Iconic Texas cattle rescued on the verge of extinction

Time Before Now, September 1888  The mid-Janury Schoolhouse Blizzard in the Midwest had  killed 235, many of them school children.  In March, another 400 perished along the East Coast in the Great Blizzard of 1888.  And England’s most notorious murderer, “Jack the Ripper” had already struck three times.  British police and the world at large are still trying to decide on his identity.  Happily, Ohio inventor, Marvin Stone, received a patent for the wax-coated drinking straw. He spent most of the proceeds from his invention improving the living conditions of his female employees and for African American workers in Washington, D.C. 

September 26, 1888

On this day, the guardian angel of Texas Longhorns and keeper of Lone Star lore, James Frank Dobie was born in Live Oak County.

Professor, poet and  internationally acclaimed author, Dobie grew up with a deep appreciation for the state’s cattle culture,  raised on his family’s ranch in the sparse southeast Texas prairie.  He wasn’t shy, however, about poking fun at Texas politics and Texas braggarts, earning him a reputation as a gadfly by many powerful politicians.

His love affair with the longhorn began in 1929, publishing “A Vaquero of the Brush Country,” based on the open-range vaquero, John D. Young.  A veteran of the barbed wire wars, Young had first sought Dobie’s help with his autobiography, a philanthropic venture to build a hotel for cattlemen in San Antonio.

Dogie shortly after publishing “The Longhorns”

Already a full professor a the University of Texas, Dobie’s 1941 “The Longhorns” was the author’s opus magnum.  Both a commercial and critical success, it won the Texas storyteller an international reputation and made the longhorn a cause célèbre. 

Critical as Dobie’s book was to the salvation of the historic cattle, he had  some help along the way.  On the cusp of extinction, the Texas Longhorn was first rescued not by Texans but Will C. Barnes (right) and members of the U.S. Forest Service.   Born in Arizona, Barnes had won a Medal of Honor for gallantry during the legendary siege of Fort Apache.  After leaving the military, he served  for 21 years in the United States Forest Service. In 1927 Barnes and a companion rounded up the last hardy survivors in south Texas and shipped them to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.

Dobie and former range inspector, Graves Peeler, with money from oilman, Sid Richardson, purchased some of the Oklahoma herd for Texas state parks.  Mostly viewed as curiosities, the longhorn’s dry land durability, disease resistance and rapid weight gain caught the attention of the beef industry. 

The longhorns, New World cattle

Descended from the earliest cattle in the New World, their beginnings can be traced to Christopher Columbus, who brought them to Hispaniola to supply food to colonists in 1493 . 

Early Spaniards in Mexico later bred the Caribbean cattle with their own stock, over time developing the unique rangy breed with the amazing headgear.  Measured in feet, not inches, Despite the fierce appearance of the oversized horns, often measuring 10 feet across, they are blessed with a surprisingly docile disposition. 

To his peril, Texas longhorns were not the only cause Dobie championed.  His support for ousted University of Texas president, Homer Rainey, resulted in his own dismissal in 1947.  It was good news for history buffs, however.  Dobie launched a series of nearly a dozen books on the West beginning with the 1948 “The Voice of the Coyote, chronicling the complex relationship between coyotes and humans.  

Dobie’s fall from grace at Texas U was somewhat nullified in 1964 when he received the Medal of Freedom from fellow Texan, President Lyndon Johnson.    He died just four days later at age 76, his  last manuscript written that same year,  aptly titled “Cow People.”  He is buried in Austin.

The longhorn’s revival started by Dobie and Barnes remained incomplete until 1964, when Charles Schreiner III (above) founded the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America.  A descendent of  banker and cattle baron, Captain Charles Armand Schreiber, (left) the iconic Texan’s grandson was known simply as “Three.”  Inheriting the YO,  Schreiber’s Kerr County ranch,” Three”  jumped into the longhorn business at first in a small way, purchasing five heifers and a bull for $450 from Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountain herd in 1957.

Membership in the association has grown from a fledgling dozen to more than 5,000 and the longhorn’s fortunes have risen, as well. Used extensively in cross breeding, elite stock can sell for more than $40,000.  To date “Danica 3S” holds the record, selling for $380,000 in 2017.  Value added alert: intelligent and easy-going, longhorns have become increasingly popular in the show ring and in parades. And then of course, you might want to consider longhorn-riding as a potential profit center.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge & Visitor’s Center, near Cache and Lawton, includes 59,000 acres of free range for Texas longhorns, buffalo, elk, deer and prairie dogs.  In addition, its the home Quanah Parker Lake, named for the last chief of the Quahadi Comanche and the Parallell Forest, 16 acres of red cedars exactly six feet apart, a mecca for photography buffs.  Outdoor activies include hiking, rock climbing Doris Campground (below) offers 47 tent site, 23 RV sites with hookups and 20 more sites a short distance away. 

For hardy hikers, backcountry camping is allowed in the Charon’s Garden Wilderness Area.  Single-unit site fees start at $14 per day, with semi-primative sites starting at $12 a day.  The Refuge is open dawn to dusk daily and admission is free.  For more information go to travelok.com, call  (580) 429-3222 or (58) 429-2197 or write 20539 State Hwy 115 Hwy 115 & 49 Junction  Lawton, OK 73505 

Butler Longhorn Museum, 1220 Coryell St, League City, Texas, tells the history of the state’s iconic cattle. Located in the former home of banker Walter Hall, (below) it was opened in 2009.  Featuring artifacts, local history and the science of Longhorns, the museum includes the 8,000-square-foot house in League City’s 200-acre Heritage Park. 

Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for seniors, military and youth ages 6 to 12.  Children under 5 are free.  The museum is open 10 to 4, Tuesday through Saturday.  Closed Sunday and Monday for tours and special events.          For more information go to butlerlonghornmuseum.com, e-mail info@butlerlonghornmuseum.com or call (281) 332-1393.

*Before planning to visit, go to the websites above for the latest Covid-19 updates

© Text Only – 2020- Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.