Texas: The History of the Longhorn, Part 2

Hayly, far right. She’s the reason I fell in love with longhorns.

In Part 1, I shared a bit about my personal introduction to the Longhorn. As I delved further into their history and learned more about them, I discovered a wonderful article by Michael Casey entitled “History of Longhorns in North America.”  Trying to figure out how to paraphrase the material without losing any important points led me to contact Michael, and I was delighted when he agreed to let me republish his words here. 

The article is long-ish for a blog post, so I’ve split it into Parts 2 and 3 of this series. The original article includes End Notes that cite Casey’s sources for the article, but End Notes seem a bit academic for a blog post, so I’ve omitted them here. The most frequently cited sources are North American Cattle Ranching Frontiers from the University of New Mexico Press and J. Frank Dobie’s book The Longhorns. 

“History of Longhorns in North America”

by Michael Casey

Longhorn cattle have been a part of the history of North America since 1493 when Spanish settlers accompanying Christopher Columbus brought the first few long-horned Iberian cattle with them to the Antilles Islands (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola). Beginning in about 1519, many of those cattle (which had propagated profusely in the interim years) were taken by Antillean settlers when they traveled to Mexico in search of gold and other treasures. Antillean cattle were landed all along the eastern coast of Mexico during the 16th and 17th centuries. The most popular port of entry was Vera Cruz, but they also came ashore as far north as Tampico (less than 200 miles south of the Texas border).

From Vera Cruz, ranches were established quickly, and soon large populations of Iberian longhorns were seen throughout the Panuco Delta as well as south and west of the port of Vera Cruz. From there, long-horned cattle gradually migrated, with Spanish explorers, settlers, and mission priests, north along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. The first known cattle in Texas arrived in the early 1700s with Franciscan missionaries as they began to build a chain of missions extending through the San Antonio River valley and out to the present city of Goliad (Texas). Spanish expeditionaries brought sheep, goats, horses, and “horned” cattle on their overland voyages both as food on the hoof to sustain them during their travels and also as seedstock for settlers once having arrived at their destinations.

While entry of long-horned cattle into Texas has been well documented in Frank Dobie’s classic work The Longhorns, it is also established fact that long-horned cattle populated California as early as 1769. Little, however, is known about the long-horned Iberian cattle for the next century other than they typically roamed freely on the large ranchos and mission lands as did cattle throughout the southwestern states as well as California and Texas. Since those early days preceded the introduction of barbed wire fencing, their range also extended well beyond the unsecured boundaries of those properties. It has been estimated that by 1860 about 4,000,000 to 6,000,000 wild long-horned cattle could be found in Texas alone. 

While census data for these animals in California has not ever been well documented, we do know that in 1800 there were 153,000 head of “horned cattle” in California and that by 1834 that number had grown to at least 396,000.

By the 1780s the influence of the missions had declined greatly in Texas, and cattle raising largely passed into the hands of private ranchers, many of whom had acquired large land grants from local governors. Cattle ranching quickly spread throughout south Texas and particularly in the region sometimes referred to as the Nueces Strip (a strip of land in south Texas lying between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande). The area between Tampico and Matamoros (just south of the present day Texas border) is cited by Professor Jordan as today’s remaining primary source area for feral “Texas Longhorns.”

Meanwhile, South Carolina became the primary cattle raising colony along the eastern seaboard of America. Although British settlers had brought British breeds to the new world the early cattle population in South Carolina appears to have had significant Iberian influence. That influence traces back to 1704 when British troops and their Creek Indian allies raided Spanish strongholds in Florida in an effort to displace Spanish influence. They captured a number of the Antillean cattle, which had come north to Florida with Spanish settlers from the Antilles in the early 1600s, and they took them to South Carolina where they were crossed with the British cattle which already existed in that colony.

By the end of the 18th century, the “British” cattle had migrated with their owners as far west as Mississippi. While the “cracker cattle herders” (i.e. Carolinian settlers) did reach Texas in the early 1800s, they seem to have initially limited their expansion to the Piney Woods area of western Louisiana and eastern Texas and to the westernmost portions of the longleaf belt in the lower Trinity River valley. More importantly, it would seem that by then the stock they brought with them were largely comprised of Iberian longhorn blood, including longhorns from Florida and also longhorns which had earlier flowed eastward into Louisiana from Texas during the 1780s after a permissive trade edict issued by the Spanish Government. That edict had enabled Texas ranchers to round up and drive a “huge export of cattle and horses to Louisiana … sufficient to cause herd depletion in the lower San Antonio Valley.” Those cattle, which were driven east from Texas into Louisiana, must have been Iberian Longhorns since the influx of Carolinian settlers and their cattle into Texas did not commence until the first decade of the 19th century. 

Furthermore, as those Carolinian “cowpenners” continued their progress west along the coastal plains of Texas, it appears that they changed their management styles as well as the makeup of their cattle, adopting the Spanish/Mexican styles of loose management and also Iberian bloodlines in their herds.

