In the late 1400s, gold-seeking Spanish conquistadors introduced the Longhorn to the new world. Turning wild, the cattle grew larger, heavy-boned, skinny, and swift. Their long legs and horns provided weapons and protection. They also developed fiery tempers and a malicious cleverness.
In the 1820s, settlers in Texas mainly raised European breeds of cattle. The Texas Longhorn arose from the accidental crossbreeding of escaped Spanish cattle and the cows of early American settlers.
The easily identifiable result is the Texas Longhorn: a wild, irritable, multicolored bovine with a horn spread of 4 to 7 feet. Unfortunately, their meat is lean, stringy, and tough.
During the Civil War, the Longhorns were left wild. By 1865, about 6 million Longhorns lived in Texas, and most were unbranded. Confederate Army veterans returning from the war built up herds by claiming unmarked cattle. Native Indians did not hunt the wild cattle. They preferred the meat of the tamer and easier-to-kill buffalo.
The problem was getting the steers to market. A cattle drive often covered 1,500 miles and took four to six months.
A trail drive often made a lot of money for the cattle owner. With a large amount of beef being exported to Great Britain, wealthy investors from England and Scotland started working with American ranches. They introduced other breeds to produce a beefier and more marketable cow. Between 1866 and 1890, some 10 million cattle were driven on trails out of Texas, and cowboys became universal folk heroes.
In the early 20th century Longhorns neared extinction, but the breed was kept alive because of a few sentimental Texas ranchers. Now they are in demand due to their resistance to disease, longevity, and ability to thrive on poor pasture. They also provide health-conscious Americans with lean beef.
Source: Texas Longhorns: A Short History
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