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By Alan M. Hoyt
Eleven parts - Text originally published in the Texas Longhorn Journal, 1982-1984
Over the last four months, research for this series of articles has put me in touch with a countless number of cooperative people across the United States and in two foreign countries. If I were to thank each person individually and research centers that dug out articles, interviews, centuries old documents, etc. the list would fill this edition of the TLJ. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this series to all of those people, whose interest and dedication to the preservation of history have made this series possible.-Alan M. Hoyt
Due to the lack of printed history concerning the cattle industry prior to 1850, historians have very little to go on in documenting details, dates, locations, etc. That's why there may be some argument regarding certain facts used in this series -- but then, this author has found very few historians who agree on anything other than general information backed by strong facts. One historian considers the "first cattle on the North American continent" to be the first breed that adapted to their new environment and spread through vast areas of the country. Another believes the term "first cattle" should be reserved for the first cattle to set foot on our shores, even if they died off within several years.
Many historians also disagree on facts obviously difficult to document, such as dates, places to which first cattle were shipped, what color and breed, where and when they entered what is now the United States, who brought them, etc., etc.
Unless I have accurately documented facts on a particular piece of this history, I will include all sources having any reasonable evidence so the reader can make up his own mind, or at least know the theories.
By Alan M. Hoyt
In 1521, the ninth year of the reign of His Most Christian Majesty Charles V, a lookout's cry signaled to the captain of a Spanish ship that land had been sighted. There was no description of this ship in the pages of history, but she was probably a Spanish Caravel, a common ship of that era and locale.
She must have been beautiful, with the cross of St. James and the flag of Spain flying among her square sales, rising like puffy clouds above her ornate, brass-decorated bulwarks.
The land sighted was New Spain, and the voyage was just one of many for the Spanish ship's crew. It was to mean much more in the history books of the New World.
Below decks in the cargo hold, slipping and careening as the ship was tossed about by the waves, was a small group of calves. It is not known how many there were; some say seven---six heifers and a young bull. They were, however, Andalusian cattle introduced some thirty years earlier into the West Indies by the Spaniards.
The shipper of these cattle, Gregorio de Villalobos, could not have possibly known that these cattle, the first of their kind to set foot on the New World, would remake the map and boundaries of the North American continent, decide the shape of history for centuries to come, and be the major contributor to the bloodlines of America's most legendary breed of cattle, the Texas Longhorn.
Just as the cattle were new to the continent, so was their shipper, Villalobos, unlike nearly every other Spaniard, was not madly hunting for Aztec gold, but was dreaming of permanent colonization and the start of a cattle industry in New Spain.
There was a distinct advantage for these Spanish cattle as soon as they set foot on the shores of the New World. Villalobos and a few other Spaniards undoubtedly noticed ecological similarities between the dry upland plains of New Spain and the cattle country of western and southern Spain.
These Spanish cattle were not the first bovines to step foot on the North American continent, but they were the first to adapt to their new surroundings well enough to be a major asset to the colonization of New Spain, then later the southwestern United States.
One of the first documented movements of cattle to North America from Europe north of the Iberian Peninsula, was the landing of a few head on Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1518. These were brought from Normandy by the Frenchman, Baron de Levy. The colonization attempt failed, but the cattle existed in a wild state for a number of years before disappearing. Two other early cattle introductions both from Brittany, also failed to survive. The English established cattle in Virginia in 1609 and on the island of Bermuda (at least) by 1614. These animals were the forerunners of the so-called "Native American" cattle. The cattle in Bermuda stayed isolated, apparently never leaving that location.
The nearly-forgotten Native American cattle served the same purpose in building a national herd in the eastern United States that the Longhorns did in the West, but were never considered as important to the survival and the growth of a stable economy as were the Spanish cattle. The herds of Texas Longhorns, as a result of their adaptability and toughness, expanded at a much faster rate over an immensely larger territory than the eastern "Natives". Political borders, the general economy and the highly adaptable Spanish cattle all contributed to the success of western American colonization.
The Native American cattle of the east were no doubt important to the future livestock industry, but the influence of the Spanish cattle to civilization had an unbelievable effect on the growth of the southwestern United States.
Historian and author John E. Rouse summed up this influence with one paragraph; "The protein-rich American diet started with the Spanish cow. That animal changed the course of American civilization, altering the life, culture, and economy of individuals, empires, nations and continents. The cattle dominion that flourished on virgin grasslands from the Argentine to Canada was built on the Spanish cow."
The ancestors of the Texas Longhorns had begun moving from Castile, Spain southward to Andalusia in the tenth century. The husbandry of these cattle in the medieval Spain was centered around that day's feudal system and the church. The diet of the commoner consisted of grain products and dairy products from their large flocks of goats and sheep. The consumption of beef was rare, since these animals were used to pull plows and carts. These cattle were kept in confinement, as were the oxen that pulled covered wagons across the California trails centuries later.
Nothing is known of the physical characteristics of these Spanish cattle, except that they were derived from several European breeds that had been domesticated almost since time began. Before the birth of Christ, the Celts had brought in cattle that originally came from Asia-Minor, while the Aurochs of Northern Europe also found their way down to the Iberian Peninsula of Spain. As far as history can detect, the interbreeding of these animals initiated the development of the Spanish cattle.
As Castillians slowly drove the Moorish rulers from Spain, the flocks of sheep began to decrease, and the Castillians--who had been sheep raisers for centuries--became the first range cattlemen. These people started ranching procedures that would be used with the first cattle to reach New Spain.
By the time Columbus was leaving was leaving for his first voyage of discovery, the cattle industry of Andalusia had already gone through 250 years of trial-and-error improvement and was well stabilized.
The initial foundation herd for the New World consisted of what could be found quickly and easily in areas near the Spanish ports. There were minimal requirements for the selection of this stock, with price a major consideration. Most expeditions of this era were privately financed, as the Crown very seldom granted anything more than permission for exploration or colonization.
Cattle in fifteenth century Andalusia were frequently trailed long distances to market. These were organized drives, usually containing stock belonging to several owners. A drive of any length demanded use of pastures along the way, and the laws of Sevilla set minimums of 400 head for such drives. Since even a large flotilla of ships to the New World would contain only several dozen head of cattle, most were obtained as close as possible to the departure point.
The consignment of cattle on these ships was normally made up of young cows and calves and young bulls, in a ratio of four to six cows for every bull . . . . all as sound and healthy as could be readily found. History seems to show that the modern breed of cattle in Spain were located in the same areas where they had been raised for many centuries.
If these breeds were divided into three broad groupings, those from the Andalusian areas would have the following color patterns: Retinta, a solid red, brown or tan colored animal; Black Andalusian, a solid black animal; Berrenda, a white with black markings, which was a breed found in Estramadura, Andalusia's neighbor to the northwest.
These ancestors of the Texas Longhorn had horns typical of Andalusia cattle in general--large, wide-spread, upturned, with an occasional re-twist at the ends. Hair color was most often solid over the body. The familiar high tail stock and narrow head were also characteristic. Although history fails to reveal any concrete proof, the evidence presented by the Andalusian cattle today and their counterparts found in the Western Hemisphere is conclusive that red cattle, black cattle and white cattle with black ears were first taken to the Indies.
The fact that these cattle adapted well was of no surprise to Spanish cattlemen. Coronado entered what is now the United States in 1540 with 500 head, the majority of which escaped to run wild. Twelve years later the estimated cattle population of "New Spain" reached into hundreds of thousands. By the year 1783, Buenos Aires alone shipped 1,400,000 hides to Europe and some Mexican haciendas were said to be branding over 20,000 calves a year.
Up until the time Texas gained its independence from Mexico, then became a state in 1845, there was yet no Texas Longhorn breed as we have come to use the name. They were Criollo, or "cattle of the country". This name designates all cattle whose ancestry traces to a few hundred head of Spanish cattle carried to the island of Hispaniola during the two decades after Columbus landed.
Descendants of these first cattle soon spread to what is now Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba, then to the mainland, finally ranging to the far reaches of both North and South America.
For a century after their arrival, the Spanish cattle were the only domesticated bovines in the Western Hemisphere, except for a few close cousins that had been shipped from Portugal to Brazil.
The forerunners of the so-called "Native American" cattle were established on the Eastern seaboard by English and French colonists in the early seventeenth century, but had no contact with the Spanish cattle for at least two hundred years. Around 1800, interbreeding first started with the Criollo and Native American in Louisiana. Then from India, the Zebu cattle were brought to Jamaica in the 1860's. They soon reached the mainland and were crossed with the Criollo throughout tropical regions in the North and South America.
By 1800, with minor differences brought about by selective breeding, the Criollo was to be found in all inhabited areas of both North and South America, except what is now the eastern United States. From the tropic zones to arid regions of the southwestern U.S., the attention given to cattle breeding by inhabitants of these areas along with natural selection resulted in a number of differences in the Criollo. Although hair color patterns were virtually the same, there were marked variations in the body size, horn shape, conformation and milking ability.
As interbreeding became more of a common practice, many cattlemen made mistakes they would later regret. In the tropical areas, the cattleman found that he got a larger calf by putting a Zebu bull on a Criollo cow. Thinking this to be a money-making strategy, he began breeding out the Criollo almost entirely.
The concept of hybrid vigor -- breeding a pure-blood animal to another to come up with offspring superior to either of the parents -- was unknown. The fact that only the first cross of the Zebu-Criollo produced a better animal than the Zebu steer was unrecognized.
If all this sounds familiar, it is because the "upbreeding" of the Texas Longhorn in the late 1800's took quite the same course, with the Longhorns' adaptability and stamina being bred out for a heavier, short-horned animal that cost the rancher more pampering, clinical care and time.
The survival-of-the-fittest over four centuries of natural selection produced Criollo that could breed remarkably well in the most inhospitable of conditions -- the palmetto lands of Florida, prickly pear country of south Texas, Ilanos of South America and the Andes.
In all of these places, strains of Criollo were produced that, unhindered by man, were completely adapted to their areas where no other breed of cattle had ever been raised economically.
There are only a few hundred thousand Criollo cattle left in the Western Hemisphere today, but thanks to a few cattlemen of the late 1800's and early 1900's, several men with the U. S. Forest Service and eventually the Texas Longhorn Breeders Assn. of America, many of the Criollo's well-suited genes have been preserved in the Texas Longhorn cattle of today.
By Alan M. Hoyt
The first part of this series dealt with the facts substantiated by many excellent sources spread throughout the world. This second part will deal with the conflicts, conquests and colonization efforts of the Spanish in the New World. The socio-economic and ideological ties between these adventurous people and their breeds of cattle must be understood before the future of the Texas Longhorns can be followed into the Southwestern United States.
It is without doubt that the majority of Spaniards in the New World were looking for gold, silver and other riches. In that era of Spain’s history, these riches were desperately needed in the homeland to finance wars. So the search for quick return on the Spanish Crown’s Investments of conquest was of utmost importance. It would be another fifty years after Coronado’s final conquest before the idea of cattle raising began striking people as a steady and possibly great source of continued income.
Meanwhile, Spanish missionaries were establishing a line of ill-fated missions across what is now southern Texas and New Mexico. These priests knew well the value of their cattle and what they meant for survival in the harsh environments...but they had little knowledge of the thousands of Criollo cattle that were already roaming the country wild, and certainly no idea of what these cattle would mean to the settlement of the American Southwest and the start of America’s great cattle industry.
It was in the summer of 1540 that the Governor of Nueva Galicia, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, pierced into the American Southwest, leading a party of 300 Spanish soldiers, priests, conquered Indian "allies" and about 500 head of cattle. This fateful expedition, along with that of Hernando de Soto’s further east, was the last and largest conquest of the conquistadors.
This conquest began in the islands of the Caribbean discovered by Columbus and gave root to the new Spanish colonization policy based on the Encomienda. This policy gave to the Spanish conqueror a grant of land, usually huge, if he could defeat the native Indian inhabitants and create a Tierra Paz or "pacified country".
Of course this grant also included all inhabitants, who were expected to work and provide the conqueror with revenues, of which part went to the Spanish Crown. This policy was merely an extension of the old Spanish feudal system, and was from the start rigidly controlled by the Crown. For this reason, colonization meant conquest, never settlement, for only conquest could return an immediate profit.
While the conquests carried on, from the central valley of Mexico to the Middle American plateaus, thousands of fame and fortune hungry Spaniards quickly and oftentimes brutally reduced the agricultural civilizations to extinction or slavery. Many genuine Spanish humanitarians, such as the Bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumarraga, attempted to improve the harsh treatment of the natives. These efforts largely failed, for both Charles V and his son, Philip II of Spain needed more and more money to finance their European wars.
This was the age of Spanish superiority and the belief that religious faith could be impressed upon the Indians with the sword. This ideology was certainly not unique to the Spanish, nor could they be condemned for it, as every culture and era since time began has had its "religious crusades".
Besides being ferociously courageous warriors with a sense of moral superiority, these invaders were well equipped in other ways. Accustomed to a homeland that was arid, with sparse vegetation, they felt at home in the American Southwest....as did the mustangs they rode and the Andalusian cattle that more than any other animal provided the warriors with their very existence. As the New World was opening before them, the highly adaptable Spanish cattle began spreading in all directions, providing food, clothing and a multitude of accessories for not only the Spaniards, but their conquered Indian slaves as well.
There was never any doubt that the Spanish cattle were capable of carrying their share of the load when the going got rough. As one Spanish writer said in an article printed in 1875: "Many students of agriculture and ranching have noticed a lack of historical information regarding cattle during the times of conquest in the New World. This is quite understandable. There was really nothing romantic, exciting or unpredictable about the Andalusian cows. Just as now, most Spanish people of that time took for granted these remarkable cattle. There was never any question that they would survive in any section of the Americas. They had evolved and survived for untold centuries, so why should a mere transplant to another continent have any adverse effect on them? Writing of cattle with the steadfastness of a mountain, when the unpredictable successes and failures of mortal man were available for subjects would not be thought of by the average historian of the times."
While the cattle were thriving and wild herds starting to grow, the search for gold at Cibolo or Quivira was ending in disappointment and defeat. Already, Coronado had been infuriated by stories of gold and other riches beyond belief told him by Puebloan chiefs. As a measure of revenge, the Puebloans were punished and the Upper Rio Grande made Tierra Paz. It was in 1541 that Coronado finally found the Cibolo-Quivira country and his most disillusioned defeat. He found a Pawnee from a tribe far to the east, in one of the Puebloan towns. Coronado listened to the Pawnee’s tale of a great empire where gold and silver abounded. Coronado then hired the Pawnee as a guide to his "City of Gold". The Spaniards crossed the high mesa area of the Texas panhandle and proceeded east to what most historians believe is modern Kansas.
Here he discovered his dream of Cibolo was in fact a miserable grass-thatched village of the Wichita tribe. When the strong sun hit the thatched roofs from the right angle, they shone like glittering gold, but that was the extent of the illusion. After a suitable amount of torture, the Spaniards dispatched their pathetic Pawnee guide.
By April, 1542, the physically and mentally ill, Coronado finally returned to Spain with the dissipated remnants of his quest branding him a failure. Coronado did not know of the legacy he left behind. The many cattle that were lost on the trails of this conquistador remained and formed the nucleus for wild herds ranging several hundreds of miles both sides of the Rio Grande. Even if Coronado had known of these growing herds, he would not have known of their true value. It would be many years before the value of these cattle was to be realized by the economy of the American Southwest.