Between 1493 and the mid-nineteenth century, feral Longhorns flourished in the Americas, using natural selection principles to develop hardiness, disease resistance, ease of calving, strong mothering instincts, and other traits vital to their survival. What evolved was an animal which could survive in harsh environments, one which had sound legs and could walk miles to water, to breed, and to utilize available forage, and one which could also produce and raise a live healthy calf year after year. The evolutionary process, in which only the fittest could contribute to the gene pool, also produced a body commensurate with the availability of food, gave them hard hooves and lethal horns with which to protect themselves and their young, and provided them with a hardy immune system which made them largely resistant to disease. Furthermore, the cows developed excellent udders in order to be able to successfully feed their young in a harsh land of generally poor forage, and the bulls developed tight sheaths in order to avoid injury in the thick scrub they frequented.

One of the best descriptions of the hardiness that longhorns had developed as feral animals is contained in a passage from Frank Dobie’s classic work, The Longhorns. Dobie described the following episode which occurred about 1850 on Noah Smithwick’s property near Bushy Creek in Texas. Smithwick had a herd of domesticated cattle, but there were also wild longhorns nearby. He described the following:

“Two of the [longhorned] bulls took up with Smithwick’s cattle and became ‘quite domesticated’. About the same time, lobo wolves began to depredate. When the milch [sic] cows and other gentle stock were attacked, they would try to get to the house. The wild cattle, on the other hand, ‘would form a ring around their calves and, presenting a line of horns, would fight the lobos off.” 

Hayly’s son.

Pat again here. We’ve all heard of “circling the wagons,” but who knew there was a Longhorn version of that?  I’ll pick up the story from here in the next blog post

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Texas: The Longhorn, Part 1


I laughed when asked if I would ever set a book in Texas. “Why?” I thought. Then quickly I reconsidered. Why not? But it wasn’t until thirteen years later that CLON-X came to life in my mind.

I also had no intention of expanding on my Texas series of blog posts, limiting my articles to the history of the DFW Metroplex where CLON-X is set. But the enthusiastic responses I’ve received from readers have prompted me to dig deeper into Texas history.

In my youth, my father – who was raised on a farm in south Alabama – instilled in me a love for the land. I didn’t always feel that way when I had to help tend our vegetable garden or collect chicken eggs, but as I grew older I did come to appreciate the green thumb inherited from my father and my paternal grandfather. Dad once told me there are two things you can never own enough of: land and trees. These words stuck with me into adulthood, and I’ve often daydreamed about owning ranchland. Never have, but maybe in another life.

This post is the first of several on the Texas Longhorn. Why the longhorn? Shortly after my introduction to these magnificent beasts, I discovered that, not only are they majestic, but they each have their own personality. While I expected them to be formidable in appearance and demeanor, the former is true but not the latter. Even the bulls I’ve come in contact with have been calm and tame. Cows with calves, while protective, haven’t shown any aggression toward my presence. Of course, I always respect their space and, in my best interest, have been cautious about getting too close to those horns. Although it would be totally unintentional, one flick of the head in the wrong direction and injury can occur to the bystander. So be alert and beware!

Horns can measure up to seven feet from tip to tip and can vary in style from rising close to the head or at the tip of the horn. Many horns vary in color and can have a slight upward turn at their tips or even a triple twist. 

Cowboy writer Chuck Walters described the longhorn by saying, “Their long, polished horns sometimes ran six feet from tip to tip … they were lean and lithe, alert as a deer, half-wild, half-savage, half-human.”

In 1995, the Texas Longhorn was enshrined in law as Texas’s large state mammal by then-Governor George W. Bush, joining the seven other animals recognized as official by the state. 

Thank you Sharon Markwardt for giving me permission to use your stunning artwork:  https://www.sharonmarkwardt.com/works

Next week— Texas: The History of the Longhorn

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The Book That Almost Wasn’t

Well, sort of. Quitting is not in my genetic makeup, but shepherding CLON-X through to this stage has been challenging. What stage is that? The book is currently undergoing what I hope is a final edit. From there, I’ll review the edits, make changes if necessary, and then send it to my proofreader. After the proofreader and my final polishing, it’s off to my book designer. As with most things, I’ll have to “get in line.”  I’m sure my book designer hasn’t been hanging out waiting for me to contact him. Once he’s done with the print version, then it’s back to the proofreader to check for any errors that may have popped up during the final formatting. Thankfully, the cover design was finalized earlier this year.

Done correctly, a lot of work goes into producing a quality book – one an author can be proud of. And it often takes years from concept to the finished product.  At least, it has for me. Once a book is released, I want to close that chapter and continue on with the next one in the series. In fact, as soon as any book reaches the edit stage, I begin to work diligently on the next novel while my editor tackles the previous manuscript. 

So why has it taken so long to get CLON-X released? Simple. “Real life,” as Linda McKinley, a dear friend and fellow writer once said when I asked her how her historical fiction was coming along. Since the fall of 2019, CLON-X’s target release date, the book has weathered a slew of freelancers who, through no fault of their own, have fallen victim to their own “real life” events that relegated fiction to the back burner. What do you do when you can’t control the situation? You persevere. 

The theme of CLON-X is human cloning, and I wish I’d had the ability to do just that – clone myself. But cloning doesn’t guarantee talent, and it takes the talents of others to get the job done, and done right. In reality, the hurdles my freelancers have faced while dealing with real life situations, have far outweighed the importance of sticking to a book deadline. 

As Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” In my case, the long middle of working to release CLON-X gave me the opportunity of extra time to proceed with Blue Angel, book five in the Darcy McClain and Bullet Thriller Series.


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