Texas Longhorn History

History of the Texas Longhorn

The Texas Longhorn became the foundation of the American cattle industry by claiming first rights in the untamed, newly discovered Americas a little over 500 years ago. In 1493, Christopher Columbus brought Spanish cattle to Santa Domingo, and within two hundred years their descendents would be grazing the ranges of Mexico.

In 1690, the first herd of cattle, only about 200 head, were driven northward from Mexico to a mission near the Sabine River-a land that would become known as Texas. The early missions and ranchers would not survive all of the elements. But the Texas Longhorn would.

By the time of the Civil War, nearly 300 years after setting foot in America, millions of Longhorns ranged between the mesquite-dotted sandy banks of the Rio Bravo to the sandbeds of the Sabine. Most of the Longhorns were unbranded, survivors of Indian raids, scattered by stampedes and weather, escaped from missions or abandoned after ranch failures.

The survivors of the Civil War returned home to Texas to find abandoned ranches, unplowed farm fields—and herds of wild cattle, which would soon become gold in their pockets. In the next quarter century, 10 million head were trailed North to fatten on lush Midwestern grasses or shipped directly by rail to the beef-hungry East.

Translating wild cattle into hard cash was an epic struggle between man, beast and the elements—from this grew the romantic legends of the Western Cowboy.

Longhorns, groomed by Mother Nature, carried the ideal characteristics of resistance-they were tremendous for long drives. They could go incredible distances without water, rustle their own food, fend for themselves, swim rivers, survive the desert sun and winter snow.

But, at the turn of the century, sundown came for the Texas Longhorn. It took less than 40 years, fenced in land, plows and an overwhelming demand in the marketplace to drive the Longhorn closer to extinction than the buffalo.

In 1927, the Federal government helped to preserve the Texas Longhorn and a great part of our American heritage. With only a handful of Texas Longhorns roaming the ranges in private herds, Congress appropriated $3,000, and assigned forest service rangers, Will C. Barnes and John H. Hatton to the task.

These two men put the first herd together for Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. Another herd was established on the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge at Valentine, Nebraska. Also, at this time, the early 30s, the State of Texas formed its own herd with the help of J. Frank Dobie, author of The Longhorns, and his friend Graves Peeler, who had excellent knowledge of the Texas range country.