On May 3, 1689, something happened in Texas that would both boost the Spanish Catholic inroads toward "civilizing" the Indians and as a result spread the longhorn cattle even further into the wilds of a several state area. Just three days before, Captain de Leon and his men had found the gutted ruins of what had once been a small Spanish fort (Fort Guadalupe). The captain’s men had buried the soldiers and were now facing the band of Tejas Indians that had demolished the fort. The soldiers’ armor gleamed bright in contrast to their faces, darkened with anger and revenge. The only thing that kept this meeting from turning into a wild free-for-all was a monk, sandaled and wearing the brown robe of the time.
He greeted the Indians with friendliness and enthusiastic talk about a great holy man named Saint Francis. Fray Domian Massenet continued speaking to the chief, showing absolutely no fear. To worsen Captain de Leon’s anger, Fray Massenet even talked de Leon into contributing some blankets and a horse to the cause of peace. In return, the monk was promised that he could return to teach the Indians better agricultural methods, along with what Friar called Christianity.
On March 28, 1690, Fray Massenet left for Texas with soldiers and three other Friars. For supplies, they took along six loads of tobacco, wax for making candles, twenty mule loads of wine, gifts and of course Spanish cattle for food and other supplies. A while after crossing the Rio Grande, much to the soldiers’ surprise, Fray Massenet was met by the Tejas chief who was carrying symbols of peace. The party advanced past the Trinity River, where the Indians prepared a welcome feast.
At this time it is said that the Friars erected a wooden cross in the Indian village, thus starting the first mission in the state of Texas, San Francisco de las Tejas. It was not long before the Spaniards believed that a string of missions centering around religion, livestock and agriculture could be spread throughout Southern Texas with pleasing results to the Crown.
Probably the largest of such settlements, San Antonio de Bexar, was founded in 1718. In that same year, in what is now Goliad, the Mission Senora de Loreta de la Bahia del Espiritu Santo was opened.
It was close to this date that the Mission Concepcion was erected on the sight of San Antonio, where it was abandoned, then re-opened after a few years. Concepcion went through more hardships than most of its residents could endure, but to this day is the oldest surviving mission in the State of Texas. It is common to think that the missionaries had nothing to do but lead a Christian life and teach their Indians the ways of the white man.....but life was always difficult, quite often fatal.
Very unfriendly Indians, and even more unfriendly French took their toll in raids and harassment, while boredom from within the missions aroused other problems. Most of the Indian tribes, when contacted by the missions, accepted the idea of Christianity without a doubt but were bored with the idea in no time. Hitting the warpath, alcoholism and occasional murder were the results......not normally with malice, but rather stemming from curiosity toward the ways of the white man and his soul.
With these kinds of problems, it is very little wonder that hundreds of Andalusian cattle escaped from the missions, to breed and run wild in a land all their own. But with these cattle, who nobody seemed to notice, the nucleus of one of the greatest and most economically important industries was forming in Texas....the land of Tejas, or "Land of Friends".
While the Spaniards were making slow inroads against Indian hostilities north of the Rio Grande, attention was also being given to points west of the Texas Panhandle. In 1598, Juan de Onate crossed the Rio Grande at El Paso, and seven years later made his way across New Mexico and Arizona to the head of the Gulf of California. During this long trip to the west coast and back, Onate was astonished by the vast extent of level plain and the seemingly endless number of Bison. In a letter written to the Viceroy, Count of Monterey in 1599, Onate spelled out the fact that the number of Bison proved that this new country had possibilities as a cattle country. In fact, he saw some small herds of wild cattle in the brush country of northern Texas on his return trip. He wrote of these cattle being "of apparently the Andalusian variety, long and sharp-horned;; solid black and some black and brown striped".
By this time, stock raising in Mexico was well established, with the names of ranchers like Rodrigo del Rio, Salvago and Jeronimo Lopez well known to everyone. Therefore many eyes were on Onate’s next colonization expedition to New Mexico. His contract with the Viceroy bound him to take "two hundred soldiers, and a sufficiency of provisions for the first year’s support of the colony; with abundance of black cattle, horses, sheep, etc., as also merchandise, agricultural utensils, tools and materials for mechanics’ purposes....." In size, Onate’s expedition dwarfed that of Coronado’s as Onate ended up taking seven thousand head of cattle alone; But then Coronado hadn’t been interested in colonization or stock raising.
It took many years to put Onate’s colony on its feet. The great Pueblo revolt of 1680 nearly destroyed all Spanish power north of El Paso, but in 1693 Santa Fe was refounded, followed by the establishment of Santa Cruz de la Canada in 1695 and Albuquerque in 1706.
Being as every colonization effort started with a mission, the Franciscan and Jesuit Priests had the largest and quite often most dangerous undertaking of anyone in the New World. The success or failure of a mission depended largely on the aggressiveness and ferocity of that Indian tribe which happened to be in their area. Most of the Indians of the Southwest, excluding of course the Apaches and Comanches, had been a semiagricultural people since time began. In these cases, the missions were able to develop a local economy, which was next to impossible with some tribes.
In the American Historical Review of October, 1917, Professor Herbert E. Bolton described the work and value of the Spanish mission: "Each fully developed mission was a great industrial school, of which the largest, as in California, sometimes managed ore than 2,000 Indians. There were weaving rooms, blacksmith shops, tannery, wine-press and warehouses; there were irrigating ditches, vegetable gardens and grain fields; and on the ranges roamed thousands of cattle , horses, sheep and goats. Training in the care of fields and stock not only made the neophytes self-supporting, but afforded the discipline necessary for the rudiments of civilized life. The women were taught to cook, sew, spin and weave; the men to fell the forest, build, run the forge, tan leather, make ditches, tend cattle and shear sheep."
The location of Texas presidios and missions followed a plan of location near each known Texas tribe (Caddoans, Tonkawas, Karankawas and Coahuiltecans). But the entire frontier had to be made Tierra Paz, or the mission-presidio system wouldn’t work..... and the Apaches and Comanches saw to it that it didn’t work. There were also inner weaknesses in the Spanish system of government itself.
The Spanish state was definitely declining in power, partially from its own bureaucracy, its rigid class and caste structure, its self-imposed economic woes and the unwillingness of the people to settle in the New World. In addition, the Spanish Crown’s centralism simply couldn’t stretch out as far as they would have liked. Fear of French exploitation into Texas caused the creation of many Spanish missions, but these missions were totally isolated from Spanish civilization in Mexico. This made them quick and easy targets for the Apaches.
One of the major reasons for the Spaniards’ inability to hold Texas, that several historians back through the centuries have all agreed upon, would seem insignificant to some people. This was the fact that the Spanish assassinated themselves by introducing the horse to the Apacheria, and from there to the Comanches. Without realizing what might happen until it was too late the Spaniards had caused the Plains Indians to be transformed into the quickest and most effective calvary of all time. After this, the Spanish never beat the Apaches, and suffered more defeats from the Comanches than any native group in the New World.
Thousands of Spaniards were killed by these tribes and hundreds of thousands of horses and cattle confiscated, many of which disappeared into time. The Apaches went so far as to lure a Spanish presidio-mission into the "buffer zone" between themselves and other enemies ----- the Comanches. The result was that the Comanches burned the mission at San Saba, murdered the priests and a detachment of soldiers and stole all livestock around the mission. It was not long after this that the Spanish found themselves virtually defeated and took the defensive.
The idea of making the country Tierra Paz through the mission-presidio system, and forming a population around them to hold Texas, was dying. One by one the missions failed. Their Indians died, moved or joined hostile bands. As these missions failed, more thousands of cattle joined the ever-growing wild herds in Mexico and Texas.
While the mission-presidio concept was failing, the cattle ranches of Mexico were steadily moving north, collecting wild cattle as they went. These ranchers and their Vaqueros would soon start accomplishing something the mission-presidios couldn’t; providing a great number of well-armed men who were more than happy to fight the Apaches to protect their cattle. It was a case of "free enterprise" tackling a problem that the government couldn’t handle. They didn’t accomplish this overnight, though.
Ironic as it may seem, some of the first "cowboys" native to the New World were Aztec Indians. Even more ironic was the fact that these men, and not the cattle, received the first brands in the New World. The great conquistador Cortes needed some way to mark his slaves as his property. So he branded them with a hot iron by putting a letter "G" (for guerra, signifying prisoner of war) on their cheeks.
Many of these men herded cattle for their master, and it wasn’t long before the brand was being transfered to the owner’s cattle. At first, Spanish law wouldn’t allow an Indian slave to ride a horse, but this rule had to be changed. The ranches were moving north into the brushy, open country where a man on foot was helpless in herding cattle. Soon thereafter, the mystical vaquero began building a legend and his own class structure.
In 1746, Colonel Jose de Escandon was commissioned by the Viceroy to move people north to colonize the Rio Grande area. In all, he founded around 22 towns, but some areas were not suitable for agriculture. He returned to bring back a good number of rancheros with thousands of long horned Mexican cattle.
Settlement was continued to the south bank of the Rio Grande, but thousands of cattle spilled over into the Nueces country. Here, the Mexican ranch kings found a refuge of sorts......an area the Apaches weren’t interested in. As historian T. R. Fehrenbach said, "There was nothing but lean Spanish cattle and a few vaqueros along the Nueces; all Indians preferred to scout a Mexican settlement or mission than to make war on a mounted, mobile, and armed Spanish-Mexican cattle ranch. Therefore, on the savannahs just north of the Rio Grande, vast herds of cattle grew by natural increase, while Bexar and other Spanish settlements barely clung to life."
So the cattle industry of the Southwest was on its way. By the year 1800, hundreds of thousands of Spanish or Criollo cattle were in the Southern Texas, exploding ever northward, Apache or no Apache. The story of the Texas Longhorn and its place in history was beginning to unfold.
By Alan M. Hoyt
In the fall of 1821, Stephen F. Austin rode into Texas to complete the American colonization plan his father had dreamed of. Moses Austin never saw the grant of land he had worked so hard to acquire from the Spanish government. He rode out of Bexar for Missouri in January, 1821, to recruit more families to come to Texas. On the way, he nearly starved, was robbed, and lost what good health he had left. He reached Missouri in time to die, but not before his son, Stephen, had promised to settle the three hundred families in Texas.
By the time Stephen Austin arrived some of the colonists were already there waiting for him. Many more were soon to follow, bringing their wagons, farming implements, cattle, dreams and uncertainties. The colonists had to take an oath of fidelity to the Spanish Crown and it's laws, but the opportunities seemed unlimited. The land granted to these settlers contained rich river bottoms along the Bernard, Colorado and Brazos from the area of Brenham, Navasota and La Grange to the Gulf, and were awarded as follows: each family planning to farm was given one LABOR, or 177 acres; to each family who planned to raise stock, one SITIO or LEGUA or 4,428 acres was given.
Part of one of these grants recorded by the government read as follows: "The said commissioner the Baron de Bastrop and Empresario Estevan F. Austin, the witnesses, the adjoining owners.......the surveyor, and the interested party repaired to the tract we have granted.......We put the said Arthur McCormick in possession of said tract, taking him by the hand, leading him over it, telling him in loud and clear voices that in virtue of our Commission and Powers, in the name of the Mexican nation, we put him in possession.....and the said Arthur McCormick in token of finding himself in real and personal possession ....shouted aloud, pulled up grass, threw stones, fixed stakes, and performed the other ceremonies fixed by custom. He was warned of the obligation to cultivate it within two years. And for proof we certify our signatures below, in the Town of San Felipe de Austin on the 10th day of the month of August, 1824."
Many members of Austin's colony brought various breeds of cattle with them. These were milk cows, draft animals and seed stock for ranching operations. The Native American cattle from the east followed the western movement of those settlers looking for "greener pastures".
These Native American cattle had reached Louisiana around the year 1800, when the first significant interbreeding with Spanish cattle began. When Mexico gained independence in 1821, white homesteaders and ranchers started pouring into Texas, their Native Americans with them. When Texas gained it's freedom from Mexico in 1836, many thousands more Americans immigrated to the new land, piercing into it as far west as the plains area south of San Antonio.
There is no way of knowing how many of these Native American cattle were brought into Texas during the first twenty-five years of American settlement. The fact that there were approximately 30,000 United States citizens in Mexican Texas when it became a Republic indicates a sizable number of Native American livestock. When Texas became a state in 1845, the population was estimated to be between 125,000 and 150,000. At this time, the Native American cattle population must have reached into the tens of thousands.
In the beginning, the interbreeding of the Spanish cattle and the Native American cattle was limited. The eastern cattle were kept relatively confined, grazing on the outside edges of the enormous Criollo population. As the settlers and new ranchers moved ever deeper into the state, more contact between the breeds occurred, allowing more interbreeding. Although this interbreeding was of little consequence to the makeup of a Longhorn, it did manage to alter color. Where the true Spanish cattle were mostly one color, the interbreeding with Native Americans started producing all varieties of color, with patches, multitudes of spots and splotches. Perhaps nobody described the coloration of the Texas Longhorn with more accuracy than J. Frank Dobie: "Next to the horns, the most striking quality in appearance of the Texas cattle was their coloration. It is correct to say that they represented all the colors of the rainbow. Their colors were more varied than those of the rainbow, but they were generally dull, earth-like. There were brindles; blues -- mulberry blue, ring-streaked blue, speckled blue; Grullas -- so-named because they had the hue of the sandhill crane, called also mouse colored, or slate; duns, dark, washed out and Jersey creams -- all hues of "yellow"; browns with bay points, blacks , solid and splotched with white, brown and red; whites, both cleanly bright and dirty-speckled; many SABINAS, red-and-white peppered; reds of all shades except the dark richness characteristic of Herefords, pale reds being very common; paints of many combinations. The line along the back was common, as in the mustang breed. Coarse brown hairs around the ears were characteristic. The shadings and combinations of colors were so various that no two were alike."
The animal that would become the Texas Longhorn has been considered by most authorities to be approximately four-fifths pure Spanish cattle and one-fifth other strains, particularly the Native American. So the Longhorn became what he was with very little help beyond Mexico and Spain. The durable traits and characteristics of the basic Criollo were so strong that, without fences to control interbreeding, any imported blood was merely absorbed.
Some degree of selective breeding by early Texans led to a more superior animal than was found below the Rio Grande. These early "breeding programs" centered around primarily which calves would be left as bulls. It had been common thinking in Mexico for centuries to leave a calf a bull if he wouldn't make much of a steer. Selective breeding, a difference in range, some outside blood and perhaps a few other factors made the Texas Longhorn a mightier-horned, rangier and heavier animal than the straight Mexican Longhorn.
When the drives of these animals started, fanning out in all directions, the herds from which they came varied from pure Spanish stock to crossbred animals which still had a predominate Spanish influence. No distinction was made between these cattle -- they were simply "Texas Longhorns." They were actually Criollo cattle, modified in various ways for over three centuries, with some small degree of crossing with Northern European strains for a few decades.
On the West Coast, private Spanish or Mexican citizens were also getting quite involved in cattle raising. By 1830, forty ranches had been granted to private citizens. One of these ranches contained thirty square miles, on which the most prominent structure was a corral. The Spanish missions in California had raised cattle for years, and were very prosperous. Hides and tallow were sold to traders along the coast, along with hides, which went for about $1.50 in cash or up to $2.50 in goods.
The cattle business in California came just in time to help feed the multitudes that had come to look for gold. It has been estimated that there were 500,000 cattle in California in 1850, but only 120,000 people. When the gold rush began, the price for cattle around San Francisco jumped from $1.50 per head (the beef was quite often thrown away, for there was too much of it around to worry about, and no market) to twenty or thirty dollars per head.
