Longhorn cattle built the town of Kansas City, Missouri. The cattle are just about gone today, replaced by Herefords and moo cows. But the longhorns were proud bovines in their day. Some of those tremendous heads had a spread of horns about nine feet wide, and, as the old-timers said, a jaybird had to carry rations to fly from one horn tip to the other. 

You have to know something about the ancestry of the longhorn to appreciate them. They could look down their noses at our pilgrim fathers. Their ancestors had arrived in America a century before the Mayflower. The Andalusian cattle of Don Gregorio de Villalobos first trod Mexican soil in 1521 and were allowed to roam freely. The cattle were old settlers by the time the shorthorns arrived. They were the same proud stock that produced the great bulls of the Spanish bull rings. They came with the Spanish conquistadors, and by the time the first Anglo-Saxon American settlers reached Texas, the woods were full of those wild mustang cattle (strays) and cimarrones (wild ones). And those feisty, sharp-horned devils were rugged. Take a shot at one and miss, and it would be likely to turn and kill you for your discourtesy. Frontiersmen were almost as leery of them as they were of the Comanche.

These cattle were thick in the brush country of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. During the Mexican War, a Mormon battalion under Col. Philip St. George Cooke, marching from Santa Fe to California, actually fought a battle with a small army of these black cimarrones in Arizona when the bulls charged out of the brush.

The first Anglo-American settlers in the southwest crowded into the timbered areas and brought with them their own cattle. They were Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee strains for the most part, long domesticated and much more apt to turn out oxen and gentle moo cows. The wild cattle didn’t think very much of these effete intruders and were inclined to get them out in the brush and gore them. But in time, the strains mixed and the result was the longhorn.

The longhorn was not as mean as the cimarrones and was a little larger and heavier, a better beef animal and at least as sturdy as his outlaw sires. Longhorn had long legs and a long, limber tail. They came in just about every color in the cow rainbow. Regardless of their color, they could run like a deer, swim like sea lions and fight like wildcats. To help with the fighting, they had a fantastic set of horns. A full-grown steer would weigh 800 to 900 pounds, while a fat old-timer might weigh as much as 1,500 pounds.

Following the Civil War, the cowboys of the Old West rounded up and drove these longhorns by the thousands northward, eventually ending up in the stockyards of Kansas City.

Ref: “The Look of the Old West,” by Foster Harris

To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.