columbus landed cattle in Santa Domingo in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World, and 29 years later in 1521, Gregorio de Villalobos brought the first cattle from Santa Domingo to Mexico.  Explorers, settlers, and expeditions to establish missions brought cattle into Texas.  These cattle propagated as they escaped, were scattered by Indians, or abandoned when missions failed.

Thus began the second phase of the evolutionary process that began as these cattle were put aboard ships.  Space limitations allowed for a minimum of food and water, and as days at sea lengthened into weeks, the elements took a good toll on animals totally unaccustomed to  the conditions.  It is probable that the losses were extreme, and hardiness, a major trait of today's cattle, first began to function as a genetic trait.

The crucible of evolution and its nursery was between the Rio Grande and the Nueces Rivers.  Time was needed and by 1860 the census recorded 600,000 people and 4 million cattle in Texas.

Nature produces animals that all possess a single common denominator, environmental adaptability.  It is this common denominator that is sometimes called survival of the fittest.  Nature is a harsh master; if you cannot adapt, you perish.

The Texas Longhorn developed many traits, genetically coded into its being, that have many viable economic benefits that can be utilized by today's beef producer:

LONGEVITY -- a result created by the fact that the longer-lived cattle produced greater numbers of offspring and gradually infused this genetic component into the breed.

CALVING EASE -- the natural result of calving difficulties causing the early and swift demise of those cows that did not give birth easily and without undue problems.

DISEASE AND PARASITE RESISTANCE -- a subtle but important attribute.  Susceptibility to disease and parasites soon depleted that type of cattle.

BROWSE UTILIZATION -- the sometimes harsh environment, that was the nursery of evolution, demanded that the cattle do well in times of drought as well as in times of plenty.

HARDINESS -- a trait directly connected to "survival of the fittest".

FERTILITY -- a genetic trait dominant in evolution of a species.  A species is fertile or it dies out.

The evolutionary process created a breed of cattle that had a body size commensurate with the availability of food, a breed of cattle that developed horns for protection, allowing the dominate males to propagate the breed.  Polled or non-horned cattle did not survive.

Thus was created the Texas Longhorn, imported into Texas, defined and refined by nature, tested by the crucible of time, found not wanting, responsible for the economic recovery of a Sovereign State after the Civil War and finally in a few short years, man in in infinite wisdom did begin, in his opinion, to "improve" these fine cattle and improved them to the point of extinction.

This improvement began with the importation of bulls from England and Europe.  The Texas Longhorn cow bred to these bulls and the progeny bred back to the same bulls.  In the space of only four generations the Texas Longhorn traits began their swift decline into obscurity.  The Texas Longhorn was nearer extinction than the buffalo or the whooping crane, when in 1927, the federal government appropriated $3,000 for the requisition and preservation of a herd of Texas Longhorns.

Mr. Will C. Barnes found it necessary to travel almost 5,000 miles through South Texas and Mexico to discover and acquire 20 cows, 4 calves, and 3 bulls with which to develop a herd that was the remains of some 4,000,000 cattle in Texas only 60 years before.  In 1960, there were about 2,500 Texas Longhorns in the United States, and in 1964 the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America was created to preserve the cattle.  Thus the breed was created, evolved, became virtually extinct, and seemed to be relegated to being preserved only for their historical significance and heritage when a new awareness of the significance of their genetic capabilities became dominant in the mid 1970s.

The cattle industry began to appreciate the fact that a Texas Longhorn bull is probably the best of all breeds for use of a virgin heifer.  She can be bred at the youngest possible age, will carry the pregnancy to term and deliver a healthy viable calf, without undue stress or strain caused by the process.  The calf will be small and vigorous at birth, but will grow and wean at an adequate weight.

The cattle industry is becoming more aware of the value of the other genetic traits possessed by the Texas Longhorn and making use of them through the use of F-1 or one-half Texas Longhorn brood cows.  This combination, when bred to a bull of yet another breed, produces a three-way cross calf that is a complete product.  The Texas Longhorn has become a symbol of survival.  It evolved, prospered, was brought to the brink of extinction, recovered and is now on the way of again becoming one of the world's most important breeds of cattle.

Texas Longhorns were unique in that they could be fattened on the trail.  A trickle of the flood that was to follow began in 1846 when the first documented drive to Missouri occurred.  These cattle were held in Ohio that winter and sent to Eastern markets in 1847.  During the 1850s, sporadic drives of probably less than 1,000 cattle each were moved north.  These drives were handled by small groups of men.  A herd of 500 head might have three men and another might have eight men.

The Civil War closed northern markets, the trail drives were turned to the east and Texas beef began to supply the Confederacy.  The eastern drives had many new and different obstacles.  The rivers, swamps and vast timbered areas were extremely difficult to negotiate and the herds were consequently smaller than those driven north over the open prairies.  A majority of the herds swam the mighty Mississippi at Vicksburg on their way to a final destination, which in some instances, was as far east as Mobile, Alabama.

The northern movement of the Texas Longhorn was resumed after the Civil War for the demand of beef had driven the price of sirloin steak in New York to the exorbitant price of 24 to  35 a pound.  In 1866, some 260,000 head were moved up the trail to Kansas and Missouri, but less than half reached their destination.  The herds were driven by cowboys, many of which were in their teens, 14 to 19 years of age.  They faced constant hazards from storms, floods, Indians, and those who would steal the herds. 

The trickle that had begun in 1846 become a flood and some 10,000,000 cattle were sent over the northern trails before they were closed.  More than 700,000 cattle were driven north in 1871, the year of the maximum effort.  The trail herds of the 1860s and 70s probably averaged 2,000 to 2,500 cattle.  They were driven by about 12 men or boys, a "boss" drover and a cook.  The cowboys received an average of one dollar per day and with the traveling rate of 10-12 miles per day, were on the trail for a minimum of two months.

A very slight disturbance was enough to sometimes cause panic.  The most effectual way of controlling a nervous herd was by the cowboy circling and singing loudly and steadily.  This image of the working cowboy singing to the cattle became the model for the singing cowboys of the Hollywood Western, except beautiful women were substituted for the cattle and seldom were any cattle seen.  By the time movies were invented the Texas Longhorn had been "improved" out of existence.

The Texas Longhorn was responsible for the start of the economic recovery of Texas.  The net profits of $8 to $20 per head, when returned to Texas enabled the owner to invest in vast tracts of land, often at 50 per acre.  Thus one Texas Longhorn was worth 15-40 acres of land.  The image of the cowboy, the romance associated with the Texas Longhorn, and the trail drives are the result of the events that took place during an era of some 15 years.

The cowboy was a spirited, independent, resourceful, hardworking individual that earned his livelihood  in the only way he could, bought land, and became a rancher.  The large Texas ranches of today all have a history of cowboys, trail drives and Texas Longhorns.  The Texas Longhorn is truly the symbol of Texas and of bold, straight-forward, independent men.

Taken from a leaflet provided by the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America
2315 N Main ~ Ste 402 ~ Fort Worth, Texas 76016
817-625-6241 www.tlbaa.org