The stock raising business had become so important, that California laws were very favorable to cattlemen. The following quotation was from a speech made before the California Agricultural Society in 1861: "Stock-raising has ever been of the most lucrative branches of business in the state. Our laws have been very favorable to that branch of business, requiring cultivators of the soil to enclose their lands with good, substantial fences or otherwise submit to the depredations of stock, without any legal redress. This system of legislation had the effect to make all the lands in the state, not thus enclosed, free commons. Therefore, men with limited amount of capital could engage in stock-raising, making use of none other than our state's free forage for the subsistence of their herds."
A man who came to the state with some cattle bought a large stock ranch. Other cattle ranged over it and he was helpless. He found that the cost was too great to fence it, and told his story thus: "So, I just found a purchaser for my land, sold it to him, and then purchased more cattle with the money I had thus obtained , and left my cattle to roam where they pleased. My whole herd continued, despite my purchaser's efforts, to roam as much on this very land as they did whilst I owned it."
As many cattle as California had, it didn't have enough to feed the influx of gold-hungry citizens that had converged on the state. Therefore, several Texas ranchers, with more Longhorns than they knew what to do with, began driving herds from south Texas toward the gold fields of California. When you stop and think about it, the hardships of a drive from south Texas to the California gold fields in the late 1850's and early 1860's were unimaginable. But these early drives were merely a prelude to what was to come for the Texas cattleman. Before the War Between the States, drives had been made not only to California, but to Missouri, New Orleans and other points.
These drives never would have worked if it hadn't been for the tough and adventuresome spirit of the men that drove the cattle, let alone the cattle themselves.
No other breed of cattle could have made it, as has been proved many times since. The cowboys had many things to think about; floods, freezing weather, droughts, Indians, etc. They had no time to pamper their cattle, nor did they need to. A German traveler in 1848 remarked on the old Texas saying, "In Texas, cattle live for the sake of man, but in all other countries man lives for the sake of his cattle."
The Texas Longhorn lived totally independent of man's help. Sheltering them, salting them, feeding them, doctoring them or doing anything for them was out of the question. At that time, the cattle were worth little and the range was free...their survival depended on mother nature.
The Texas Longhorn cow and calf constituted the medium of exchange in many places. Stephen F. Austin said that he "could always get cows and calves, but money was out of the question." The cow and calf were worth ten dollars nearly everywhere, and many promissary notes were exchanged to that effect for years.
The Texas Longhorn was slow in development compared to other breeds. His maximum weight was not reached until the age of eight or ten years, and wasn't considered mature until past the age of four. Steers this age up to around eight years of age weighed around eight hundred pounds, with ten year olds going between a thousand to sixteen hundred pounds.
Again quoting J. Frank Dobie, "In 1868, a herd of 224 picked Texas steers that were weighed in Abilene, Kansas, averaged, after standing in the pens twelve hours, 1238 pounds each. The present always patronizes the past; moderns of every age suppose that all preceding them was in a molluscan state. Yet to suppose that the Texas Longhorn were scrubs is like presuming that George Washington's soldiers, merely because they had no tanks, could not fight."
It is without doubt that the economy, and surely the settlement of the Southwestern United States and Texas would have been slowed down considerably had it not been for the Spanish cattle, Criollo or Texas Longhorn, whichever it was known by.
The Texas steer stood rather ungainly, with tucked under flanks, high shoulder-tops, flat ribs and a length that made him look sway-backed. Viewed from the side, one would think him to be much heavier than he actually was, but from the back, he appeared to be nothing but a bag of bones.
The Texas Longhorn fitted the land he was ultimately adapted to, having long legs, long horns for protection, resistance to disease and many more attributes. He adapted to all areas of the United States which no other breed of cattle has ever been able to achieve. Many citizens of the Northeastern United States would in the future down-grade the quality of the Texas Longhorns' beef, but they had little to compare it to. The Longhorn was the 'stringiest' of beef breeds...of course the less adaptable European breeds were more tender, but cold not survive as the Longhorns had. As the cattle industry of the United States started, there was only one breed that created the economy...the Texas Longhorn. Many have forgotten, but the Longhorn continues to reign as the breed that created the Southwestern United States ranching industry. The Longhorn played a part in the settlement of what would be Texas, to the Alamo, to the establishment of permanent settlements in the State of Texas.
As one early Texas settler said: "God bless the Spanish cattle....without them we would have nothing of value to anyone."
By Alan M. Hoyt
The decade preceding the Civil War saw many attempts, some successful, to drive Texas cattle to markets across the United States. Besides the near impossible drives made to the California gold rush area, others were made to Missouri, New York and New Orleans.
On Tuesday, July 4th, 1854, Solon Robinson, who would later become a well-known agriculture historian, wrote about the arrival of a herd of Texas cattle and their immediate sale. Surprising enough, the man that drove these cattle was not from Texas, but Illinois. He was Thomas Candy Ponting, who along with his partner, Washington Malone, brought 780 head of Texas cattle from northeast Texas and the Indian Territory.
Part of Robinson's newspaper article read as follows: "Another thing is demonstrated in the yards today, which proves that these cattle can be brought two thousand miles with profit to the drovers, and sold at such prices as prevail today.We have a drove of cattle, Texas cattle -- one step beyond those reported last summer from the Cherokee Nation, and as soon as the California tide ebbs, we shall have plenty from Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and the two Territories where Senator Douglas desires to rear another kind of stock." (The two territories were Kansas and Nebraska).
"From Illinois here the expense is $17 a head....The top of the drove are good quality of beef, and all are fair. A lot of 21, short 8 cwt., sold at $80.00, and a good many others sold at 10 cents per pound. These cattle are generally five, six and seven years old, rather long-legged, though fine horned, with long taper horns, and something of a wild look. Some of them are the descendants of a most excellent breed of cattle from the south, originally imported by the Spaniards, and generally known in all the Southwestern states as Spanish cattle. It is said that the meat of this description of stock is fine-grained and close, somewhat like venison, and apt to be a little tough cooked in the ordinary way. This could be changed by purchasing them young and feeding them two years as well as this drove has been fed one year."
With the ever increasing number of cattle in Texas, ranchers in the mid 1840's had begun to look for any market that looked even remotely profitable. Many of these ranchers settled on or near the coast, so cattle could be shipped by steamer to New Orleans. Many settled near Corpus Christi, Galveston, Indianola and Brazos Santiago (Port Isabel). Located on the West shore of Matagorda Bay, Indianola had most of the trade by 1849. For this reason, Charles Morgan chose the sight as the principal port for his Morgan Line ships. When Morgan made this move, a man named James Foster, who was known as a "very shrewd and prompt business man", began buying Texas cattle and shipping them to New Orleans. In one years time, Foster was making unbelievable profits by buying only the best grade of cattle at low prices and selling them high in New Orleans. Before long, he had wrapped up the entire stock -- carrying capacity of all steamboats in the Texas-New Orleans trade area. Because very few Texans made any significant profit through Foster's operations, by 1853, they started looking to other means of getting their cattle to the profitable markets.
William B. Grimes was one of these cattle-raisers that deplored Foster's monopoly and Morgan's high shipping rates. He decided to drive a herd overland to New Orleans and put the profits in his own pocket. He ordered a twenty year old hired hand named Abel Head "Shanghai" Pierce to drive the herd. This 6'4" native of Rhode Island gained his nickname soon after arriving in Texas because people thought he looked like a Shanghai rooster.
Pierce liked to stretch the truth just a little, as can be seen by part of his account of the journey: "The mud and water of the Louisiana swamps compelled us to pick every step. Why the public roads -- where there were any -- would bog a saddle blanket. My steers were nice, fat, slick critters that knew how to swim, but they were used to a carpet of prairie grass. They were mighty choosy as to where they put their feet. They had a bushel of sense, and purty soon over there in Louisiana they got to balancing theirselves on logs in order to keep out of the slimy mud. Yes, they got so expert that one of them would walk a cypress knee to the stump, jump over it, land on a root, and walk it out for another jump. If there was a bad bog-hole between cypresses you'd see a steer hang his horns into a mustang-grapevine, or maybe a wistaria, and swing across like a monkey. The way they balanced and jumped and swung actually made my horse laugh."
More and more herds of cattle were being driven into California from not only Texas, but Missouri and elsewhere. California ranchers, many of whom had started their herds only three or four years previous, became wealthy beyond their imaginations almost overnight. Many of these ranchers, anxious to increase their fortunes even faster, failed to keep their breeding stock. They sold their bulls with the cows and steers, causing the normal increase of the cattle in Southern California to drop, form about 15,000 head annually to less then half that figure by 1855. With cattle from California, Texas and all points east flooding into the gold rush areas, the markets were glutted by 1857. Prices dropped from $18.00 to $16.00 a head, with young stock bringing only $7 - $8. To make matters worse, a severe drought hit portions of California before the summer of 1856 ended, forcing many ranchers to sell their cattle even cheaper.
Word of the collapse of the California market spread east quickly, and more Texas Cattlemen began looking north and east for a market. All of a sudden, the pioneers of the early trail drives into Missouri and other points in the east, found fellow-ranchers asking detailed questions about the best routes north, where and to whom to sell upon arrival, etc.
One unidentified Texan supposedly drove 1,500 Longhorns north to Missouri in 1842, but nothing is known of the details of this trip. Most historians believe he took a trail north through Texas and through the eastern part of what is now Oklahoma to Fort Gibson. From this point, he probably followed a military trail into southwest Missouri, then on to St. Louis (at that time, the only cattle market west of the Allegheny Mountains). The part of this trail that led through the Indian Nation would later be called the Shawnee Trail, the Osage Trace or the Kansas Trail. This trail was somewhat familiar to some of the ranchers, for they traveled along this same route to come to Texas.
By 1854, several routes north had been established, including what the returning drovers were calling the Kansas Trail, Kansas Territory had been created by Congress that year, and many Texans had decided to aim their herds in a more northerly direction, through the far eastern edge of Kansas. This trail followed a military road between Fort Gibson, Fort Scott and on to Fort Leavenworth.
Between about 1843 and 1853, the year Fort Scott was abandoned, the soon-to-be-famous Jesse Chisholm followed the military road from the Indian Nation to deliver Indian cattle to the military. So, in the early 1850's, many of the Texas drovers headed north were actually following the "first" Chisholm Trail.
One of the reasons the drovers headed into Kansas was to supply cattle for the immigrants preparing to travel the Santa Fe, Oregon or California Trails. Another reason was to, as one Texas drover said, "stay the hell away from those hateful farmers and cattlemen in Missouri".
As early as 1851, the dreaded "Texas fever" had been reported in Jackson and Cass counties of western Missouri. While it was not known then, this fever was carried by ticks on the Texas cattle. The Longhorns occasionally got sick from the disease, but because of their hardiness, did not die as northern cattle did. In 1853, Texas drovers with three thousand head of cattle on their way to the northern markets were stopped and turned back by irate farmers and stockmen in western Missouri.
Although the name of this disease was bestowed on Texas, it was noticed as early as 1796 in Pennsylvania. By 1812, Virginia had prohibited the entry of cattle from South Carolina and Georgia during the warm months when the diseased ticks could survive the climate.
When Texas drovers were turned back when trying to enter Missouri, they must have been mad enough to start a war on the spot. The months of trailing and hardships to find a market would naturally make a drover quite upset if he could not reach that market, therefore being a strong-willed people that didn't stay discouraged long, they found alternatives. They simply turned the cattle back to the area south of the Kansas border, then took the military road north. This was the first of many, many times the Texans would have to shift the trails west to keep from armed conflicts with those scared of Texas fever.
By the summer of 1856, many drovers were using the military trail through the eastern edge of Kansas. It is not known how many cattle were driven north that year, but thousands reached their destination. In 1857, 52,000 cattle reached the Kansas City market, and 48,000 in 1858, two-thirds of these being from Texas. By this time, Kansas City was by far the largest cattle market on the western frontier.
The first real cattle town in Kansas, although rather crude by later standards, was Baxter Springs, located about a mile north of the present Oklahoma border in southeast Kansas. In 1855, John J Baxter settled in this area, and by the late 1850's, he had built corrals for the trail drivers' cattle, enlarged his store to provide a larger stock of goods for the Texans, and built a tannery nearby. This settlement was named Baxter Springs after the Civil War, and although Baxter was a northerner and an abolitionist, he and the Texans got along well.
Baxter left an impression on many of the cattlemen, as can be seen by a letter written by a Texas drover in 1857: "...although this man Baxter is a northerner, he gets along with all the boys and does his best to keep as much stock on hand in his small store as he can. Many people are downright scared of the man...with little wonder. He doesn't need but about four or five inches more to be seven feet tall, and always has two of the new Navy Colts strapped around his waist."
Baxter never saw his town develop, for on January 26, 1859, he was shot to death in a claims dispute near his store.
In 1858, trouble hit the Texas drovers again, and of course it was Texas fever. Thousands of cattle had died from a new outbreak in western Missouri and eastern Kansas, and the stockraisers in those areas took matters into their own hands by turning the northbound Longhorns back when they left Indian Territory. The following February saw the territorial legislature of Kansas passing a law similar to one passed by Missouri in 1855. This prohibited Texas, Arkansas or Indian Territory cattle from entering the four organized counties in the southeastern section of Kansas between June 1st and November 1st. As a result, some drovers held their herds on grass just south of the Kansas border until November, while others went back to the trails into Missouri.
The law passed in Missouri to prevent Texas fever was in a way beneficial to the Texans, but didn't help the Missouri stockraisers a bit. Being it was not known that ticks carried the disease, this law provided for a health check of the cattle entering the state. The tough Texas Longhorns were immune to the disease, so exhibited no symptoms. Therefore, no records have been found of Texas Longhorns being stopped from entering Missouri because of being afflicted with the disease, but the Missouri cattle kept dying.
By 1859, growing problems between the North and South were steadily building their way to a climax that would mean drastic changes in the future of Texas and the Southwest. Early in 1859, as two thousand Longhorns passed through Dallas, a newspaper echoed the bitter feelings and resentment that would lead to Civil War: "Close to two thousand cattle were headed through our city today....headed north to feed our abolition neighbors. We hope that southern diet may agree with them."
Within two years, thousands of Texans would be called to arms to fight two enemies, the Union Army and the Indians on their own frontier. One of these men, 25 year old Charlie Goodnight, would protect fellow Texans' homes and families from the near-constant depredations of Indians, and later be a driving force behind reconstruction of the cattle industry after the war.
By Alan M. Hoyt
At 4:30 a.m. on the morning of April 12, 1861, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Union held Fort Sumter, starting the War Between the States. The war and it's outcome would cause drastic changes in the way of life for all Americans, but would also eventually give a much needed boost to the growth of the cattle industry in Texas and the Southwestern United States.
During the period of the war, most of the cattle markets that had been opened in the previous decade were closed. On April 9, 1861, President Lincoln declared a blockade of the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and other southern states, and on August 16 of the same year prohibited all commercial trade with the seceding states.
The largest outlet for Texas cattle during the war was in the southern states. In 1861, after the federal blockade in the Gulf Of Mexico began to take effect, Texas cattlemen drove their herds overland to New Orleans and other parts of the South, selling them to civilians and Confederate soldiers alike. These drives continued without much problem until the spring of 1862, when the capture of New Orleans by Farragut caused them to decline. But, tempted by highly inflated prices, Texas ranchmen persisted in bringing stock to New Orleans, where it was sold for "federal gold". Few ranchmen engaged in these practices. Nevertheless, a number of Texas newspapers blasted this handful for lack of loyalty.
Texas beef in limited numbers did continue to supply the Confederacy throughout the war, however. On October 11, 1862, a statute of the Confederate Congress exempted from the draft a certain number of individuals engaged exclusively in raising stock; "one male citizen for every five hundred head of cattle."
