The long slender horns spread in a menacing manner as the large animal walked
slowly through the early spring grass. Other longhorns spread to the left and right like a huge lawnmower cutting a swath through the greenery and wild flowers.
A flock of "cow birds" descended through the late afternoon light to take advantage of the small herd of longhorns as they grazed the meadow, motivating
the many insects that call the pasture home into action and in turn, making them
easy targets for the birds.
The cattle move as a well-trained militia of old, in line, through the meadow,
with both the longhorns and the birds feeding at will.
And as surely as the Charles Russells and Frederic Remingtons of the late 1800s
and early 1900s celebrated and romanticized the virtues of the Wild West and the
longhorn cattle that provided much to the economy of that day, East Texas
longhorn cattle breeders and others around the nation, are revitalizing the
breed that was so important to the settling of the western United States.
The recovery of the herds of longhorns, from their having arrived from Spain
with Columbus in 1493 and their growth in numbers to the millions in the late
1800s... and the devastating loss of numbers in the early 1900s... is being
chronicled and advanced by modern artists such as Texans Ragan Gennusa of
Dripping Springs, and Kathy Winkler now of Virginia as well as photographers
fortunate to be near any of the growing number of herds of longhorns.
The majestic animals arrived in the �New World� with Columbus, moved northward, and over many years they mixed with European breeds of cattle introduced on the East Coast. The melting pot for the mixture is generally thought to be the Louisiana Purchase and Texas areas of the United States.
For much of their early years in North America they roamed free range, adapting
to the harshness of both the winter cold and the summer droughts and as a result
only the hardiest among them survived, leaving cattle ranchers with a strong
breed of cattle that were resistant to diseases and climate changes.
They were rounded up and "trailed" from Texas to the Canadian border. Most of
the cattle that were part of the popular cattle drives, moved through harsh
landscape, across rivers and smaller streams and ended up on dinner tables in
the larger cities of the North and Northeast.
As the Civil War ended there were an estimated five million head of longhorn cattle in the country. The bulls were considered among the meaner and most
unpredictable of animals when enraged.
In 1873 a local newspaper recorded a stampede of 1,000 head of longhorns in Dallas and in the 25 years following the Civil War an estimated 10 million longhorns were trailed north.
As European cattle became more available, the longhorn blood lines were reduced
in the 1870s and 1880s and by the turn of the century, longhorns were in serious
decline and some believe, closer to extinction than the buffalo.
In 1927 Congress set aside $3,000 to start a program that would lead to saving
the longhorn. Herds were formed in Oklahoma and Nebraska and then the state of
Texas recognized the need to save the endangered longhorn and formed a herd.
In 1964 the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association was formed and at that time
there were an estimated 1,500 head of genuine longhorn cattle existing in
federal refuges, state herds, zoos and private herds.
Just as cattle raisers had turned their back on the lean longhorns in favor of
fatter animals that the public wanted on their dinner plates, some of the cattle raisers have returned to the leaner meats the public of the late 1990s and early 2000s have demanded.
As a result of both the need for a leaner meat product and the want to help a
majestic breed of cattle survive, visitors to East Texas and beyond can now view
the beautiful longhorns from many a country road.
East Texans such as Tom Jones, near Mineola, and Terry Turner, near Quitman, have small herds of longhorns that are more for the public�s viewing benefit and their own entertainment than anything else.
Turner got into raising longhorns almost by accident when his step-daughter talked him into accepting a small number as partial payment for a job he had done..
�They�re big babies,� he says. Freckles, a larger-than-life animal of gentle temperament comes to the fence line for a head-scratching from Turner.
Turner�s herd of 23 graze on 21 acres and Turner enjoys watching the reactions of others as they stop to look at his animals.
�Those babies are going to wear me out,� he says with a smile.
Jones� herd of cattle is pastured on Mineola nature preserve property and along with the buffalo that were introduced in 2007 and the horses on a nearby meadow, it is quite a visual opportunity for even the casual visitor to the area.
If you are interested in a bit of living history, take a moment in time and drive the back roads, look at the longhorns and reflect on how important this animal was to the nurturing and settling of the Wild West that included East Texas.