Not being from Texas, I was hesitant to tackle this topic. But I’ve always been a fan of those tough, rangy cattle with their amazing horns, stretching as long as seven feet from tip to tip. Longhorns are, and always will be, a symbol of the American West.
Their ancestry dates back to cattle brought to Mexico by the Spanish. Some of these cattle went wild. Over time they developed the resilience and survival skills that make Longhorns what they are today. Early Texas settlers mixed the blood of these feral Mexican cattle with their own eastern cattle. The result was a rugged, long-legged animal with spectacular horns and a coat that could be blue, yellow, brown, black, red or white, plain or speckled.
But Longhorns are more than looks. They have strong survival instincts and can find food and shelter in rough weather. Longhorns can breed well into their teens or longer, and they’re known for easy calving. A Longhorn cow will often go off on her own to have the calf in a safe place. The calves can stand up sooner after birth than other breeds.
With their long legs and hard hoofs, Longhorns made ideal trail cattle. After the civil war millions were driven to market. They also stocked most of the new ranches on the Great Plains. But times changed for the breed. The “Big Die-up in the winter of 1886-87 and the spread of barbed wire fences brought an end to the open range. Breeds like the white-faced Herefords put on weight faster and had fattier meat, providing needed tallow. Ranchers crossed these breeds with Longhorns to produce hardier stock. By the 1920s, only a few small herds of Longhorns remained.
In 1927, Longhorns were saved from near extinction by the U.S. Forest service, who collected a small herd to breed in Oklahoma. Other groups in Texas gathered small herds to keep in parks. They were regarded as curiosities, but the stock’s longevity, disease resistance and low-fat, low-cholesterol meat revived the breed as beef stock—although many ranchers keep them purely as a link to Texas history.
Does anybody out there have experience with these amazing animals? Any good stories?
There are no Longhorns in my March Western, THE LAWMAN’S VOW. But you can get a sneak peek and an excerpt on my web site: http://www.elizabethlaneauthor.com.
Watch for a giveaway next month.