Long horned cattle first arrived in 1493 on one of Christopher Columbus' ships to the new world. The English brought their native cattle in 1623 while colonizing North America. The English moved westward and used the cattle as means of transportation by pulling wagons, plows, and supplying food for the journey. Around the 1820's, cattle in Texas, Mexico, and Louisiana Purchase provided the Texas Longhorn breed. Some sources argue that Texas Longhorn populated California as early as 1769. Overall, between 1493 and the mid 1800's, wild longhorn cattle populated many parts of the Americas. Over a period of about 350 years, they developed strong natural selection traits, such as disease resistance, ease of calving, strong mothering instincts, resistance to very harsh weather and the ability to eat almost any brushy thorns, leaves and grasses. The Texas Longhorn sturdiness is best described in Frank Dobie's - The Longhorns. He describes a true story which occurred around 1850 on Noah Smithwick's property near Bushy Creek,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 attack the the herd. When the domesticated cows were attacked, they would run back to the house. The wild longhorn cattle on the other hand, "would form a ring around their calves and presenting a line of horns, would fight the lobos off." By the early 1900's , candles had been the main source of night light for thousands of years. The main ingredient was tallow, which was rendered from animal fat. Soaps, lubricants and cooking also required tallow. "Hide and Tallow" companies, also know as early beef processing plants, which were a major industry in the early days of the industrial revolution. They were first in California and later in Texas and other southern states. In the absence of refrigeration , meat was largely a by-product and of little commercial value. Near the end of the Civil War, many longhorns were driven to the Southeast in order to fulfill the high demand for tallow and leather. Also, many longhorn were driven from Texas to the South where they supplied the field kitchens of the confederate forces. These first cattle drives taught the Texans that longhorns could be driven long distances with little if any weight loss. That sparked a new revolution of driving the cattle North to get on rail cars and expand business opportunities. This truly was the beginning of the glory years of cowboys and long distance cattle drives. By 1895, it has been estimated that over 10 million head had been driven from the South to the North on various cattle trails. These became part of the romantic western stories of the old west. These cattle drives included millions of longhorn bulls, calves, cows and steers. As they walked North they actually gained weight as they walked. They consistently protected themselves and their calves from predators, swam through rivers, survived desert heat, and winter snow. It was remarkable that these longhorns could survive and thrive under such conditions. The natural selection of these animals over the years has given them a huge advantage.
The spiraling slide of the decline of the longhorn in the late 1800's has been attributed to its strong immune system. They carried a tick which did not kill them, but instead made them carriers. So as they travelled North, they infected the British cattle and others who were not immune to it. It was known as "Cattle Tick Fever." When these other cattle started to decline because of the disease, there was large destruction of the nation's longhorn population. Also, by the end of the 1800's, higher tallow (fat cattle) content cattle were in high demand, put the longhorn out of the market because they were 80% leaner than the English breeds. The Texas Longhorn cattle went into steep decline by 1910 and became nearly extinct. Only thirty years before, millions of longhorns filled the land.
In 1927, Congress appropriated money to establish a federal herd of purebred Texas Longhorn cattle. Over the next several years, two US Forest Service rangers inspected over 30,000 cattle in Texas and northern Mexico. They found 20 cows, three bulls and four calves that were considered purebred Texas Longhorns. They took these cattle to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Cache, Oklahoma. These were seed stock for what has become known the "Wildlife Refuge" (WR) herd. The WR herd was collected only from remote herds and did not include any influence from the six other purebred herds then known to exist(Marks, Phillips, Yates, Butler, Peeler and Wright).
Most of the present day Texas Longhorn cattle are descended from those seven families, each with its own attributes. To a longhorn producer today, it is vitally important to have an understanding of their cattles' pedigree and the degree to which it has been genetically influenced by one or more of those families.
In 1964, the first registry was established to keep record of breeding and purity of bloodlines for breeders. Since then, the number of registered Texas Longhorns has exceeded 250,000 and growing.