In 1493, Columbus landed in Santo Domingo with the first cattle destined for the New World. This was the beginning of an evolutionary process that would create a breed of cattle unique to the Americas—a breed that would forever change the face of a continent and symbolize an era unparalleled for its lasting mystique. Developed through natural selection, the Texas Longhorn flourished to over 4,000,000 by 1860 in Texas alone. Less than 50 years later, driven to the brink of extinction by barbwire and “improved” breeds, the Texas Longhorn numbered a mere 2,500 in total.
In 1964, a handful of dedicated, far-sighted cattlemen formed the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, whose stated purpose is “to recognize the Texas Longhorn as a distinct breed in order to protect the unique heritage of the Texas Longhorn and its link with the history of America.” Today the TLBAA’s 4,000 members have registered over a quarter million head of cattle, thus ensuring the future of the majestic Texas Longhorn.
Turning Points in Texas History --
The Saving of a Legend
The Texas Longhorn is the symbol of the old west, spirit of freedom, rugged, independent and probably the most recognizable breed of cattle in the United States, not to mention cattle in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and possibly China. In the 1860’s the Texas census recorded 4,000,000 head of cattle in Texas, but only 600,000 people (TLBAA 1998, 7). The Longhorn has not always been so plentiful though. In the late fifties the breed was all but extinct. In fact the Longhorn had come closer to extinction than either the buffalo or the whooping crane (TLBAA 1998, 8). This very integral part of history was being replaced. With the introduction of new meatier breeds from Europe and the decline of the cattle trails, the Longhorn was no longer needed as the major beef breed in the U.S. With its numbers decimated and its popularity rapidly diminishing, six dedicated Texas ranchers and the U. S. Parks and Wildlife Department decided to try and save what was left of these majestic and historic animals. Without these seven genetic families it is not only possible, but also very probable that the Texas Longhorn would not exist today. The seven genetic families are those of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Cache, OK, Milby Butler, Jack Phillips, M.P. Wright, Graves Peeler, “Cap” Yates and Emil Marks. Each of these lines of cattle and the philosophies and methods of the men that owned and bred them were different, but these men and the men of the Wildlife Refuge all loved the Texas Longhorn and knew that the breed had more to offer and deserved more than to fade away like the trails that made them famous.
The first family of cattle is that of the Wildlife Refuge or WR. Established in 1927 the WR herd is of special importance to history because only once has the Federal Government actively stepped in to conserve a breed of domesticated animal on public lands at public expense (Sponenberg and Christman 1996, 2). This one time, fearing the loss of the history and heritage the Longhorn represented, the government provided $3,000 for the purchase of a herd of Longhorn cattle. The task of finding these cattle fell on the shoulders of Mr. Will C. Barnes, who found it necessary to travel almost 5,000 miles across south Texas and Mexico to find the twenty cows, four calves and three bulls with which to develop a herd that was the remnants of some 4,000,000 cattle living in the U.S. only sixty years before. These animals were then blood typed to insure that no outside blood was present in the cattle. Unfortunately, the largest of the three bulls showed a taint of Brahman blood, so he and his progeny had to be culled (Recollections of a Refuge Man 1985, 47). Later, the other two bulls also had to be culled. After this another bull was found and purchased (Recollections of a Refuge Man 1985, 48). Today the WR herd is considered the “purest” herd, and WR branded animals demand premium prices (Sponenberg 1996, 14).
The next herd is that of Milby Butler. Butler started out raising registered Brahman cattle. When his son Henry left to serve in the military, he left his Longhorns to his father who then developed a love for them (The Seven Families 1990, 24). A typical Butler Longhorn has large horns and is of good frame. They are not the tallest or largest of the seven families, but they are larger than some of the others. Many are light with dark points, but the color is widely varied (The Seven Families 1990, 25). Many of his original cattle included duns from the gulf coast and white cattle from east Texas (Sponenberg 1996, 12). In 1923, Butler decided to keep his Longhorns separated from his other types of cattle. Over the years, he added good cattle when he could find them. Eventually, Butler had a herd of up to 600 head (Sponenberg 1996, 12). Many present day herds carry the Butler bloodline through their herd sires that may trace their heritage back to Classic. Classic was a large white bull with red ears, nice horns and good conformation (Classic 1999, 1). Syndicated for one million dollars in 1983, Classic is a good example of what Butler’s cattle looked like (The Seven Families 1990, 25). Another good Butler bull was Monarch 103, who also was white with red ears. He had good horns, but his conformation was not as good as some other Butler bulls (Monarch 1999, 1). Above all, the most enduring Longhorn legacy Butler left us was just that--long horns. Today, the name Butler is synonymous with long horns.