Late in the following February, George W. White, Confederate commissary agent for Texas, issued a circular to the cattlemen of the state in which he said that the soldiers "must have a large portion of the beef cattle of Texas." He declared that he was authorized by the Secretary of War and the Commissary General to impress the required number of cattle, and that he would pay "25 dollars per head for cattle four years old and upwards, where the owner or agent gathers them; or 22 dollars per head where the owner or agent refuses to gather, and the same has to be collected at the expense of the government."
The stock rounded up in this way were driven through Louisiana or southern Arkansas, crossed the Mississippi river, and were then rushed east to the Confederate forces. Needless to say, the difficulty of swimming the cattle across the "Big River" was hazardous, but it became much more of a dangerous task as the number of federal gunboats increased in search of illegal contraband. Some Longhorns were also driven from the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and northern Texas to Kansas during the last three years of the war.
Whether Texas Longhorns were driven north by thieves to supply federal forces, or driven across the Mississippi to the Confederate forces by Texans, the cattle began building a reputation for themselves. Since both armies were in desperate need for beef, the Longhorns were most often driven as rapidly as possible to whichever army -- no slow paced drive that would allow the animals to feed along the way, but as quickly as possible by whatever route was open. Most of the soldiers considered it a miracle that the Longhorns made it at all, but often , the animals were near starvation when they arrived.
A Texas private stationed near Little Rock wrote to this brother early in 1863: "The Government tried to feed us Texans on poor, starved beef but there is too dam many hogs runnin' round here for that."
On the other hand, if a number of Longhorns were obtained while soldiers were on bivouac and had a chance to get some fat back on them, most soldiers seemed very pleased with their beef rations. One corporal with the 93rd New York Infantry had nothing but praise for the Texas cattle: "Captured several hundred beeves from the Rebs two months ago. Heard they came all the way from south Texas and they must have made the trip in a day, for they were nothing but hide and bone. Tried eating a few then, but what meat there was tough as hell; so being we were going into bivouac at the time, decided to let the cattle try to gain a few pounds worth eatin' and eat pork, which we have plenty. Finally ate 10 or 15 of the beeves yesterday for Thanksgiving dinner. Oh, what a difference! Them beeves had nothing but the tall grass and shrubs around the camp, but the steaks were plentiful and delicious. Tell uncle Miriam that I will endeavor to bring him some of this kind of stock after the war is over, for they eat anything and taste better than his imported beef."
Another Union soldier's beef ration must have been stored in the commissary wagon for several long, hot days, for he wrote home of drawing beef "so damned full of skippers that it would move alone. Yesterday morning was the first time we had to carry our meat for the maggots always carried it till then. We had to have an extra guard to keep them from packing it clear off." This statement, although exaggerated somewhat, was close to the truth. A majority of the meat rations received by both armies were tough and rancid by the time they got to the individual soldier. Part of the reason behind this was mismanagement in the supply administrations of both armies. But the main reason was the lack of adequate transport of foodstuffs to the places needed, particularly for the Confederacy. Understandably, the period of the war years was disastrous for most Texas cattlemen. During the first two years, many enlisted or were drafted into the Confederate Army, leaving their ranches in the charge of women and children and the grossly undermanned Texas Frontier Regiment. Only a very small percentage of cattle found a market during the war. Along with these problems, a number of severe droughts settled upon the ranch country, resulting in the death of thousands of Longhorns. Prices of cattle fell to one or two dollars a head and even at those low figures there were few purchasers. Some drovers took herds across the Rio Grande into Mexico, but without much success. It was of this era that Joseph McCoy said: "Then dawned a time in Texas that a man's poverty was estimated by the number of cattle he possessed."
The War Between the States started in Texas on January 28, 1861, when the Secession Convention met in Austin. Almost immediately Union General Twiggs surrendered Federal arms, posts and supplies in Texas. Upon Twiggs's surrender, three colonels appointed by the Convention took matters into hand. The Texas frontier was first divided into three sectors for each man to command, but later the middle and the northern districts would be combined under Henry McCulloch, while the southern district remained under the control of "Old Rip" Ford.
The Secession Convention authorized each of the thirty-seven counties to organize companies not to exceed forty Minute Men, who would be constantly in action somewhere in their area.
Colonel Earl Van Dorn took over command of Texas in April, and the following month ordered establishment of two military lines so extended that they would be impossible to defend. The following month, almost two thousand Texas soldiers crossed the Red River to try and establish peace with the reserve Indians. Treaties were made with some of the tribes, but many of the wild Indians to the west of the Five Civilized Tribes had quickly made their way to other parts of the country.
Henry McCulloch decided it would be worth his time to find the Plains Tribes and attempt a peace negotiation between them, Texas and the Confederacy. McCulloch took with him twelve to fifteen men and, as guide, a young Texan who would soon make a name for himself and southwestern cattle industry history -- Charles Goodnight.
In his masterpiece of Western history, Charles Goodnight, Cowman and Plainsman, author J. Evetts Haley gave Goodnight's account of the peace attempt with the notorious Kiowa leaders, Satank and Satanta, along with Comanches Eagle Chief, Lone Wolf and Red Bear: The Comanches flatly refused to join the Confederacy, saying we Texans were heap rich in cattle and horses, and that they preferred to fight us and steal from us and trade to Mexico -- which they did. We were at the Indian camp only a day and a night -- there was no use staying with the buggers."
This refusal of the marauding Plains tribes to come to any peace with the Texans was to leave Texas in a difficult position during the war -- that of fighting two enemies on two fronts.
Charles Goodnight, though opposed to war, would have enlisted if it had not been for an accident he had early in 1861. While obtaining some pork to last through the winter months, he was attacked by a wild hog, whose tusk cut Goodnight's right leg to the bone in one slash about seven inches long. While on crutches convalescing, the call was made for volunteers to join the Confederacy. Many of Goodnight's friends left for war, but after a period to think the situation over, Goodnight decided that "If I was going to fight I had better fight to defend our homes." Other Texans thought this a priority also, with many experienced scouts and Indian-fighters joining the Frontier Regiment, as did Goodnight after his wounds had healed. James M. Norris of Waco was appointed by the Governor to command the Frontier Regiment, and he immediately laid out his companies in the first really defensible line since the Federal troops had been withdrawn.
Even with these efficient men patrolling the borders, chasing Indian raiding parties and attempting to protect the lives of the frontier settlers, many people were killed and thousands of Texas Longhorns were driven into Mexico and Indian Territory.
Again quoting from J. Evetts Haley's book: "Foodstuffs became prohibitive in price, and to add to the suffering, a bad drought fell over the country in 1863, and continued until 1864. The Brazos quit running, and it was said a man might ride the three hundred miles of its course through the Palo Pinto country and hardly wet his horse's hoofs. Large bodies of post oak died between Camp Cooper and Breckenridge, crops withered and failed, and corn for the rangers was hauled from East Texas."
Thousands of Texas Longhorns died during the drought, but their numbers continued to increase so that by the end of the war, they offered hope and a means of re-establishing a stable economy for Texas and the Southwestern United States.
By Alan M. Hoyt
The decade following the Civil War saw multitudes of changes for all Americans. In Texas, the first words that came to mind were poverty and despair. A similar scenario was repeated countless times in Texas: a soldier returning from war to his ranch with no money and no hope . . . . . returning to a ranch grown up with weeds, corrals falling down, his house in shambles or possibly burned to the ground by Comanches, his wife and children (if he had any) weathered, ragged and nearly starved. The eyes of the now ex-soldier’s wife would tell it all . . . pain, exhaustion, remorse. "I’m sorry," she would say, "no food or money, nobody to tend to the cattle or the land . . . and then the Indians . . . ."
But the words poverty and despair did not set too well with the Texans. They were very soon replaced with words like hope, new ideas, dreams, and statements like "By the Grace of God, we will make this work." These Texans, adapting to the realities of their time, place and economic condition, started again what had always been a small business, conducted it with the barbaric drive equaled by no other people, and exploded a new way of life that would affect not only Texas, but the entire country and even the world. This was a culture they created . . . a culture that followed the Texas Longhorn cattle from the Rio Grande to the Canadian Rockies. This culture would be branded into the hearts, minds and imaginations of people worldwide forever.
The cattle kingdom was made for the Great Plains. It had four basic ingredients that would not change . . . . not for a while anyway. These were men, horses, half-wild Texas Longhorns and a limitless sea of grass. No country, and no animals were ever better suited for each other than these descendants of the rough Spanish cattle and the grasses of the Great Plains. By the time the Confederate soldiers returned to their homes in Texas, they didn’t have much, but one thing they did have were tens of millions of Longhorns just waiting for some cowboy to put a brand on them.
To the Anglo farmers who settled in the Nueces area of Texas, these wild cattle were at first a pest. As early as 1849, one farmer stated that "cattle were beginning to over-run the fields and crops, and that out on the prairie lay rusting branding irons unrecognized by the people living there." The majority of the white farmers stopped at the line where the water and woods ran out, which was where the cattle empires began. These magnificent prairies would not grow some crops from year to year, but they did grow layers of thick, nutritious grasses.
Author-historian Fehrenbach said: "The great change was the adaptation to the Mexican cattle culture by the Americans who filtered into the borderlands. White settlers had brought cattle to Texas: above the Colorado the predominant breed was the "Texas", or American round-barreled stock. But these came as farm animals, handled as men had handled livestock for generations in the British Isles. They were herded on foot in the timbers and brakes, and grazed on small meadows; this was lowly work, left to children or even Negro slaves. These Americans did not brand their cattle but kept them within fences; above all they did not ride horseback."
But without horses, the great cattle industry could not have made it on the Great Plains simply because of logistical problems. The horse was also not just transportation, but the most valuable possession a Texan on the prairie could have. An old joke at the time was that a Texan’s second most treasured possession was his wife, but their chance of survival in the Indian infested country without a horse and gun was very slim.
So, outfitted with a horse, gun, lariat, independence and no small amount of courage, the Texans began to find a way to turn these millions of Longhorns into gold. The industrial giants of the North would take all the beef they could get, and pay well for it, therefore the problem of transportation had to be solved, with better success than it had been before the War.
Because of this great transportation problem of getting the cattle to a market, the range cattle industry of the Southwest United States would never have evolved so completely had it not been for the Texas Longhorn breed of cattle. These wild Texas cattle were not merely pasture steers; they could walk to markets thousands of miles away, through swamps and deserts, through droughts sent by the devil himself. They made their own roads, and the railroads came to meet them in Kansas. The hardships of a drive were not for weak-hearted souls, but those who made it received huge profits for their troubles. In 1865, cattle sold in Texas for around four dollars a head, but brought thirty to forty dollars in the North. In fifteen years, Texans drove millions of cattle north, while their herds at home still increased. This was the prime business in Texas, and brought millions in gold into poverty-stricken Texas. This money fed families and quickly improved the quality of life for many, while making some cattlemen into millionaires...almost overnight.
On the frontier, Texas replaced the cotton kingdom of the South with a cattle empire. In the West, people of the north and south came together for the first time in a long time. The Texans did not just ship cattle east through Chicago, but into twelve western States from New Mexico to Montana. In 1876, the cattle frontier had barely reached the 100th Meridian, but after the Indians were either killed or put on reservations, the western cattle business exploded. By 1881, the cattle empires had closed the High Plains and was established far beyond Texas in every direction, from New Mexico to the Cascade Mountains, and from the Panhandle to Canada.
The trails out of Texas started slowly, and were scouted and blazed by the adventurous type person who would not be held back from getting his cattle to market for any reason. One of these men was Colonel Charles Goodnight, whose family moved to Texas when he was ten years old. In his early years, Goodnight received little formal education, going to a country school in the winters until he was nine years old. Most of the time, he was making himself useful on the family farm in Milam County learning to ride horseback and tending cattle, and of course becoming proficient with a gun with which to fight prowling Indians. At the age of nineteen, he and a friend, W.J. Sheek, decided to strike out on their own and head for California. After riding about two hundred miles to the San Saba River, they decided that Texas was big enough for them, and turned back. It was at the Brazos River that they met cowman, Claiborne Varney, who had over four hundred head of cattle he wanted to sell. The boys had no money, but they made a deal with Varney: He would allow the cattle to graze wherever, and the boys would brand every fourth calf for themselves each year for ten years. At the time, they would return Varney’s share to him. The deal was made, and the boys moved the cattle into Palo Pinto County, which was beyond the frontier in 1855. After establishing their headquarters at Black Springs, on the Kuchi Creek, they decided to make a living some way, being there was no market for calves. So until Goodnight’s stint with the Rangers during the Civil War, he freighted ox-teams while Sheek remained with the cattle.
After the War, Goodnight said that "The Palo Pinto country was alive with cattle and no market for them." Their ten year cattle contract was up and the partnership bought the C.V. brand from Varney. Now holding seven thousand cattle, Goodnight decided to move three thousand of them beyond the settlements in the part of the state now known as Throckmorton County. At this point, Goodnight had a good taste of disappointment when Mexicans and Comanches drove off two thousand head. In the spring of 1866, Goodnight decided to find a northern market somewhere.
GETTING TO MARKET
Some south Texas cattlemen thought they had found a good market at Abilene, but Goodnight had another direction in mind. In New Mexico and Colorado, the government agencies were needing beef to feed the thousands of Indians that they were "loose herding", but in order to get to this market, Goodnight knew well that he would have to cross the Comanche country (the Texas Panhandle). After four years of being a scout and guide, he knew this area better than anyone, and he knew any crossing through that area would be extremely dangerous. Through his knowledge of the area, Goodnight decided to take the longest route possible in order to stay away from as many running streams as he could; it was the custom of the Indians to follow the streams. The route he picked was a difficult one, and only the Texas Longhorn breed could have stood it. He would trail his herd two hundred miles southwest to the head of the Concho, cross the near one hundred miles of desert to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos, then turn up the Pecos to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and then to Colorado. Goodnight had trouble finding someone to go with him, for as he said, "They all had business this side of Comanche country."
He finally received help from one of the most experienced cowmen of the time, Oliver Loving. Loving had driven a herd over a direct route to Colorado in 1859, also having driven herds into Illinois and New Orleans. The two men got up a herd of two thousand mixed cattle, and started out in June with 18 cowhands.
They finally had to kill many newborn calves, as they could not keep up with the cows, much less the steers. Upon reaching the headwaters of the Concho, Goodnight wrote: "We stopped long enough to put a good fill on the cattle, then we pointed the herd straight into the setting sun for the drive across the ninety-six mile desert to the Pecos. The weather was hot and the alkali dust stirred up by the cattle could be seen for miles. Both man and beast suffered terribly. Three days and nights were required for the drive, and during that time, no man slept except on horseback. Three hundred head of cattle perished."
After crossing the Pecos, the herd was driven about one hundred miles to Fort Sumner, arriving two months after they had left the Palo Pinto country. This trail, which was blazed through six hundred miles of uninhabited territory, immediately became known as the Goodnight Trail. It was later extended past Pueblo and Denver and into Cheyenne and Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Upon arrival at Fort Sumner, Goodnight and Loving found the government "loose herding" nine thousand Apaches. The cattle two years old and up were sold for the remarkably high price of eight cents per pound on foot. What cattle were not sold to the government were headed on into Colorado by Loving, while Colonel Goodnight, with six thousand dollars in gold and silver, headed back home to buy cattle for another drive. After starting again over the same trail the next year, Loving was killed by Comanches. It would be the last trip Goodnight would make over his trail.
