The Texas Longhorn is a breed of cattle known for its characteristic horns, which can extend to six feet in width and have a slight upward turn at their tips, as well as for their distinctive “burnt orange” coloring. “The Longhorns” is also the nickname of the sports teams of The University of Texas and the school mascot is a Longhorn named Bevo. The Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America serves as the recognized registry for the breed.
Though some historians disagree, the Texas Longhorn is generally thought to have been created as a cross between the Spanish retinto (criollo) stock left in the United States by Spanish explorers and English cattle brought to Texas from southern and midwestern states in the 1820s and 1830s.
The breed began to gain popularity in the late 1870s, when buffalo herds were slaughtered and ranging tribes of Plains Indians largely confined. As a result, ranches began to spread northward to the open range of the Great Plains. Texas Longhorns, whose long legs and hard hoofs made them ideal trail cattle, were the preferred breed to stock these new northern ranches, initiating the cattle drives of cowboy legend. Cattle drives in this era (before railroads made cowboys obsolete) moved an estimated 9 million Texas Longhorn cattle up the Chisholm Trail and others to shipping points created by Joseph G. McCoy after the American Civil War.
In the late 1800’s, the advent of barbed wire brought the open-range cattle boom to an end and allowed for more selective breeding of cattle. The leaner Longhorn beef was not as attractive in an era where tallow was highly prized, and the Longorn’s ability to survive on often poor vegetation of the open range was no longer as much of an issue. Other breeds demonstrated traits more highly valued by the modern rancher, such as the ability to put on weight quickly. Texas Longhorn stock slowly dwindled, until in 1927 the breed was saved from sure extinction by enthusiasts from the United States Forest Service, who collected a small herd of stock to breed on a refuge in Oklahoma. A few years later, J. Frank Dobie and others gathered small herds to keep in Texas state parks. They were cared for largely as curiosities, but the stock’s longevity, resistance to disease and ability to thrive on marginal pastures quickly revived the breed as beef stock. Today, the breed is still used as a beef stock, though many Texas ranchers keep herds purely because of their link to Texas history.