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Longhorn:
Texas first industry

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
The book "The Long Trail" by Gardner Sowle, published in 1976 by McGraw-Hill, tells the real story of early cowboys, longhorns and the first industry developed in Texas. This was the chore of capturing, branding, taming, raising and driving longhorns to market. Legends and myths, plus the exaggerations of many publications are omitted boiling fact down to common sense explanations.

Just where did the longhorns originate? From the Plains of Andalusia in Spain. The first herders were Moors, the next Spaniards. The cattle were not called longhorns but "Spanish cattle" and were smaller in size and with smaller horns.
How did these Spanish cattle come to America? In 1493, Christopher Columbus brought cattle to America on his second voyage, landing them on the island of Santo Domingo. The exact year they reached the main land in today's Mexico cannot be proved but about 20 years is close.

From that point on some 10 explorers and adventurers brought livestock and large poultry to various shores of North America to supplement their food needs during exploration.
How did these domestic livestock become wild? They were driven along in herds and butchered as needed for food. Poor herding allowed many to escape and find themselves left on the prairie to fend for themselves. Indian attacks, disease and sickness among the explorers left herding a second priority. In 1685, a French explorer La Salle, made a practice of leaving one cow, bull, mare and stallion behind after crossing a river, to provide meat for the next explorer. A Mexican Gen. Alonso de Leon did the same on four excursions across the new lands.

Why did the formerly domesticated livestock propagate so quickly in the new world? The climate was mild in the south, rains produced millions of acres of good grass for grazing and there were few predators to keep numbers in check. The huge buffalo herds of the Great Plains were all located to the north offering no competition for grazing. These ideal conditions were prevalent for several hundred years allowing excellent propagation of both cattle and horses.

When did Spanish cattle become longhorns? Prior to the Spanish cattle arriving in Texas, they were usually converted to beef at a much earlier age before their horns matured. After becoming wild, many living to die of old age, their horns became much larger and longer.
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, October 2004
The Texas Longhorn: Shaped By Nature
by Clay Coppedge
Texas longhorn and calf
Are There Cows in Texas?
by John Stankewitz

The old adage, "only the most fit survive" provided the vigor, survival instinct, intelligence and evolution needed to continue and improve the breed. These changes continued and are still prevalent in the survivors today.

How did the first industry begin? The availability of the wild longhorn, free for the taking, and the poor financial conditions after the Civil War forced the early cattlemen to capture, raise, brand and then drive this smuggled contraband (considered to be the property of Mexico) to market to survive. Handily, the raw materials (cattle) could walk, delivering themselves to market to be sold thus helping create the first industry in Texas.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
January 17, 2011 column
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail at trewblue@centramedia.net. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears weekly.

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This page last modified: January 17, 2011