While Colonel Goodnight and Oliver Loving were blazing their trail, other Texas cattlemen were looking to markets in the North. After more problems with the fever tick situation, these men decided that the railroad was the only solution, for they could drive their beeves through Texas and the Indian Territory without hindrance.
The Chisholm Trail, probably the most widely known of the northern routes, resulted from the travels of merchant, trader cattlemen Jesse Chisholm, who had marked the best routes north through Indian Territory on his trading trips.
|Author’s note: In my research
for this series over the last year and a half, I have come across
articles, books, personal accounts, etc., which have "indisputable"
evidence that the Chisholm Trail was named after at least six different
people with as many as three different spellings of the name. After
having questioned historians, professors, authors and anyone else
that would have reason to know, I have found that the Chisholm Trail
through Indian Territory and into Kansas is indeed named after part-Indian
and trader, Jesse Chisholm. In fact, Joseph G. McCoy had Jesse Chisholm
mark his trail so the northbound cattlemen could find it more easily.
Where the problem for a historian in straightening this discrepancy arises is the fact that the Chisholm Trail reached all the way down through Texas, and happened to be marked or first used by other cattlemen named similar . . . . like Thornton Chisholm of DeWitt County, Texas, who drove herds north, and John Chisum, a leading Texas cattleman who blazed many miles of trail.
It took one man to bring the Texas cattlemen and the railroads together, and he was a remarkable man with a dream and drive and drive the likes of which very few people have. He was a cattleman named Joseph G. McCoy. He knew well the problems of the Texas cowmen in finding a market, and went to work full speed to promote a railroad from Kansas City west. It is said that one railroad president literally threw McCoy out of his office for wasting his time with such impractical ideas! Finally, the Kansas Pacific Railroad said they would build McCoy’s railroad. McCoy first went to Junction City, Kansas, but the populace were definitely not interested in his idea for a terminal. Following this turn-down, McCoy went to Abilene, where he met a dynamic Texas cattleman from Lockhart, John Jacob Myers. While sitting on a pile of lumber talking, McCoy asked what it would take to get Texas cattlemen to bring their herds to Kansas.
Myers replied, "An honest market . . . . where we can sell our cattle in a business-like way . . and not be hounded by rascals and thieves."
"Could you bring me 25,000 head if I opened such a place?" McCoy asked.
"We can bring you a million head." answered Myers. The Kansas Pacific built their railroad to Abilene in 1867, while Myers was spreading the news in Texas. Myers marked the trail from Lockhart to the Red River, and Jesse Chisholm marked it from there onto Abilene. All of a sudden, things started to look up for Texas cattlemen.
By Alan M. Hoyt
As the railroads and quarantine laws steadily moved westward, they left in their wake towns that the Texas Longhorns had built and established into prosperous entities. But as the cattle trade left, these towns settled down to quiet farming communities, usually glad to get rid of the 'hell-raising' cowboys that had made them prosperous. Along with the reasons for westward movement previously mentioned, the annihilation of the buffalo was a major cause for the opening of the limitless grasslands in the West.
When the white man had first seen the Great Plains, it appeared to be one big pasture of buffalo that ranged from South Texas to Canada. Sometimes, herds hundreds of miles across covered the earth like a slowly-moving brown quilt. In spring, the buffalo moved northward across Kansas, close-cropping the grass as they went. Most cattlemen knew that where the buffalo had ranged, the pastures would be spoiled for two years.
Everyone except the Indian seemed to want to wipe out the buffalo, for one reason or another: the soldiers wanted destruction of the herds as a means to keep the Indian on the reservations; the railroads, deeply hurting from the depression of the seventies, were glad to haul meat, hides and bones to eastern markets; freighters and merchants loved the business that came from buffalo hunting.
The Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867 gave the Indians the right to hunt buffalo in Kansas, but no white man could hunt south of the Arkansas River, which was then the southern boundary of Kansas. The Army never made any attempt to enforce the law, which highly upset the Indians.
In 1870, J. Wright Mooar asked the Commandant of Fort Dodge what might happen if he went hunting below the line. Officer Richard I. Dodge laughed and said, "Boys, if I were hunting buffalo, I would go where buffalo are."
Several efforts were made to save the buffalo, but they were turned down immediately. In 1872, the Kansas State Legislature passed an act to 'prevent the wanton destruction of buffalo,' but was countered with an executive pocket veto. Congress also tried in 1872 and 1874 to prevent 'useless slaughter of buffalo,' but were also vetoed. Meanwhile, the killing went on, setting the stage for the Texas Longhorn to take over the vast prairies being left vacated by the buffalo. During the heyday of the big hunts, one newspaper stated that a hunter from Dickinson County, Kansas, had killed as many as 658 buffalo in one winter. At seeing this, the editor of the Dodge City Times couldn't pass up the chance to prove the prowess of Ford County hunters: "Oh dear, what a mighty hunter! Ford County has twenty men who each have killed five times that many in one winter. The best record, however, is that of Tom Nixon, who killed 120 at one stand in forty minutes, and who, from the 15th of September to the 20th of October, killed 2,173 buffaloes. Come on with some more big hunters if you have any."
Finally, by 1877, Colonel Dodge wrote, "The buffalo is virtually exterminated. no legislation, however stringent or active, could now do anything for or against the trade of the 'buffalo products'." Colonel Dodge also believed that there was an Indian-dressed robe sent in for every five rawhides. In fact, during the years of 1872 to 1874, Dodge found a total of 1,215,000 buffalo killed by Indians compared to 3,158,730 killed by white men. In addition, because of fear that legislation would be passed to preserve the buffalo, the railroads conspired to keep secret the actual number of buffalo hides shipped over their lines. So with the buffalo exterminated and a majority of the warring Indian tribes 'loose-herded' on reservations, the Western United States was fair game for anyone wanting lush rangeland.
It is said that 'civilization follows the plow,' but if that is true in the western United States, then the plow followed the cowboys and the cowboys followed the Texas Longhorn steers. To understand the hardships endured by the Longhorns, along with their ability to endure just about anything, one must also understand the life of the American cowboy and the western cowtown. After all, it would be impossible, let alone unthinkable, to separate the cow from the cowboy in any historic narrative. Therefore, we will look at the hardships encountered by both the cattle and the men that drove them, along with the cowtown of all cowtowns----Dodge City.
Dodge City was different from the other cowtowns. It had been a boom town for buffalo hunters and bullwhackers for half a century. The men that followed the Santa Fe Trail were there...so were the soldiers from Fort Dodge. Everyone had a gun, in addition to excess of money and an abundance of liquor. The only thing on short supply in Dodge was women.
But from the first, the "citizens" of Dodge City were cattle-minded. As early as 1872, 19 year-old D.W. "Doc" Barton drove two thousand head of Longhorns to Dodge City. Because of Indian scares, he took a route through New Mexico and Colorado to the Arkansas River, following it downstream to Dodge City. At that time, there were no loading pens in Dodge, so he moved the herd on to Great Bend. It wasn't until 1875 that cattle started to be shipped out of Dodge on a regular basis. Then the town began working on her world-wide reputation as the Cowboy Capital. Many of the early citizens of Dodge were veterans of the other, earlier cowtowns: gamblers, gunfighters and prostitutes. Many of these were well-acquainted by the time they reached Dodge City, so they worked out a way of life that all could agree upon. As one historian said, "They knew how to raise hell and make it pay."
One summer day in 1876, a wagon train heading west came to Fort Dodge and camped on the prairie nearby. That evening, U.S. Army Surgeon, W.S. Tremaine and several other officers walked out to get the latest news from the travelers. They found the wagons deserted, with bullet holes and arrowheads stuck in their sides. Passing the wagons, they found the settlers kneeling with bowed heads, while their minister prayed: "Oh Lord, we pray Thee, protect us with Thy mighty hand. On our long journey, Thy Divine Providence has thus far kept us safe. We have survived cloudbursts, hailstorms, floods, strong gales, thirst and parching heat ----as well as raids of horse thieves and attacks by hostile Indians. But now, oh Lord, we face our gravest danger ---- Dodge City lies just ahead, and we must pass through it. Help us and save us, we beseech Thee. Amen."
This pretty well summed up the outsiders' view of Dodge City, also known as "The Deadwood of Kansas," "the rip-roaring burg of the West," "The Beautiful Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier," "Hell on the Plains." Dodge ---- a synonym for all that is wild, reckless and violent; where was outfitted every expedition against Indians, horse thieves, outlaws; where a saloon could be found for every fifty residents; and where the only public buildings ever locked were the jail and the church.At first, Dodge had consisted of tents, small shacks and dugouts. Nearly everyone in town sold whiskey or opened a restaurant, but the town grew rapidly. A row of one-story frame buildings was built on both sides of the east-west railroad, forming the Plaza or Front Street. The nearest law was in Hays City, seventy-five miles away, with every imaginable danger between the two points.
Of course, not all of the residents or transients in Dodge were trigger-happy gunmen, gamblers, and "ladies of the evening." The majority of the citizens had come there to establish a new life and better themselves through farming, merchandising or ranching. But the public's imaginations was captured worldwide and forevermore by the American cowboys and the cattle they drove.
By the time Dodge City was established as a cowtown, the world's attention was on the massive cattle drives coming up from Texas and the Indian Territory. Most trail herds averaged twenty-five to thirty-five hundred and normally moved about 10 to 15 miles a day.
The Texas cattle didn't much resemble a 'modern' beef steer, which could never travel a thousand miles at that rate and gain weight at the same time anyway. Historian and author Stanley Vestal described the trailing Longhorns: "The Longhorn was wild, fierce, and sensitive, of mighty stamina, and muscled like a stag. There was nothing logy about him. He had narrow shoulders, a sharp backbone, tucked-up flanks, and a sway-back. There was more horn, hoof and bone to him, though he could get rolling fat. Most cattle get up slowly, hind end first, but the Longhorn ---- like the buffalo ---- seemed to spring up all at once, like a jack-in-the-box. He had a long tail, long legs, and was built to travel."
Buyers and owners reached Dodge well in advance of the herds. As soon as the brakeman on the slowing train shouted out "Dodge City," buyers from Wyoming to New York hurried across Front Street to either the Dodge House or the Alamo, where they immediately registered, then began talking about nothing but Longhorn steers, brands, cattle markets back East, cocktails and toddies.
The herds had started north as soon as the grass was high enough to feed them. Depending on their point of debarkation, they would reach Dodge City after 30 to 100 days on the trail.
For ten years, Dodge City was not only a cattle shipping point, but the greatest cattle market in the world. Many of the herds driven north to Dodge went straight on to Wyoming, Colorado, the Dakotas, Montana, and various Indian Agencies throughout the West.
Of 164 droves coming up the trail in 1880, 33 were herds of breeder cattle headed for the northern and western ranges. By the end of August 1880, 287,000 head of Longhorn had reached Dodge. In 1881, of 153,000 expected, over 100,000 had arrived by June 12. In the second half of that year, 100 railroad trains, made up of around 3,000 cars, each with a capacity of 20 head, carried 60,000 cattle out of Dodge.
In 1885, the last big year of the cattle trade, forecasts started to be made about the size of the Texas drive for the following season before the winter had even ended. Invitations were sent south to attract the cattlemen, and Dodge merchants got together to reduce prices on items in which the cowboys were interested.
While all of this was being advertised in Texas and the Indian Territory, Dodge went on it's annual cleanup campaign; painting stores, replacing boards in the sidewalks (if they could be called that), and stocking up on supplies of every imaginable item. Cattle usually began to arrive around April and by May, a steady flow of Texas cattle and cowboys were blanketing the surrounding grasslands and the saloons (and even churches) of Dodge. By the middle of July, usually about 70 percent of the year's drive had been bought and sold.
But cattle would keep trickling in until mid-September, while cowboys who had been hired to drive "breeder herds" on to the north and west would be stopping back by to visit Dodge as late as October. So Dodge merchants found themselves catering to eastern buyers and speculators, northern ranchers, Texas cattlemen and drovers, and the ever-present shrill whistle of the locomotives about ten months out of the year. During the peak season, one thousand to two thousand cowboys would be found in and around Dodge. Many of these men would be busy branding, cutting out, and holding cattle for more fattening; consequently, they might hang around Dodge for several months at a time.
Since these drovers received six month's to a year's pay as soon as the cattle were shipped out or sold, many of them worked off the boredom and hazards of the trail with liberal amounts of liquor, gambling, dancing with the saloon girls, or just plain having fun. The editor of the Dodge City Times, of course not knowing what these men had been through coming up the trail, wrote about the gun-toting Texas cowboy: "A gay and festive Texas boy, like all true sons of the Lone Star State, loves to fondle and practice with his revolver in the open air. It pleases his ear to hear the sound of this deadly weapon. Aside from the general pleasure he derives from shooting, the Texas boy makes shooting inside the corporate limits of any town or city a specialty. He loves to see the inhabitants rushing wildly around to 'see what all the shooting is all about,' and it tickles his heart to the very core to see the City Marshal coming towards him at a distance while he is safe and securely mounted."
"The program of the Texas lot then, is to come to town to bum around until he gets disgusted with himself, then to mount his pony and ride out through the main street, shooting his revolver at every jump. Not shooting to hurt anyone, but shooting in the air, just to raise a little excitement and let people know he is in town."
But the people of Dodge City seemed to put up with the minor hellraising by the cowboys, and even tried to protect them from gambling thieves, as is shown in this article from the Ford County Globe: "We believe that what is known as 'square games' are among the necessary belongings of any town that has the cattle trade. We don't believe there are a dozen people in Dodge who seriously object to this kind of gambling so long as this is a cattle town, but we appeal to our city officers 'to set down on' all showcase and other bare-faced robbing concerns. Keep them away from our town. They create more bad blood among both cattlemen and citizens than anything else. They are no good to any class of people in the community and they are even despised by gamblers themselves."
The common picture painted by television and Hollywood of the trail-drivin' cowboy has always been one of total independence, ruthlessness, rowdiness, drunkenness and extreme bravery, along with the willingness to shoot anybody down that got in his way or looked at him wrong.
A very few were that bad, but the majority of these men possessed qualities known primarily to mountain men, pioneers, and trailblazers. Their unflagging loyalty to their employer, to the point of dying to save the herd during Indian raids and floods, endeared him to all adventurous persons. Although the cowboy usually had little formal education, his "horse sense" more than made up for that. Like the tough Texas Longhorns he drove, he had found it most necessary to adapt to a wild and rough life, where danger could threaten his existence at any moment.
After being on the trail for months, then getting paid in Dodge City, the majority of these tough men (and the 15 to 18-year-olds which quickly became men) bought new duds, ammunition, possibly a new gun, and then got drunk until their money ran out or they had had enough of the high times of the wildest cowtown in the West. But these men, like the Longhorns, had adapted to the treacherous life of the Old West or they died trying.
James H. Cook, cowboy, plainsman, and author, described the role of the cowboy and plainsman in the West: "I desire to record one fact regarding those who made a success as good 'cowhands' or plainsmen or mountaineers, and who really aided, by their various activities, in paving the way for settlement in the West. Such men had to be known as men of deeds, men of action. No person, as far as I know, has ever accused Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, 'Bigfoot' Wallace, Jim Bridger, or others of their type whose names will remain indelible in the history of the West, of being either loafers, dance-hall artists, or desperadoes.
"The majority of the cowboys of the West were not a drunken, gambling lot of toughs. It required riders with clear heads, brave hearts, and strong bodies to do the work which was required in handling either the great trail herds or the cattle on the ranges. A drunken man riding one of those great herds of wild cattle was a sight I never witnessed. One could as well imagine a man being allowed to smoke cigarettes in a powder factory. A large percentage of the men who lived the life of the open chose and followed that life because they loved it."
