Longhorn History - Seven Original Families
by: Darol Dickinson - revised 2-22-2012
TEXAS LONGHORN cattle come in hundreds of shapes, sizes, colors and horn configurations. These unique nature designed features have all been preserved by seven groups of people with seven different origins and seven different genetic bases. All seven are pure Longhorn, yet specific traits ear mark each family with a special stamp. The true connoisseurs of the breed spot these characteristics and point with recognition concerning their virtues.
I've been asked by several people to write this information down. I believe it to be correct as old timers and their protégés have related it to me. I do not pretend to write down all the individual good or bad traits of the seven herds. I also do not criticize these old time producers for their efforts, which may appear somewhat lacking on records. No one paid any premium for breed purity or any other of several similar virtues 50 to 100 years ago.
Prior to the perpetuation of the seven families the wild cattle herds of Texas possessed Spanish, Oxen and European blood. They were and are today a mix of breeds blended and refined by the elements of time, stress and survival.
At the beginning of the registry in 1964, a 100% visual inspection program was implemented to assure purity and type. Registered Longhorns today trace to ancestry verified for purity by this careful visual inspection.
Modern DNA methods have determined a uniqueness of similarity in kinship among pure Longhorns and a distant blood common to most other prominent cattle breeds. Longhorn purity cannot be determined by modern blood typing due to the lack of a data base on all families of pure Longhorns during the true time of breed origin.
The "seven families" were for the most part unrelated. They are Phillips, Wright, Butler, Marks, Wichita Refuge, Yates and Peeler. There are said to be other unrelated families, but the numbers are very small and no other groups with origins this old are commonly referred to in Texas Longhorn circles. All "seven families" originated in the early 1930's and before. All seven were separate from other herds with minimal exchanges of blood stock prior to 1932.
MARKS cattle were the thrill and satisfaction of Emil Marks to raise and enjoy. The late Emil Marks was fondly remembered by Maudeen and Travis who actively pursued the goals of their wise old father. Mr. Marks raised a lot of twisty horned, brindle cattle, with strong red, dun and brown coloration. Most of the pure Marks blood was lost in the late 1960's as a result of Bangs disease. Hardly any high percentage Marks cattle remain. The old pure Marks were often of a V shape horn style similar to Brahman. Marks cattle were often very quiet and easy to train for riding or pulling wagons and believed to possess oxen origin. The numbers available today of the pure Marks blood have been diluted and are no doubt the smallest in number of the seven families.
Emil Marks was a friend of Cap Yates and did at times trade or sell to the Yates family. The Marks cattle were then a part of the old Yates stock but probably not a large part considering the massive number in the Yates herd.
The Marks herd ran on sprawling, coastal grass land, west of Houston, Texas. Today the Emil Marks land is totally covered with city.
The pure Marks blood is nearly, or completely extinct. No prominent producer is working to preserve the Marks line.
Yates Bull - "Yates 8"
YATES cattle were bred during the lifetime of Cap Yates who passed away in the late sixties. Most of the original stock were dispersed by his family just after his death. The Yates herd was about 1500 head of rugged cows in the Big Bend area of West Texas, near Alpine. Mr. Yates felt that no breed of cattle offered the rancher what Texas Longhorns did in that harsh area of Texas desert. He did, in my opinion, a great job of preventing outside blood from entering his program. He honestly felt any other blood was inferior to a small Spanish type rugged Longhorn.
The Yates cows have every quality needed to produce calves in the desert. They are structurally sound and good mothers. They are a true result of survival of the fittest.
These are three of the Yates cows bought from Virginia Purdy. The middle cow was sold to Richard Robbins Jr and he retained several sons of her for breeding. The cow to the right was Dona Yates 3.
All had one of the three Y brands which was registered by Cap Yates.
The old Yates cattle as a group probably weren't impressive. Many were the smallest horned and most solid colored of the seven families. Today we see some beautiful colored Yates cattle which were not a normal thing years ago. Yates cattle lovers have selectively bred for the families with the most color and there are some over 50" horned Yates cows. These are often very twisted as they get old. Some Yates cows are very "long headed", "sway backed", and have high tail sets. Of all the seven, they represent the old traditional, coarse, small and rangy type. There were a few truly magnificent Yates cows for horn. These few 50" cows in number probably were one in hundreds among Yates cows. The normal Yates cow has a small circumference and short horn tip to tip.
