Longhorn Cattle

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Longhorn are a breed of cattle descended from cows and bulls left by early Spanish settlers in the American Southwest. They are named for their long horns, which span about four feet (over one meter). By the end of the American Civil War (18611865) these cattle had multiplied and great numbers of them roamed freely across the open range of the West. Americans found the beef of longhorns stringy and tough. But ranchers in Texas bred the longhorns with other cattle breeds such as Hereford and Angus to produce better quality meat. As beef was in demand in the eastern United States, shrewd businessmen capitalized on the business opportunity, buying cattle for three to five dollars a head and selling them in eastern and northern markets for as much as $25 to $60 a head. Ranchers hired cowboys to round up, sort out, and drive their herds to railheads in places like Abilene and Dodge City, Kansas, which became famous as "cow towns" (raucous boom towns where saloons and brothels proliferated.) After the long trail drive, the cattle were loaded onto rail cars and shipped live to local butchers who slaughtered the livestock and prepared the beef. For 20 years the plentiful longhorn cattle sustained a booming livestock industry in the West: at least six million Texas longhorns were driven across Oklahoma to the cow towns of Kansas. However, by 1890 the complexion of the industry changed. Farmers and ranchers in the West used a new material, barbed wire, to fence in their lands, closing the open range. Railroads were extended, bringing an end to the long, hard, and much glorified cattle drives; the role of the cowboy changed, making him little more than a hired hand. Big business took over the industry. Among the entrepreneurs who capitalized on beef's place in the American diet was New England-born Gustavus Swift (18391903), who in 1877 began a large-scale slaughterhouse operation in Chicago, shipping ready-packed meat via refrigerated railcars to markets in the East.

See also: Barbed Wire, Cattle Drives, Cowboy, Cow Towns, Chisholm Trail, Open Range, Prairie

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Longhorn Cattle

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