One cowboy named Burt Taylor described one instance in which alcohol and cattle didn't mix: "There was another ferry that ferried across the Arkansas River a short ways back from the mouth before it emptied into the Virdigris. This ferry was run by Mrs. Lake Brewer, a Cherokee woman. After crossing the river, the trail from the ferry to Kansas was known as the Baxter Springs Road. Mrs. Brewer would at times, when the river was high, ferry cattle across the river on the ferry boat."
"One winter after I'd taken over the ferry, the river froze over real thick; it had begun to thaw and the ice was slipping. Jeff and Floyd Nevins went to Ft. Gibson and bought a bunch of jake; came back to the ferry pretty drunk. They got about a third of the way across the river, but because of the noise they were making, all the cattle got in one end of the ferry. Once there, the end the cattle were on, sank, throwing the other end away up out of the water. All the cattle drowned except one brindle steer."
"There was one man on the ferry that could not swim, the others had to hold him on the upper end of the ferry to keep him from jumping into the river as he got scared and lost his common judgment. All the men aboard got soaking wet; a skiff was taken out to get Jeff and Floyd, on the way back to the bank, the skiff run upon a large snag and sank."
This same cowboy told of his experiences of swimming cattle across rivers, and the problems involved. "When the river was low, it wasn't much problem getting the Longhorns across, but when the water was high, it was a mightily hard job. The way we handled them when the water was high was, we would start two or three of them into the water, and after they got to where they had to swim, we would pull up beside and get on their backs. We had a stick, and when the steers tried to turn back or go in the wrong direction, we would beat them on the side of the head and make them go straight, after we got the first few started, the others were easy to make follow. A lot of times when the water was real high, it would take us three weeks and longer to get them across. Quite often, we would start a large bunch across the river, lose control of them and they would come out anywhere from one to two miles down the river on the same side we started from. We would ride the steers' backs, jumping from one to the other, we had to leave the steer we would be riding before he got to the bank for if we rode them out onto the bank they would turn and charge us. They were surely the old long horned Texas steers."
While researching this series of articles I drove thousands of miles to sift through court records and newspaper articles, and talked with people who let me glance through crumbling pages of the diaries of their cattle-driving forefathers in search of interesting materials which told of the ways of life--and death-- of the frontier cattlemen and their Texas Longhorns. These stories could be summed up into the dry "high school history book" style, but I would much rather use them in their entirety so as to preserve the colorful narrative that expressed the spirit, stamina, and the close-knit relationships between cowboy and cow.
I would once again like to quote cattleman and author James H. Cook, whose narratives captured the spirit and dangers encountered by the drovers: "I think I can understand how men whose spirits are fired by patriotism in time of war will stand all sorts of privations and hardships, as well as the most intense suffering, such as was endured at Valley Forge, and at times during the War of the Rebellion; but what spirit fired and sustained the boys who drove the trail herds during the times of which I write is more than I can explain. I remember hardly an instance, and I think there were actually very few if any, in which men proved themselves to be quitters. To hold onto the stock seemed to be the first consideration with all engaged in the work."
"There are rough spots in the lives of all who have lived in the open, whether the life be that of a soldier, sailor, or plainsman; but I think the wild and woolly 'cow waddie' received about as many rough knocks as anybody living on the sunset side of the Mississippi."
"During the storms, the cattle and horses would stampede, and to stay with them, we had to ride as fast as a horse could run. Sometimes it would be so dark that a rider could not see his horse's head. Then a flash of lightning would come, and we could see the cattle tearing madly along and locate their position. The next moment one would again be blinded by the flash. Many were the hard falls the boys had to take when a horse went down while running after stampeded stock on those dark and stormy nights."
"Many were the poor old 'leather-breeches' who came dragging themselves into camp the morning after a bad night, either with broken bones or carrying their saddle on their backs, because their pony had fallen and broken his neck or a leg. And I know personally a few of the boys who were crushed to death and had to be left by the side of the trail to wait for the call of the great trumpeter, Gabriel, because of those terrible runs at night."
The Texas cowboy had to endure hardships greater than any other type of frontiersman. Hunters, trappers, and soldiers could usually find some shelter from storms, tornadoes, and Indians, but the drover had to brave the elements in order to stay with the herd. The real cowboy would stay with the herd come 'hell or high water' because he had to. Many unmarked graves lie along the great trails because drovers froze to death in the saddle, were trampled by cattle stampedes or attacked from ambush by Indians. Others met their demise in the cowtowns by gamblers very efficient with their six-shooters, who oftentimes just for sport, prodded the proud cowpuncher into a fight he had no chance of winning.
|Author's note: In the last part, I mentioned some investigation being done into the possibility of 'long-horned cattle' existing on the North American continent as early as the fifth century A.D.. Scientists are constantly searching for archaeological evidence to find out what type of life was here first. Some of the newest stories concern a Chinese legend found in the Llang Dynasty, telling of a Buddhist monk who discovered a land he called Fusang, about 13,000 miles east of China. Some persons researching this legend say this would have put the ancient explorers somewhere near southern California. Similarities between the empire noted by the monk and the highly developed civilizations of the fifth century Yucatan's in present Mexico do exist, but according to Professor of Geology, Stephen C. Jett, of the University of California at Davis, there is no substantial evidence to indicate these 'long-horned cattle' were indeed cattle. The animals might have been found to substantiate any claim that true cattle existed in America until Columbus brought that first small group on his second voyage in 1493 -- and those were Spanish cattle.|
By Alan M. Hoyt
One major problem that kept cropping up from time to time was Indian depredations on both cattlemen and citizens of Dodge City. The cattlemen, traders and soldiers knew that the reservation Indians were getting a rotten deal. The Indian Bureau was incompetent, and the government broke more treaties than could be listed in this entire magazine. The Cheyenne had been promised farming implements and training in their use, but never received them. The beef and other foodstuffs promised never came in amounts larger than just enough to keep them alive. Add to these difficulties the fact that the buffalo were hardly to be found north of the Red River, and you can see justification for the Indians' depredations.
But despite this, the local newspapers continued to refer to the Indians as the lowest type of scum on the face of the earth. On December 22, 1877, the Dodge City Times carried a typical account that brought out their feelings: "Last Tuesday evening, Mr. D. Sheedy arrived in this city from his cattle camp at the head of Salt Fork, 60 miles southeast of here in Comanche country, and from him we learn the particulars of another sneaking, treacherous outrage perpetrated by the noble red man. On last Friday, five Indians from the Cheyenne agency came into Mr. Sheedy's cattle camp, and in their accustomed insolent manner, began each to select a horse from the herd. The men in charge of the camp, four in number, were unarmed, but supposing the Indians not to be dangerous, ordered them to leave."
"The Indians 'showed up' their guns and told the white men to 'keep quiet or Indian would shoot'. The white men held their peace, and the noble Indians proceeded to kill a fat beef, take what they could carry, and started off with four ponies....Mr. Sheedy has armed his men and instructed them to shoot the first red devil that attempts to lay a hand on anything about the camp. He does not know whether the horses can be recovered or not, but intends to write to the agent about it." "One of the Indians who helped to do the stealing was a noted chief with but one eye, and he can be easily recognized. We advise his Indianship not to wander in the vicinity of that camp again." So, if it wasn't one thing troubling the cowboy, it certainly was another.
In Dodge City, next to liquor, the most necessary item for either transient cowboy or citizen was a gun. Firearms were extremely important in Dodge, and not just for killing someone. Guns were used to insure fair play. Guns were used to prevent gunplay. Guns were used to feed families. Guns were used in business dealings to prevent an honest man from being swindled.
One example of this type of usage came when a broke, 19-year-old kid, a long way from home, came to Dodge, where he had contracted to grade the Santa Fe right-of-way on the mile extending west from the military reservation to Front Street. His name was William Barclay Masterson. The contractor for which Masterson worked, however, decided to go back east without paying his man. But one day soon someone told Masterson that the debtor was on his way through Dodge and would be stopping there the next day. He met the train the next day, boarded it and brought the scoundrel out on the platform with his six-shooter in the scoundrel's back.
Masterson said, "I know you have several thousand dollars on you and you owe me $300 of it, and dammit, if you don't pay, you're never going back into that car."
The contractor said, "You're robbing me."
Masterson said, "No sir, I'm not robbing you. I'm just collecting an honest debt. You owe it, and you're going to pay it right now." The fellow paid Masterson, Masterson thanked him, and the man rushed for the safety of the railroad car.
While this argument was going on, people had gathered to see the fun, congratulating Masterson for his methods of collecting debts. Masterson bought them all drinks and suddenly became someone to be respected. Bat Masterson had started his reputation.
Although Dodge City has been known as the wildest of the cowtowns, it was plenty wild before the first trail drive arrived in the city. Merchants and law-abiding citizens were always in fear of being beaten, robbed and sometimes killed by other less desirable residents of the area. After matters became impossible to handle, some of the decent citizens got together and started their own vigilante committee. This system worked well for a while, but some of the outlaws were of such a tough nature that the vigilantes took into their membership a number of killers and rough customers to strengthen their position.
Because of this, the situation started to go bad very quickly. The end of the vigilantes came soon, when an innocent, polite and hard-working servant to the commanding officer of Fort Dodge was murdered without provocation.
Finally, after several well-respected gunmen (lawmen) were run out of Dodge, George M. Hoover was elected mayor. He promptly brought in Jack Allen, a notorious gunfighter who was also promptly run out of town. Hoover had had enough. He thereafter telegraphed Wyatt Earp, offering him a job.
Due to political reasons, the previous city marshal was kept in office to finish his term. But Earp had the power to hire and fire deputies and to use his own methods of controlling crime, and he was paid over twice as much as the marshal when he was only chief deputy.
Wyatt Earp and his deputies had nothing against the cowboys having a good time in town. South of the railroad, the cowboys could do just about anything they desired including gunplay, if they weren't too careless where they threw their lead. But north of the railroad, possession of a gun meant an immediate fine and time spent in the calaboose.
In Earp's own words, he outlined his plans for controlling the cowboy population in Dodge: "Bat Masterson's brother Jim was in Dodge, a good game man who could handle himself in a fracas and I picked him as one deputy, took Joe Mason back, and was looking for a third, when Bat himself came in from Sweetwater, Texas, still limping from the leg wound he got when he killed Sergeant King." (This shooting occurred in 1875, while Bat was an army scout stationed at Fort Elliot, Texas.
Sergeant King, a notorious gunman had objected to Bat's dancing with a girl he called his own. King pulled his revolver, killed the girl, and shot Bat in the leg, knocking him down. Bat returned his fire, killing Sergeant. This taught Bat a valuable lesson -- shoot first and ask questions later. Bat's brother Ed later learned that lesson and it led to is death.)
"Bat's gun hand was in working order, so I made him deputy. He patrolled Front Street with a walking stick for several weeks and used his cane to crack the heads of several wild men hunting trouble; even as a cripple he was a first-class officer." (It is said that Masterson got his nickname 'Bat' because he would bat people up against the head to subdue them while he was recuperating.)
Earp went on to say: "I told my deputies that all bounties would be pooled and shared, but would be paid only when prisoners were taken alive. Dead ones wouldn't count. Each officer carried two six-guns and I placed shotguns at convenient points, as I had in Wichita, but killing was to be our last resort."
"I figured that if the cowboys were manhandled and heaved into the calaboose every time they showed in town with guns on, or cut loose in forbidden territory, they'd come to time quicker than if we kept them primed for gunplay. Hoover had hired me to cut down the killings in Dodge, not to increase them. As far as that went, any one of the deputies could give the average cowboy the best of a break, then kill him in a gunfight; but even when gunplay was necessary, we disabled men, rather than killed them."
During this time, Wyatt Earp coined a new phrase in pacifying troublemakers. There is no doubt that Wyatt Earp was one of the fastest guns in the West, but he used this talent not in killing them, but in knocking them unconscious. He would merely approach a troublemaker within a foot or two and if the man did not come peaceably or tried to draw on the famous marshal, Wyatt would, with lightning speed, draw his Colt Buntline special (on which some say he had cut the barrel back to 7 1/2 inches for easier draw) and whack the man unconscious with the heavy barrel. Most historians agree that this is where the phrase 'to buffalo someone' came from.
|Author's note: In the last issue, I made statements from a 'reliable source' quoting just how many men these cowtown marshals killed in the line of duty. After saying in the first part of this series that I would show all available sources of historical events, along with their discrepancies, I feel compelled to tell the side of the story which has the most credibility -- newspaper reports, court records still available and written accounts of eyewitnesses concerning the gun fights.|
Many of the dime store novelists and motion picture writers have, over the years, made these marshals out to be the kind that would have worn the rifling out of their Colts' barrels in a matter of days.
But the records show that almost all of the city marshals, sheriffs, and policemen followed Earp's lead, arresting instead of shooting offenders. This fact is what really made the cowtown lawmen enviable and famous: they enforced the law with little bloodshed.
Bat Masterson, sheriff of Ford County, used his talents with Colonel Colt's equalizer to kill only once in Dodge City. His brother, Ed, who was then Dodge City Marshal, attempted to take guns away from several cowboys who had just arrived in town. The cowboys were drunk and a scuffle followed. Bat heard shots, hurried for the Lady Gay Dance Hall, and arrived just in time to see several cowboys surrounding his elder brother. One shot Ed in the side from such close range that the gun blast set fire to Ed's clothing. Bat immediately opened fire, killing one person and badly injuring two others. Ed Masterson lived long enough to walk across Front Street, enter Hoover's saloon and collapse on the floor.
Assistant Marshal Grant Wells was forced to kill once, but none of the other notorious marshals killed in Dodge City, although some of them 'winged a few'.
Wyatt Earp did get into a shooting scrape with a typical Texas frontiersman and cowboy, but only after Earp was fired on first. The well-liked Texas drover was shot in the arm by Earp as he was escaping out of town. Modern care and immediate surgery could have saved the cowboy's life, but gangrene spread quickly, and the cowhand died.
About the cowboy's death, the Ford County Globe reported: "George Hoyt, the Texas cowboy, died on Wednesday, August 21st, and was buried on Boot Hill in grand style." (Author's note: Yes, this cowboy was a distant cousin of mine.)
As can be seen, few murderous gunfights actually occurred in the kowtows, but when they did, they quite often filled the air with lead and powder smoke. In addition, there were not many more Texas cowboys involved in gunfights of any consequence than there are today.
The Texas cowboy lived a hard life, much harder than can be imagined by most folks today. When trailing cattle, they occasionally had the chance to relax in a roadhouse, and sleep in out of the elements. But most often, these 'sleeping quarters' weren't much superior to pig pens.
One western man described 'Western quarters' as follows: "I have slept on beds active with snakes, lizards, scorpions, centipedes, , bugs and fleas --- beds in which men stricken with the plagues had died horrible deaths --- beds that might reasonably be suspected of smallpox, measles and cholera. Standing, sitting, lying down, doubled up and hanging over; twisted, punched, jammed and elbowed by drunken men; snored at, sat upon and smothered by the nightmare; burnt by fires, rained upon, and bitten by frost --- in all of these positions and subjected to all these discomforts, I have slept with comparative satisfaction. There are pleasanter ways of sleeping to be sure, but there are times when any way is a blessing."
No wonder the cowboy much preferred to sleep in the open when at all possible!
The food at many small Western towns' boardinghouses also left much to be desired. It is a small miracle that cowboys, miners, trappers and other frontiersmen didn't wipe themselves out with all varieties of food poisoning. Customers of one eating establishment even wrote a poem, of sorts, about their fare;
|"The coffee has the dropsy, the
tea the grippe.
