The Texas Longhorn

Did you know that the cattle now known as the Texas Longhorn were bred specifically to handle Texas’ hot, dry climate?

In Texas! The Exhibition, visitors can pay homage to the Texas Longhorn with a set of actual horns mounted high on the wall. If you have read my bio, you may think “she’s only talking about the Longhorn because she graduated from The University of Texas at Austin.”

You’d be a little right, but all college allegiances aside, this is one magnificent animal.

ANIMALS / LONGHORN STEER
 No two Texas Longhorns are alike. They all differ in color pattern, size, horn length, and
personality. – Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America
Creative Commons License photo credit: DiAichner3 

Less Water, Leaner Meat

The Texas Longhorn is a cross between an English and Mexican breed of cattle (by way of Spain). The result was a unique and durable cattle breed.  For example, the Texas Longhorn does not require a lot of water to survive compared to typical cattle.  Longhorns have long legs, powerful muscles built for speed, and sharp horns (sometimes up to seven feet from tip to tip) that can be used for protection against dangerous enemies. Over the years, the breed developed a natural immunity to parasites and disease.  The Texas Longhorn also produces leaner, lower cholesterol meat. Longhorn cattle are now even kept in colder climates as far north as Canada.

Paving The Way For Industry

As the buffalo population in the South decreased after the Civil War, the interest in the Texas Longhorn increased. They were a sturdy breed which could bring in high prices at meat markets in the North and East. Longhorns began roaming the range in larger numbers all over Texas and up north to Nebraska and Wyoming. The Texas Longhorn paved the way for a new industry known as the cattle drive.

In Texas! The Exhibition, visitors will have the chance to view an original map of the Texas cattle trails which includes the Chisholm, Goodnight-Loving, and Western/Dodge City trails. By the end of the Civil War, longhorns numbered in the millions in the South. Due to a surplus in supply, a rancher could only fetch around $3 a head for a Texas Longhorn in its native region. In Chicago, Cheyenne, and Kansas City for example, this cattle breed would go for $35 to $40 a head.

Something had to be done!

The intelligence of the Texas Longhorn came in handy when men came up with a plan to “drive” these robust animals to the northern meat markets themselves. Thus the cowboy was introduced into history. Charles Goodnight, of the Goodnight-Loving trail, said of the Texas Longhorn, “As trail cattle, their equal never has been known. Their hoofs are superior to those of any other cattle. In stampedes, they hold together better, are easier to circle during a run, and rarely split off when you commence to turn the front. No animal of the cow kind will shift and take care of itself under all conditions as will the Longhorns. They can go farther without water and endure more suffering than others.”

It is no surprise, then, that the Texas Longhorn is Texas’ official State Large Mammal.

By the 1880s, the Texas cattle drives were coming to an end with the extension of the “modern” railroads and the heavy use of barbed wire. (While in the exhibition, take a moment to look at the variety of barbed wire used to close the open range.) The Texas cattle industry would never be the same, but the gentle and beautiful Texas Longhorn would endure.

Barbed Wire of Texas
Barbed wire on display in Texas! The Exhibition
See more photos from inside the exhibition on Flickr.

Come visit us at the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see our Texas Longhorn and cattle trail memorabilia in Texas! The Exhibition. (I wouldn’t be a good Texas alumnus without ending this the proper way — Hook ‘em Horns!)