Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Texas Longhorn

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The Texas longhorn (Bos texanus) is a breed of cattle that developed largely from feral Andalusian stock in southern Texas. Along with the cowboys who herded and drove them, the longhorns became an American icon. A headon image of a longhorn, which can have a horn spread of forty inches or more, is emblazoned on countless football helmets, in Texas and elsewhere, and on numerous other products. In Texas alone, twenty-four schools use the longhorn as their mascot. The mere symbol of the longhorn imparts a sense of the adventure, power, strong will, and independence often associated with the frontier spirit.

The longhorn is descended from cattle first found in the Andalusian area of the Iberian peninsula. Living wild in what is now southern Texas for nearly 350 years produced changes in body style and temperament that came to characterize the Texas longhorn breed. The longhorn is famous for its durability on the open range, its resistance to Texas (splenic) fever, and its high reproductive rate. Thousands were rounded up after the Civil War and driven north on the Shawnee (Sedalia), Chisholm, Western, Texas, and Goodnight-Loving Trails and shipped by rail to eastern markets.

The economic benefits derived from more heavily marbled beef and the desire to own more docile animals inspired ranchers to upgrade their cattle with northern European bloodlines, and longhorn numbers declined dramatically after 1888. Through the efforts of several dedicated ranchers since the 1920s, the longhorn has been reestablished in the United States and is maintained by the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America. The official Texas longhorn herd is kept at Fort Griffin Historical Park northeast of Abilene.

See also TRANSPORTATION: Cattle Trails.

Kenneth C. Dagel Missouri Western State College

Dobie, J. Frank. The Longhorns. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1941.

Jordan, Terry G. North American Cattle-Ranching Frontiers: Origins, Diffusion, and Differentiation. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993.

Rouse, John E. Cattle of North America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973.

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