The butter was consumptive, the flapjacks they had fits.
The beef was strong and jubilant, it walked upon the floor.
The spuds lost all their dignity and rolled right out the door.
The pudding had the jimjams, the pies was in disguise.
The beans came to the table with five hundred thousand flies.
The hash was simply murdered, just as hard as 'dobe mud'.
We howl, we wail, our muscles fail on this horrible awful grub!"
Conditions were often just as bad in saloons during the 'off season'. A western newspaper editor once asked his saloon keeper host for some beef: "I don't have any beef." "Then bring us some potatoes." "Don't have no potatoes." "How about some wood for the stove?" "If'n I had the cobs, I wouldn't need your paper."
Through all of the trials and tribulations of the cowboy, he still had time to be a gentleman and respect religion. Since a cowtown normally had several saloons before it's citizens ever got around to building a church, the saloon normally doubled as a church, with the bar as the pulpit. In fact, it wasn't uncommon for a parson to run a saloon and a bartender to turn into a parson. The folks back east never could understand the relationship with God that the cowboys and other frontiersmen developed. After all, if anyone understood the Almighty and His ways, it was a man that struggled for life on the frontier, not the 'gentleman Christian' of the large cities back east. The cowboys were not church-goers, nor were they disbelievers. The western man had a casual, informal approach to the Lord. They talked back to Him if they thought He deserved it. One lay minister, praying for the end of a scorching drought, shook his hand to the skies and bellowed: "If You don't answer this prayer, You have no damn business in cow country!"
Another Texas parson, aiming his sermon straight into the eyes of the trail driver's congregation said: "Hear what the great Herd Book says: "When the Son of Man, the Great Herdsman of Life, shall come in His glory, H shall separate His children as cattlemen divideth his steers from his cows. Now, when the herd is cut, the tailings are allowed to drift at will to be the prey of the cattle thief. But the cattle which have an owner will be cared for, taken into green pastures and fed through the cold, stormy weather!.... Boys, if you are in the old thief's pasture just take a run, and jump right through the fence out into the sunlight of God's own pasture green!"
In Creede, Colorado, at a time when silver was king and cattle prices were exorbitant, Parson Tom Uzzel once asked Bat Masterson if he could preach in his saloon. Bat banged on a whiskey keg with the butt of his gun, ordering everyone present to remove their hats and behave for the parson. Following the sermon and scriptures, the drinking men loudly joined Parson Uzzel in hymn singing. The plate was passed and enough silver was collected to build a church nearby!
No matter how crude, murderous or wild a cowboy could be, the 'Code of the West' demanded that he be a gentleman. If some unprovoked sexual attack ever happened (which was very rare), the perpetrator was severely dealt with by any cowboy who happened to be in the vicinity.
One woman, who had to share accommodations with several cowboys in a cowtown livery stable during a terrible storm, commented on their courtesy toward her: "These crude and dirty trailriders, many of which had spent months absent from the softening amenities of females, and the sweet, restraining influence of pure womanhood, these men grown from the frontier, the prairies and the hostile conditions that go with this upbringing, were, towards me, everyone in his own way ---- a GENTLEMAN!"
Meanwhile, Dodge City was growing rapidly into a farming community and some of the old struggles the cattlemen had been fighting for years began cropping up again ----fever ticks, barbed wire crossing the plains and some 'decent citizens' wanting to get rid of the majority of the hell-raisin' in town (although Dodge City citizens as a whole seemed rather proud of their reputation as cattle capital of the world). The railroads were steadily heading further west and south through Indian Territory and Texas. It would be many years, however, before cattle drives within the boundaries of these two areas halted, even with the railroads. It was much cheaper to drive cattle than to ship them by rail. The price to drive one steer from south Texas to Dodge City was about 75 cents and about a dollar to drive him on up to Wyoming.
By 1880, many head of the so called 'improved breeds' were making their way into western United States, but the pioneering had already been completed. The tough Texas Longhorn had built the United States beef cattle industry, and his brother, the American cowboy and rancher, had the economics and ranching principle down pat.
The greatest industry of the western United States had been weaned, nurtured and grown into adulthood by the most practical breed of livestock and the bravest, most dedicated men that ever strove to build a nation.
The Texas Longhorn would soon be nearly bred out of existence, but quite a few old Texas ranchers held on to the old tough cattle. They had the foresight and years of knowledge to know that the new pampered breeds would not be the panacea that most young cattlemen of the day thought they would be.
They knew that the Texas Longhorn, sooner or later, would get the last laugh.
By Alan M. Hoyt
The last two decades of the nineteenth century saw changes in the range cattle industry, in many cases so drastic and of such a magnitude as to leave the average cattleman far back in the dust if he wasn't scrutinizing carefully what was happening around him.
Some of these rapid-fire changes in the central and northern plains were causing great amounts of money to change hands so quickly that every financial center in the United States and Europe was nervously awaiting news of stock prices, land sales, new governmental actions concerning 'public domain' and more.
Early in the 1880's, the Fever Tick became more of an impetus for change than even the introduction of improved breeds on the plains. In Kansas, Texas and the Indian Territory, the illusive fever tick left his mark on the thinking and judgment of the citizens. In 1884, Kansas passed a law which would be the end of an era. This law forbade any Texas cattle to be moved into Kansas except between December 1 and March 1. This law covered the entire season in which Texas Longhorns could be brought into the state, thus causing a disaster for the drovers and cattle owners of Texas and the Indian Territories. As a result, cattle prices began to fall immediately in these areas, causing Texans to protest loud and clear against the legislation.
As a last ditch effort to save the trails, Texas Representative James F. Miller introduced a bill in Congress asking for a national cattle trail extending from the northern boundary of Texas to the Canadian border. This trail would have been no more than six miles wide. This singular trail would be complete with grazing grounds, along with quarantine grounds and crossings for 'native' cattle that would not exceed two hundred feet in width. The bill called for three commissioners to be selected by the Secretary of the Interior to lay out the route.
But the national trail had no chance from the beginning even though the majority of Texans supported it vehemently. By this time, the northern plains were nearly overstocked with cattle, and once again, the Kansas settlers feared Texas fever. In addition, the ranchers of Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, who were grazing cattle largely on the public domain, knew that Texas ranchmen would be bringing herds onto the northern plains, thus severely overstocking the already crowded range. A compromise was attempted between the Texans and the northern plainsmen, but failed because of irreparable differences.
One possible remedy for the situation of getting Texas cattle north was the building of railroad trunk lines through Indian Territory into Texas, but shipping cattle by rail cost three times as much and was oftentimes damaging to the cattle. But despite the demoralizing changes that were striking out at Texas and the Indian Territory ranchers, ranching on the central and northern plains was bursting ahead at full speed. A national depression was over, and euphoric feelings that "a man just CAN'T lose money with the cattle industry on the plains" were sweeping not only the United States, but were causing financiers in Europe to part with great amounts of money for speculation on the American cattle market. The influence of ranching in this 'new' area cannot be overestimated, as it proved to be one of the most significant contributors to the nation's economy in the second half of the nineteenth century.
This cattle bonanza, as many called it, provided millions of dollars in investment capital, created jobs and picked up the economy of the corn belt states by providing a market for all surplus grain that was available. It was also greatly responsible for the development of the packing industries and the resulting export trade in both dressed beef and cattle.
The people of Texas had created the ranch cattle industry, but until the Civil War was history, the central and northern plains had almost no cattle. There were a few frontier stock-raisers and settlers in the eastern portions of Kansas and Nebraska with a few head, but nothing of any consequence. This started to change in the late 1850's when the gold rush settled in the Pike's Peak area.
One of these gold-seekers who struck out and turned to other means of support was J.W. Iliff, later to be known as "cattle king" of Colorado and Wyoming. After his run to the Colorado gold rush in 1859, Iliff soon became disappointed and settled on a small piece of land near Denver. Here, he raised vegetables for sale to the miners, saved a little money and moved further north to establish a store near the present site of Cheyenne. Being located on the trail to California and Oregon, he had many opportunities to trade supplies for footsore cattle, which he normally picked up for a very small sum. After acquiring a considerable amount of these cattle, the Union Pacific Railway pushed westward near his ranch and store. All of a sudden, Iliff had an immediate market by supplying the railway construction camps with beef. He soon bought some Texas Longhorns from a trail drive, and afterwards became the richest cattleman in that area of the plains.
In his 1882 book entitled "The Beef Bonanza: Or How to Get Rich on the Plains," U.S. Army General James S. Brisban told of Iliff's remarks regarding his cattle ranching enterprise: "I have been engaged in the stock business in Colorado and Wyoming for the past fourteen years. During all that time I have grazed stock in nearly all the valleys of these territories, both summer and winter. The cost of both summering and wintering is simply the cost of herding, as no feed nor shelter is required. I consider the summer-cured grass of these plains and valleys as superior to any hay. My cattle have not only kept in good order on this grass through all the light winters, but many of them, thin in the fall, have become fine beef by spring.
During this time I have owned over 20,000 head of cattle. The percentage of loss in wintering here is much less than in the states, where cattle are stabled and fed on corn and hay. The cost of raising cattle here can be shown from the fact that I would be glad to contract to furnish any quantity of beef, from heavy, fat cattle, in Chicago at seven cents, net weight."
At the time Iliff made this statement, the cattle he was talking about ranged from pure Texas Longhorn to some crossbred with eastern "improved" breeds. The hardy Texas Longhorn was definitely on his way out, presumably because he took longer to mature and was inconsistent when it came to gaining weight in the feed lots. But more important to the near extinction of the Texas Longhorn was the fever tick problem and 'over-miscalculation'.
The importance and the popularity of the new breeds was normally based on the fact that they had been found to put on weight quickly and more consistently, but those virtues did not necessarily mean more profit.
The improved breeds did, in most cases, mature faster, but the Longhorn cow was still calving ten or more years after the improved cow had quit. The improved breeds were more consistent gainers, but they had to be pampered, cared for in many more ways, and fed grain to put on that consistent weight.
It is interesting to note that even into the early 1900's, profit margins received from sales of cattle to the government for beef rations to the Indian reservations in Indian Territory were approximately the same, and oftentimes higher with Texas 'scrub cattle' driven from the southern part of that state, than with various crossbred and improved cattle shipped from the corn-belt area or the plains.
But the 1800's saw thousands of head of improved breeding stock being shipped to the plains from farms in Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri and elsewhere. During this time, feeders in the corn-belt area even found it more profitable to sell to the western cattlemen at the inflated prices then in effect, than to buy stock cattle to fatten for the market. In fact, by 1884, there were as many cattle shipped west as east.
The introduction of these young improved cattle into the newly opened plains increased the risks of the speculative cattle industry to a great degree. Part of this stemmed from the fact that the improved breeds cost more than the Texas Longhorns. But once again, the profit margin can best be seen by the degree of difference in prices of the two types of cattle. A Kansas City livestock commission firm reported in 1883 that the Texas Longhorns driven north from Texas that year totaled 260,000 head. The prices these cattle received were as follows: Yearlings, $15 to $16.50; two-year-olds, $19 to $22; three-year-olds and cows, $24 to $28; cows with calves, $30 to $35. The Breeder's Gazette reported prices of improved breeding stock heading west as: Yearlings, $17 to $21; two-year-olds, $23 to $25; young dry cows, $30 to $35; stock cattle, $30 to $35.
Of course, it must be remembered that the Texas Longhorns could live on grass and fresh air, with little or no extra help from man. It was well known at the time that the eastern cattle were also unable to withstand the severity of a northern winter, so the dangers of winter losses were equally higher. There was also the chance that the eastern cattle might take pleuro-pneumonia with them to the western ranges. This sickness was quite serious in the east during the 1800's, and if introduced upon the new ranges, the cattle industry would at least suffer a heavy blow with the loss of millions of dollars' worth of cattle.
One historian stated the problem quite eloquently: "The fact that millions were invested in the cattle business, in the face of so many risks, shows the point that had been reached in this wild speculation in cattle. Old cattlemen, whose experience with the northern winter should have made them cautious, plunged as madly as the newcomers."
The eastern cattle kept heading west at an alarming rate, with no other end in sight than the total overstocking of the ranges. Cattleman Granville Stuart described the impact that the rapid influx of cattle had on Montana: "It would be impossible to make people not present on the Montana cattle ranges realize the rapid changes that took place on those ranges in two years.
In 1880, central and eastern Montana was practically uninhabited. One could travel for miles without seeing so much as a trapper's bivouac. Thousands of buffalo darkened the rolling plains. There were deer, elk, wolves and coyotes on every hill and in every ravine and thicket. In the whole territory of Montana there were but 250,000 head of cattle, including dairy cattle and work oxen."
"In the fall of 1883, there was not a buffalo remaining on the range, and the antelope, elk and deer were indeed scarce. In 1880, no one had heard tell of a cowboy in 'this niche of the woods' and Charlie Russell had made no pictures of them; but in the fall of 1883, there were 600,000 head of cattle on the range. The cowboy.......had become an institution."
Everyone was in a mood to buy cattle----to speculate on this newest of money-makers. Newly formed livestock associations paid for publication of journals that told everyone how easy it was to get rich quick in the cattle market. Eastern newspapers were filled with stories and letters from men that had 'struck it rich on the cattle range'. Observers were sent from corporations in the United States and Europe to obtain a clear picture of the profits to be made.
There were profits to be made, but not without facing certain problems first. Joseph McCoy commented on some of these: "Confronted by the necessity either of continuing the breeding of cattle adapted to the hard conditions of the open range or of so changing those conditions as to make them suited to the production of well-bred cattle, they eventually struck a compromise between two extremes. Through the use of pure-bred, or high-grade sires, and Texas cows, a type of animal was produced that was of high quality and yet, because of the strong strain of Texas blood, was hardy and able to endure the cold of winter and the heat of summer, and thrive in spite of the hardships incidents to life on the open range."
Breeders' magazines were full of stories of fat profits. Steers worth only five dollars at birth were, when ready for the butcher market, bringing $45 to $60. One magazine stated that these steers "had run on the plains and cropped grass from the public domain for four or five years, and now, with scarcely any expense to his owner, has netted a forty dollar profit....that is all there is of the problem and that is why our cattlemen grow rich."
Some of the articles that appeared in the eastern journals were written by newspaper man Bill Mye, of the Laramie Boomerang. Mye had quite a taste for good humor, but it is said that some Easterners speculating in the cattle market actually believed the following story: "Three years ago" he wrote, "a guileless tenderfoot came into Wyoming, leading a single Texas steer and carrying a branding iron; now he is the opulent possessor of six hundred head of fine cattle----the ostensible progeny of that one steer."
Many pure-bred bulls were beginning to pour into Texas in the 1880's also. Many of these cattle died from tick fever, but the ranchers understood this risk, and absorbed the losses as best as possible. This situation did slow down the 'improvement' of breeds in south Texas somewhat, but according to some ranchers of the area, this was all for the better.
In some letters written to friends, one Texan who ranched along the southern coastal area told of his experience with the pure-bred bulls from the north: "Some of my local friends, and myself on one occasion, tried a few of the improved bulls on our Texas cows. The cross calves weren't bad at all, but trying to keep the damn pure-bred bulls from dying became a full-time chore. They got sick in the winter months, died of heat stroke or fever in the summer months, and during this time had to be doctored and constantly fed 'his own particular diet'. When they did feel up to doing their job, they serviced fewer cows than our Texas 'scrub' bulls did. The new breeds do put on weight faster than my old Texas cattle, but I found my profits to be dropping considerably. Therefore, I guess I'll stick with something I can depend on rather than the new breeds."