The Jack Phillips line of Texas Longhorns began in the early 1930’s (Sponenberg 1996, 13). Phillips lived in West Colombia, Texas. His grandfather had raised Texas Longhorns, and Phillips decided to follow in his footsteps. By the time the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, or TLBAA, had been founded, Phillips had already been selectively breeding and raising Texas Longhorns for thirty years. In an interview with a writer from the Texas Longhorn Journal, Phillips tells what we wanted in his cattle.
I wanted a long-bodied, long-headed cow with a high tailhead, and a tail with a heavy brush that either brushed the ground or was close to it. I also looked for old Texas-twisty horns. I didn’t like too many of them with the horns that came out and went straight up. As for the bulls, I liked a long-bodied long-legged bull with a heavy forequarter and a light rear, with horns coming out straight from his head, forward, then up. We didn’t have any of those tremendous, lateral-horned bulls in those days, so far as I can recall. They were all the Mexican fighting bull type. (The Seven Families 1990, 18)
Texas Ranger JP was the most famous Phillips bull and one of the most famous Longhorns ever. He was a red and white speckled bull with a red head and neck. Texas Ranger JP was also tall and well muscled with moderate horns (Texas Ranger JP 1999, 1). He was produced through the selective breeding program run by Phillips (The Seven Families 1990, 19). Although dead for 19 years, Texas Ranger JP is still producing offspring through artificial insemination techniques.
M. P. Wright came from an old pioneer ranching family in south Texas (Sizemore 1982, 54). When he was young, Wright operated a slaughterhouse to help support his family. When people brought their cattle to be slaughtered, he would single out and save the Longhorns. In this way, he procured his first one hundred Longhorns in the early twenties. Along with saving his Longhorns, Wright was an avid conservationist, and by the 1960’s his wildlife preserve was the winter home to over forty types of birds. Wright’s Longhorns were noted for their wide range of color, good frames and large horns (Sizemore 1982, 54). Wright’s steers were known to have hornspans over six feet tip to tip. Today, the Wright bloodline is known as one of the oldest and purest lines in existence (McGinnis 1984, 16).
The fifth family is that named for Graves Peeler. Peeler’s father, Tom, had raised Longhorns and instilled in Peeler the belief that there was not any other kind of cattle worth owning (Stiles and Searle 1999, 1). As he got older, Peeler joined the Texas Rangers and went on to be an inspector for the Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association. In 1931, Peeler began to gather his herd. He helped in the gathering of the WR herd, and from the cattle gathered he kept back for himself ten cows and a bull. Peeler selected his cows for size, survivability and mothering ability (Stiles and Searle 1999, 1). If a cow on Peeler’s ranch did not have a calf, she did not stay long. Peeler also liked for his cattle to have some fight in them. Peeler’s cattle reflected the characteristics of Peeler himself more than any other line reflected its founder (Stiles and Searle 1999, 2). Peeler’s efforts to preserve the breed at a time when extinction was imminent is something for which all present-day breeders should be extremely thankful (The Seven Families 1990, 28).
The Yates bloodline was named for I. G. “Cap” Yates. Yates was eighty-two at the time of his death in 1968. When he died, Yates had over 1,000 head of cattle. Throughout his life he held many titles. Bronc–buster, oilman, ranch foreman, livestock buyer and loan appraiser are just a few, but his most important title is that of conservationist (Johnson 1984, 18). By 1926, Yates must have envisioned saving the “true” Texas Longhorn. In the 1930’s Yates also started preserving and caring for wild game such as buffalo, deer, antelope, elk, quail and chukka partridges (Johnson 1985, 35). In the 1950’s Yates started building up his herd (Johnson 1985, 35). Yates looked for hardy tough animals with twisty horns that were generally beefier and larger than other Longhorns (Sponenberg 1996, 13). Color was not important to Yates; however, he valued purity in his strain. He also looked for “old-type” Longhorns. Although straight Yates cattle are increasingly hard to find, they are an asset to anyone who chooses to use them in their breeding program today.
The final family is the Marks line of cattle. This bloodline was named after Emil H. Marks (McGinnis 1984, 16). Marks started raising Longhorns in the early 1900’s (Sponenberg 1996, 12). Almost anyone would be thrilled to have one good Marks cow, but there are very few to be found. Marks valued the traditional functionality of the Texas Longhorn. In fact, Marks started raising Texas Longhorns because in his mind Longhorns were “simply better” and more productive than other types of cattle (Sponenberg 1996, 12). Some problems can occur when a breed has a limited gene pool. To help avoid some of these problems, Marks used bulls from other bloodlines. In 1967 he used a WR bull, and later on he purchased and used a Butler bull (Sponenberg 1996, 13). Marks, like the other breeders, had the foresight to save this beautiful, historic animal.
