That’s what many a southeastern cowboy must have yelled back in the late 1860s as he tried to get a wild Longhorn out of thick chaparral. Or, when galloping through pouring rain and darkness after a Longhorn herd spooked by a prairie thunderstorm. Or, when confronting an angry Longhorn bull that refused to stay in trail drive formation.
The cattle were best known for their sweeping horns, spanning an average length of three to five feet. Some spans reached up to seven feet. The cows were generally of good disposition and some intelligence. They would cleverly hide their calves in brushy ravines where the calf was difficult for cowboys to find when rounding up wild cattle for a trail drive. On the trail, however, the Longhorn cows tended to be docile and willingly followed a leading bull. They also adapted quickly to the normal trail drive routine.
The Longhorn bulls, though, were a different matter. They were known to be mean and easily angered. The bulls were arrogant and stubborn, quick to confront cowboys or other challengers who threatened their independence or leadership. In modern terms, the bulls had “an attitude.”
Bulls would often fight each other to the death, or near-death, for leadership dominance. Sometimes, the loser in this fight would turn away at the moment it became clear that he had been defeated, choosing life over death. The vanquished bull would then seek out another herd of cows with which to associate, or simply go off alone until his confidence returned.
How the Longhorns Came to Texas
The earliest Longhorns, predominantly black in color, were imported to the Americas from Spain in the mid-1500s. They were brought to Santo Domingo and Mexico to stock the ranches of wealthy Spanish ranchers. A century later, expeditionary forces from Mexico brought along herds of Longhorns as food supplies for the explorers and mission settlements.
Once the Mexican Province of Texas was established in 1691, Longhorn cattle were brought north to establish ranches. They were left when the Province was abandoned two years later. Additional herds were also abandoned on the ranges by early Republic of Texas ranchers who left to fight in the Civil War.
The feral Mexican Longhorn cattle later interbred with other domestic cattle brought from the East. This resulted in the Longhorns’ subsequent mixed colors of black, brown, and red. This mixed breeding and the range life of the breed produced ideal cattle for trail drives. The cattle had long legs and were accustomed to drought and other tough weather conditions. The Longhorns could exist on meager forage and go several days between watering if necessary.
By the end of the Civil War, an estimated five million wild Longhorns roamed the ranges of Texas. Texas Civil War veterans returned to abandoned ranches with little means of income. There was plenty of range beef for the taking, but it was of little value unless it could somehow be transported to meat-hungry populations in the North and East. Texas ranchers had the potential to become wealthy if cattle could be delivered to buyers at the western ends of the developing rail lines. Thus, trail drives were born.
A Breed Apart
Today, the Texas Longhorn cattle remain popular. The breed is recognized for its lean beef, and its long horns are a recognized symbol of Texas wealth and the romantic Old West. The Longhorns have also played an important role in the introduction of the American “Cowboy” as a figure of both historical and movie fame.
So, yes, the Longhorns have gained more than a little fame, but—hey—they’re still just cattle!
Much of the factual information for this post was derived from the classic book by Wayne Gard, The Chisholm Trail, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1954, Chapter 1.