Of course it wasn't like this everywhere in Texas, as many pure-bred herds did make their owner more money quicker, but quite often with reduced profit margins.
Despite the breeding-out of Texas Longhorn cattle, the fever tick problem would remain as a nightmare for cattlemen for some time. It was generally thought that the Texas Longhorns were the major carrier of the fever, but quite often this was proved to be a falsehood. Veterinary inspector Leslie J. Allen was called upon in 1908 by the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve to look into a major case in that location. Since the opening of the Kiowa and Comanche country in that area, the land was used continually for cattle under permits issued by the Bureau of Forestry.
In one instance, of a herd of 168 cattle, owned by J.A. Kenady, 48 head died of the fever in one month's time. Three were sick at the time of the inspection, and an autopsy revealed Texas fever unmistakably. This veterinarian concluded that ten head of deer were probably the carriers, and they were running at large within the preserve.
Everything that could be said against the Texas Longhorns was spread in a massive propaganda campaign starting in the early 1870's. The attacks became markedly more brutal and unrealistic in the last two decades of the last century until the tough Texas cattle were nearly non-existent and orders were given to shoot them on sight in some areas if they were found wild.
Besides tick fever, these attacks on the Longhorns were basically centered on the fact that the Texas animal didn't put on weight as fast as the improved breeds and didn't utilize grain as well. In very few cases was it mentioned that the Texas Longhorn usually provided the rancher with higher profit margins.
One writer of the time slandered the Longhorn in this manner: "Men inured by long habit to a partiality for the common cattle, always contending that 'the breed is in the mouth', and blindly averse to all improvement, may insist on the quality of their rough beasts as compared to the finer ones. But it is of no use. Measured by the scales, both animal and food, and the time it takes to bring the creature to the block---- the only way to settle the matter----they must be unprofitable; and, compared with improved animals, the time, labor, and food bestowed on them by their owners, is measurably lost."
I wish this writer were alive today, for I would like to take him to some Texas Longhorn sales and to the numerous Longhorn ranches I have visited. I believe he would be eating his words while a chorus of laughs from Longhorns and their breeders endangered his eardrums.
By Alan M. Hoyt
The first two decades of the twentieth century ushered in a complete and total change of the Western cattle industry. The days of public domain and free range had passed; the cowboy was no longer the adventurer of the Western United States wilderness. The days of trailing Longhorn steers hundreds of miles and seeing but few humans or fences were gone. The legend of the American cowboy as he had been, along with that of the Texas Longhorn steers, was reduced to remembrances etched in the minds of old-time cowboys in the majority of the Southwest.
The days of even short trail drives were virtually ended, while the Texas Longhorn had become nearly extinct. What few were left were usually hidden back somewhere on the ranch to enable their owner to escape ridicule from nearby cattlemen.
Both cowboys and Texas Longhorns had been frontiersmen in a wild and harsh country for over four hundred years; however, the animals' stamina, hardiness, foraging ability and freedom had been overlooked because of the variety of new ranching procedures and the importation of tens of thousands of less hardy and pampered cattle. This was an era of drastic changes, with little regard for experiences of the past.
But, as usual in the Homo sapiens species, that freedom and independence that had been lost was rekindled in the hearts of those who had been involved ---- the rancher, the trail-driver, the cowboy who had once made the free range his home ---- and what other breed of cattle could have possibly made their hearts jump than the rugged Texas Longhorn, with his spirit that created the words frontier, independence and hardiness.
By 1920, many old-time cattlemen began looking back to the days of the great cattle kingdoms and trail drives. In the backs of many of these men's minds, the idea started growing that something should be done, and quickly, to keep the Texas Longhorn from becoming extinct. These cattle had been the progenitors of the range cattle industry in the United States, and were one of the three big symbols of the 'American West'. To many people, the project of preserving the Longhorns was one that the government should consider.
Forest Ranger William Drummond of the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve in Cache, Okla., knew that something must be done to preserve the Longhorn and began approaching friends about the idea of collecting what specimens could be found, and placing them under his watchful eye at the Wichita Preserve. Assistant Forester Will C. Barnes shared Drummond's enthusiasm, and the two men began the long process of getting U. S. Forest Service cooperation and funding, and of locating those remaining Longhorns.
Both Drummond and Barnes agreed that the Wichitas would be an ideal location, not only because of the lush grasses and ample room, but because of the historical significance of the area. The Wichita Mountains area had been in previous decades part of the famous "big pasture" in which Texas and Oklahoma cattlemen had grazed herds composed principally of Longhorns in the nearly three-million-acre Kiowa-Comanche Indian Reservation.
This area had been one of the last frontiers, and names like Geronimo, Quanah Parker, Satanta and Satank were all too familiar to residents of the area. In 1901, the government opened the Apache-Comanche-Kiowa Reservation to settlement and Congress set aside the Wichita Mountains area to be held as a forest reserve under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. In 1905, a special act of Congress also made the area a national game preserve for the preservation of wild animals and birds of national importance. Jurisdiction of the area changed several times over the years, and is was renamed the Wichita Wildlife Refuge by proclamation of the President on June 4, 1936.
Both Barnes and Drummond knew the Texas Longhorn breed like the back of their hands, Barnes having been an army scout and cattleman, and Drummond a longtime cattleman with numerous old ranching friends including frontier trailblazer Charles Goodnight. John H. Hatton, also with the Forest Service, joined in the cause, and embarked on a ten-year struggle with Barnes to get the needed appropriations to purchase the cattle. Barnes and Hatton both knew senators and congressmen sympathetic to the cause of saving the Longhorns, including long-time Wyoming cattleman Senator John B. Kendrick.
In a letter to Kendrick dated November 30, 1926, Barnes outlined his plan for preservation of the breed: You will recall that once or twice within the last few years I have talked with you about the possibility of securing a few head of the old Longhorn type cattle to be placed in a fenced enclosure on one of the National Forests, and there kept and developed into a reasonably sized herd which would guarantee the people of this country the perpetuity of this remarkable and historic breed. I have been working on this idea for several years past. Two or three years ago, I took it up with Ike Pryor who put me in touch with one or two men in Texas who, he said, knew of the existence of several small herds of these cattle in that state. Through these men I located several small bunches in southwest Texas in what they call the 'prickly-pear country', which they tell me are fairly satisfactory types of the old Longhorn herds, not mixed with improved blood to any extent, and best of all can be secured at a fairly reasonable price.
My letter to Pryor got into the newspapers down in Texas and I received a large number of letters and no end of clippings from articles published in the papers, all of which commented very favorably upon the plan and urged that the project be put through. You may recall also that Sanders of the Breeder's Gazette wrote a long article on the 'Cattle of America', published in the Geographic Magazine about a year ago. In this he speaks of the plan and commended my desire to secure a small herd of Longhorns to be placed where they can be preserved.
I presume it would be possible to go to individual cattlemen friends of mine and yours, and ask them for a small donation to a fund for the purchase and shipment of about a carload of these cattle to our National Forest in Oklahoma, where we have a fine pasture in an all-year-around country, right in the middle of their old stomping ground and, best of all, immediately alongside the Government's pet herd of buffalo and in the neighborhood of some of the largest Indian tribes in the Southwest. The Government has done everything possible to preserve the buffalo form extinction, and has given the Indians every opportunity to live and prosper, but has absolutely overlooked the third member of the trio which mad the West, and especially the Southwest, famous historically ---- the Longhorns.
I have investigated the matter pretty thoroughly and find that these cattle can be purchased at the present time for from $35 to $40 a head. I do not think it would be advisable to buy more than 25 or 30 head at the outside. Assuming these figures to be approximately correct and that the freight charge would not be more than $3 or $4 a head, we ought to be able to secure the necessary number and get them safely delivered to the pasture in Oklahoma for somewhere around $3,000. This would include the necessary expense of sending a man down to locate and select the individual members of the bunch. In all probability the whole sum would not be needed. I have figured that we ought to have an appropriation of $3,500 to be safe. When the owners find we want the cows, they may raise the price.
All my cattlemen friends are so hard up that I hate to ask them for donations to such a fund. The buffalo of course were donated by the American Bison Society free of cost to the Federal Government; but at the same time the Government spent something like $40,000 building fences within which to hold them. I feel the Government should expend so small amount as-is indicated to preserve a few of these cattle from extinction. As a business proposition I think you will agree with me that inside of two years after the cattle are delivered to the Wichita pasture the Government can begin to sell the steers from the herd at prices which will return to the Government the entire amount within a very few years. I think it could be shown that as a business venture, it would pay a net profit of probably 25% to 30% a year as long as people eat beef or have curiosity to see this type of cattle.
Assuming that sales of the breed for zoological gardens, parks, etc., should eventually fade out, the animals would still be available for beef purposes at prices which would pay for their board and lodging on the Wichita Forest and something over.
Can you not see your way clear to introducing a bill in the present Congress calling for an appropriation of whatever amount you would feel would be right, to be expended by the Secretary of Agriculture for the purchase of enough of these cattle to form the nucleus for a herd of the animals to be placed in a government pasture under the control of the Department of Agriculture? I am sure you will have the endorsement of every cattleman in the West as well as many other individuals who are interested in the preservation of so interesting a feature of our American civilization. I cannot believe the Bureau of the Budget will object to the expenditure of this small sum, especially when they can be sure that as an investment it will prove a profitable one for the government. I am taking this up not as a government official but as an old-time cowman interested in this question, and I am appealing to you as the same kind of old-time cowman to help the thing along in your position as United States Senator. Sincerely, Will C. Barnes, Assistant Forester.
Senator Kendrick evidently did an excellent job of pushing the bill through, for a little less than six months after the above letter was written, Barnes and Hatton were on their way south hunting Texas Longhorns with the appropriation money in their pockets. Armed with information from Drummond and many Texas ranchers, they searched an area along the Rio Grande and Texas coast looking for their representative Longhorns. Only after looking at about 30,000 head of cattle did they find the first 30 head for the Refuge.
From the beginning, there were problems with building the herd, mostly due to the old age of the majority of the first animals. One cow was trampled in shipping, and died shortly after reaching Cache, while one of the bulls was found to be unsuitable. Another of the bulls had to be killed the next year because of old age.
Two of the first steers outlawed in the rocky brush of Hollis Canyon in the Wichitas and would seldom come out on flat land or to range with the other animals. They lived in this manner some ten years until they died of old age. Forest Ranger William Drummond told of problems with the other steer, which became rather famous: A steer named 'Old Broad' because of his fine spread of horns was injured slightly in shipment to the Wichitas in 1927. Screw-worms crawled into his wounds and it was necessary to treat him every other day. He went into the corral peaceably the first time, but he went to war each time after that. He'd make a stand in the pasture and fight all efforts to move him toward the corral. Riders had to rope him by the head and heels and stretch him out. As he stood helpless between the tight ropes, one man would grab him by the tail and throw him to the ground, while another would salve the cuts and bruises. 'Old Broad' was thrown so often to cure his screw-worms that his horns were injured at the base, causing them to drop down or droop. His droopy horns attracted wide attention and many veterinary specialists looked him over. This drooping of the horns occurs frequently when the horn base is injured.
Even with these problems and losses, the herd began to grow from 32 head at the end of 1927 to 44 head in 1928 and 54 head in 1929. After new herd sires were found, the count started growing more rapidly. (See March/April 1984 Texas Longhorn Journal, First Bulls for WR Were Hard to Find).
Over the years, the staff at the Wichita Wildlife Refuge has done a remarkable job of retaining the typical characteristics of the Texas Longhorn. Part of the reason for this goes back to the experience and guidelines set up by the early Refuge staff, who had known Longhorns when they were at the peak of their popularity; but even Drummond, Barnes, Hatton, French and others didn't think the herd would grow into the magnificence it is today. Many of the early staff and a number of prominent Texas cattlemen of the time thought that the Wichita herd could never measure up to the Longhorns of trail-driving days simply because the first 30 head on the refuge were not of acceptable quality.
But the Texas Longhorns of the Wichitas today rival their ancestors and usually surpass them both in horn spread and configuration, along with weight. With the excellent grasses and water at the Refuge, the WR cattle have become more beefy, while retaining the ease of calving and general hardiness of the legendary Longhorn. Meticulous record-keeping and marginal care have shown without doubt what the capabilities of the 'scrub cattle' can be.
I can make these statements after researching this series because of the several thousand old photographs of the trail-driven Longhorns I have seen, and have compared their characteristics with those of the present WR herd.
Once again, the Wichita Wildlife Refuge staff has not changed or 'altered' the basic Texas Longhorn, but has merely shown what can be done with the remarkable cattle when given some amount of attention and selective breeding.
I salute the Wichita staff for preserving the Texas Longhorn breed in a most realistic and gratifying way.
Special thanks to the staff members of the Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries, for the immense help they have been in finding considerable amounts of specialized material for this series: John R. Lovett, Jr., librarian; Jack D. Hailey, associate curator; Dr. John S. Ezell, curator; and Shelly Arlen, photographic archivist. I would particularly like to thank Jack Hailey, who many times helped me separate the truths from the questionable material one always runs across when researching history. The O.U. Western History Collections is considered one of the most complete in the world, with millions of rare manuscripts, photo archives, oral history, microfilm and cartographic departments.
At this time, I would also like to thank the following persons and organizations for their hours of enthusiastic research, without which this series could not have been written:
Sharon Cross of Ardmore, Okla., who donated her research talents and 'detective work' on many occasions. Sharon was an invaluable asset by helping me research for days at the University of Texas Libraries, Texas State Historical Society and the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Jack E. Crabtree, Assistant Refuge Manager, Wichita Wildlife Refuge, for his total cooperation and help in digging up information on the early history of the WR cattle.
Jack Dodd, Livestock Handler, Wichita Wildlife Refuge, for driving me through creeks, mudholes and over mountains to get photographs of the WR herd. Jack also did much research for my story on the WR herd sire history.
The staff of the U. S. National Archives Depository in Fort Worth for helping me find several hundred years of records and manuscripts.
Stan and Lorna Searle, Texas Longhorn Journal, for their tips, advice and invaluable leads for the series.
Dionisio Garzon, Information Counselor, Embassy of Spain in Washington for his help with the early history of the Spanish cattle.
The staffs of the historical societies of the following states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and California.
Last, but most certainly not least, the many Texas Longhorn breeders who have called in information on a wide variety of aspects of this series.
Note about the author: Alan Marshall Hoyt became interested in the Texas Longhorn business in 1976, when he was introduced to the largest privately-owned herd in the U.S., belonging to the Dixons of Marietta, Oklahoma. Being interested in Western history, he developed an affinity for the cattle immediately.
Hoyt was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and has stayed an "Okie" to this day. He wrote his first feature story for the Texas Longhorn Journal in '76, and soon became the magazine's Historical Editor, researching the past of the breed, as well as it's attributes important to today's cattlemen. Hoyt has done extensive research on the Longhorn through the years, including this 14-part historical overview.
Since beginning his research, Hoyt has uncovered previously unknown information about "America's Breed," and has written freelance articles for several livestock publications, hosted radio and television shows relating to the hardy cattle, and held several press parties to "spread the word" about Texas Longhorns.
Presently Hoyt is director of the Video Department of one of the nation's largest philanthropic research centers, the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation located in Ardmore. His job is to produce educational and instructional videos for the Agriculture Department of the Foundation. He has not lost any of his interest in the Longhorn breed, as many of his video productions are testimonials to the breeding advantages of the most versatile cattle in the United States!
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