Today, the Longhorn is flourishing. The threat of extinction is no longer looming on the horizon. Also, the Longhorn is finding new markets in which to compete. Many rodeos buy Longhorn roping stock for their superior horn and lower weight. More recently, a grass fed Longhorn steer has been shown to have only one gram of fat in a four ounce tenderloin (Hunter 1997, 77). Longhorn crossbreeds are also sought after for their beef. The Longhorn is even being utilized as one-fourth of a new breed of cattle that will benefit from the Longhorns’ lean beef and its calving ease. All these things and more would have been lost with the coming of fatter breeds if not for the work of the seven genetic families. The true turning point for the Longhorn as a breed and the Longhorn as a symbol came in 1964 with the founding of the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, the first Texas Longhorn registry. As we move into a new century and millenium, it is comforting to know the Longhorn, which was on the brink of extinction, is now a flourishing and appreciated breed. “Because of the Longhorn’s past as well as the contributions it can still make, it is fortunate that a few farghsighted men rescued it from extinction (Worcester 1987, 94).”
Classic. Accessed 2 December 1999. Available from
This site contains a picture of the Butler Bull Classic.
Monarch 103. Accessed 2 December 1999. Available from
The Butler Bull Monarch 103 can be observed at this site.
Texas Ranger JP. Accessed 2 December 1999. Available from
The most famous Phillips bull, Texas Ranger JP, has a picture posted at this site.
Dickinson, Darol. The Seven Families of Longhorns. Accessed 2 December 1999.
Available from http://www.itla/longhorn/sevet.html.
This piece gave me good insight into the Texas Longhorn breed as its numbers and popularity increase in the 1990’s.
Fowler, Stewart H., Ph.D. Texas Longhorn: Survivor of the Past - Bright Promise for the Future.
Accessed 1 December 1999. Available from
This article showed me the genetic value of the Texas Longhorn.
Hoyt, Alan M. “William Earl Drummond: Father of the WR Herd.” Texas Longhorn Scene
(February 1986) : 18-20.
This article told the story of the gathering of the WR herd and also tells some stories from Drummond’s days as a park ranger. I got a good description of WR cattle from this article.
Hunter, Carolyn. “The Texas Longhorn Beef Market-Springerhill Ranch Texas Longhorn Beef
‘From My Range to Yours.’ ” 1997 TLBAA Breeders Handbook (July 1997) : 77
The article gave information on the leanness and marketability of Longhorn beef.
Jonson, Jeanie. “Yates Texas Longhorns: Part I-Cap Yates His Early Years: 1886-1926.” The
Texas Longhorn Scene (December 1984) : 18.
From this article I learned why and how Yates acquired his longhorns.
Jonson, Jeanie. “Yates Texas Longhorns: Part II-Cap Yates His Later Years: 1926-1968” The
Texas Longhorn Scene (January 1985) : 34.
In this half of the Cap Yates story, I read about his life from 1926 to his death. I also read about Yates’ most notable and productive Longhorn years.
McGinnis, Jackie. “Bloodline Legacies.” The Texas Longhorn Journal
This article discusses all seven bloodlines and gives a description of each.
Sizemor, Deborah. “M.P. Wright Jr.-protector of the Longhorn legacy.” Texas Longhorn Scene
(December 1982) 54-55.
This article gave me some good background information on the Wright line of Texas Longhorn cattle.
Sponenberg, Phillip D., Ph.D. and Carolyn Christman. The Rise and Fall and Rise of a Great
American Breed: The Texas Longhorn. Accessed on 2 December 1999. Available from
This article gave me information on the WR herd and about the longhorn at the turn of the century.
Sponenberg, Phillip D., Ph.D. “Texas Longhorn Bloodlines: Foundations of the Present Breed.”
TLBAA Breeders Handbook (1996): 12-14.
This article gave excellent background information as well as detailed descriptions of the individual bloodlines.
Stiles, Leonard and Charles B. Searle. The Peeler Bloodline. Accessed 2 December 1999.
Available from http://www.longhornsdowneast.com/InfoTexts/ Peeler.html.
This article gave various background information and descriptions of Peeler’s cattle.
Worcester, Don Emmet. The Texas Longhorn, Relic of the past asset for the future.
College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987.
This chapter gave good information on the modern Texas Longhorn.
“Recollections of a Refuge Man. What was it like on the Wichita Refuge in the early days of the Longhorn herd? Here’s someone who knows.” Texas Longhorn Journal (July/August 1985): 18.
This was an interview with A.A. McCutchen about early WR Longhorns.
“The Seven Families of Texas Longhorns: Part One.” The Texas Longhorn Scene (January
1990) : 14-19.
This gave a comprehensive look at the WR, Yates, Phillips, and Marks lines of cattle.
“The Seven Families of Texas Longhorns: Part Two.” The Texas Longhorn Scene
(February/March 1990) : 24-29.
This gave a comprehensive look at the Butler, Wright and Peeler families of Texas Longhorn cattle.
Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America (TLBAA). Texas Longhorn Cookbook and
Campfire Tales. Ft. Worth: Cookbook Resources, 1998.