Before James Marshall discovered those shiny nuggets at Sutter’s Mill that sparked the Gold Rush and made the precious metal the focus of fortune-seekers around the globe, longhorn cattle were California’s primary product. Sadly they were raised for their hides and tallow. Much of the meat was left to rot on the beaches while the valued items were loaded on longboats anchored off shore.
That changed in 1849 when California was overrun by miners pouring in by the thousands. Food was scarce in the gold fields of the north, so the cattle ranchers of the south found a ready market for their beef. At that point, nearly half a million head of longhorn roamed the countryside in the sparsely populated area around Los Angeles.
Some believe the California longhorn was closely related to its Texas counterpart, with both tracing their heritage to the Andalusian Iberian longhorn of southwestern Spain. The records kept at the time didn’t document the physical appearance or attributes of the California longhorn, so one can only speculate.
A series of droughts in the mid-1800s all but obliterated the herds. The disastrous drought of 1864 brought about the loss of 50-75% of the longhorn cattle in Los Angeles County due to thirst or starvation. The remaining cattle ranches were broken up into smaller ranches, with many of the ranchers diversifying into more stable and financially beneficial agricultural ventures.
One rancher, Henry Miller, originally a butcher in San Francisco, did well despite the disastrous losses of others. He expanded his herd and his holdings. It’s thought he might have been the largest owner of private lands in the state. Miller was one of the first to bring in Durham and Hereford bulls to breed with the longhorn cows, providing the public with beef from the British breeds the rapidly increasing population preferred. And thus the end of the longhorn legacy in California came about.
Cattle ranching increased in northern California as gold became harder to find and more expensive to extract. The small town of Shingle Springs, in which my debut Love Inspired Historical, Family of Her Dreams, takes place, shifted from mining to cattle ranching. Sprawling ranches sprang up in the area, and cattle could be seen grazing there for much of the year.
During the hot, dry summers, ranchers herded their cattle up the mountain to pastures high in the Sierras. Oftentimes the womenfolk would stay with the herds while the men remained in the valley and saw to things there. Since the temperatures in the valley can top one hundred for a number of days each summer, I think the ladies got the better end of the deal.
In my story, the hero, Spencer Abbott, dreams of leaving his stationmaster duties behind and becoming a cattle rancher, as was his father back in Texas. Spencer pays to have a longhorn bull brought to him, which he intends to breed. With payment in calves, he plans to grow a herd of his own. Whether or not he succeeds shall remain a mystery—until you read the story anyhow. 🙂
If you’d like a chance to win a copy of Family of Her Dreams, just leave a comment with the answer to one (or more) of the questions below by midnight EDT on Saturday, June 20.
- Do you like rancher heroes in romances?
- How prevalent are cattle ranches in your part of the country?
- Have you ever seen a longhorn bull in person? If so, what was your impression of it?
Award-winning author Keli Gwyn, a native Californian, transports readers to the early days of the Golden State. She and her husband live in the heart of California’s Gold Country. Her favorite places to visit are her fictional worlds, historical museums and other Gold Rush-era towns. Keli loves hearing from readers and invites you to visit her Victorian-style cyber home at www.keligwyn.com, where you’ll find her contact information.
A Family to Cherish
Headstrong Tess Grimsby loves her new job caring for the children of a recently widowed man. But she never imagined that she’d fall for her handsome employer. Yet Spencer Abbott is as caring as he is attractive, and Tess can’t help but feel for him and his family. Though, for the sake of her job, she’ll keep any emotions about her boss to herself.
Between his stationmaster responsibilities in a gold-rush town and trying to put his family back together, Spencer has his hands full. He soon finds his new hire’s kind personality warming his frosty exterior. But could he ever admit to seeing her as more than just an employee?
Leave a comment to enter her drawing on here for an autographed copy of Family of Her Dreams.
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http://keligwyn.com/library/my-books will take you directly to Keli’s “My Book” page of her website, where she has a number of retailers’ links.