The Farmer's Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860-1897

By Fred A. Shannon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
The Livestock Frontier and the Great-Plains Farmer

ORIGINS OF THE RANGE CATTLE BUSINESS

THE range cattle industry, as it flourished in the Great Plains and farther westward in the last half, and particularly in the last third, of the nineteenth century, was essentially an outgrowth of a much older Mexican frontier economy. The Mexican longhorn cattle, later to dominate the Texan pastures and for a few years to replace the buffalo on the northern Plains, were descendants of Spanish breeds, and had physiques admirably fitting them for shifting for themselves in a wild country. From the point of view of ability to cope with nature in a dry area, they were perfect physical specimens, but, to butchers and beef eaters, they lacked the rotundity, tenderness, and succulence of the shorthorn, Hereford, or Angus. To create prosperity for the growers and joy at the dinner table, all that was needed was a little crossbreeding of the longhorns with the heavier types, in order to eliminate their ranginess while preserving their stamina. Not only the cattle but the methods of herding and the life of the cowboy were developed in Mexico hundreds of years before the great drives to the cow towns of the northern Plains. For some years before his final return to Spain in 1540, Hernando Cortés was in the cattle business and made use of the branding iron.1

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1
William Curry Holden, Alkali Trails ( Dallas: The Southwest Press, c. 1930), p. 21.

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