Life in the Old West

True stories, tall tales, memorabilia of the American West

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Longhorn cattle added danger, source of meat to life in the Old West


Longhorn cattle, identified early in the history of the Old West with Texas, New Mexico, and the region of the American Southwest, were earlier “settlers” in this land than the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower — and had a reputation for being dangerous critters.

The Longhorns’ ancestors came from the Andalusian region of Spain, and first landed in Mexico in 1521. Since most of what is now the American Southwest WAS Mexico, they merely spread northward and were there waiting when the earliest “Anglo” settlers and pioneers entered the region. The earliest ancestors of the modern-day Longhorn were called “cimarrones” — Spanish for “wild ones.” And they really were. One source I have suggested they were as feared as the Comanches by early Anglo settlers. Indeed, a battalion of U.S. soldiers during the Mexican War in the 1840s actually fought a battle with a herd of these cimarrones in Arizona, with the bulls charging out of the brush right into the face of heavy musket fire!

When you eat that next barbecued or grilled burger, think of the early ancestors of the Longhorn cattle and the Longhorns themselves. The Longhorns had horns typically spanning more than 4 or 5 feet tip-to-tip, with some “old timers” reporting stories of Longhorns with horns spanning 6-7 feet, with a few tales of horns up to 13 feet! (The key word there might be “tale.”)

Whatever their size — and they might go 800-900 pounds of rangy, fat-free weight — the Longhorns were speedy, tenacious swimmers, and fierce fighters when riled.

Luckily, the original Longhorns eventually were domesticated and inter-mixed with various shorthorn breeds to make them first docile enough to handle, and ultimately almost a footnote to life in the modern West.

So enjoy that burger, but remember and respect its ferocious Longhorn ancestor!