As to Yates bulls, I have never understood how to mate them. Many Yates bulls have been used but I've never seen one with truly long horns. Why aren't there some Yates bulls with 50" horns like Yates cows? I have no answer for that one. Most of the Yates bulls' horns average under 36" with a very few over that. Some well known Yates bulls possess less than 30" horn tip to tip. The big horn cattle of Yates blood are steers, and some are very competitive in shows in their old age.
Cap Yates liked the WR cattle and over the years traded bulls with WR several times. Elmer Parker, an employee at WR, felt the Yates blood did a lot to help the WR program.
Wright Cow - "Wright 489"
WRIGHT cattle are distinctly different from all the others. The old family were nearly all duns, reds and line backs. There was a unique, slight dish face in many. They were somewhat long in body but not real tall. Some had a long goatee like growth of hair hanging from the top inner ear protecting it from tropical insects.
The Wright herd is now managed by Tracy Wright. Prior to that, the late M.P. Wright, Jr. and son Chico enthusiastically perpetuated the herd that was mostly started by his purchase of the Uncle John Webster herd in the early 1900's. (see Dobie's book 1940)
About 10% of the Dickinson Cattle Co. LLC herd is Wright blood. Wright blood flows in some of the best cows in the breed.
The first cow in the Longhorn breed to sell for over $10,000 was "Wright 489" who was dam of the great "Doherty 698." Later, a Wright cow named Alma II became the grandam of Senator.
Wright cows are extra feminine, very trim necks and straight backs. The combination of Wright female lines with modern popular blend families has produced some of the breed's most valuable cattle.
At one time the historic Wright blood was intensely inbred. To stop this practice, Butler, WR and many other families' bloodlines were introduced to out cross. I personally like the old foundation Wright blood the best.
Phillips Cow - "Miss Texas Ranger"
PHILLIPS cattle are one of the oldest of the 7 pure families. The late J.G. "Jack" Phillips, Jr. of Brazoria County, Texas and his father were born and raised with Longhorn cattle in the early 1900s. The herd was expanded in the late twenties by Jack's purchase of the Melgaard herd. A more detailed account of this historical family was featured in the Texas Longhorn Journal Summer 1980 issue entitled the "Texas Ranger Legacy."
Phillips cattle are taller and longer than the other foundation herds. Some interchanging of bulls was done with Graves Peeler and Wichita Refuge in later years. Also a good horned Butler bull was used by the Phillips' during the 1950's to blend with Phillips genetics.
The Phillips cattle were every subtle color with possibly more solid colors than some herds due to the sun burning of white cattle in the very hot coastal climate. More large horned and big beefy bulls were used in this foundation herd than any other. Some of the almost lost Texas twist horn factor was perpetuated in Phillips cattle. The Phillips blood is one unique in itself. They are individualistic and no other herds look exactly like they do. They have long legs and slightly coarse bone. Some almost homely heads and narrow faces may be found which was typical of many early TL cattle.
Phillips Bull - "Texas Ranger - JP"
Texas Ranger, the all-time leading foundation sire, was raised by Phillips. The longest, tallest and most rapid gaining Longhorns all trace to this great bull. At this writing, every world or International All Age Champion Bull traces back to Texas Ranger.
Texas Ranger JP was the first AI Certified bull -- #1. There was great controversy of his genetics due to his early superiority in the breed. He was ruthlessly blood tested by his opponents searching for impurities. One of his 22 blood types of record was also found in Hereford cattle. However history well documents that the Hereford cattle of the USA were bred up from Texas Longhorns.Â Some historic registered Hereford blood types overlap to Texas Longhorn families. With time and legal struggles it was determined that all cattle breeds share many common blood types.
The Texas Ranger blood is the favorite of leading commercial ranchers and major show winning exhibitors although today it is way back in the pedigrees. This family, when properly mated, would produce adult bulls weighing 1,800 to 2,100 lbs. Texas Ranger is the strongest male line in the breed. More of his down-line progeny are used in frozen semen and embryo transfer than any other line. Some say if it had not been for the growth factor that Texas Ranger added to the breed, commercial ranchers would have never appreciated and respected Longhorns as they do today.
Texas Ranger JP was originally named Texas Ranger, however the recording secretary found that was a duplicate name. Another obscure bull had been named Texas Ranger early in the registry so the famous Texas Ranger is really Texas Ranger JP.
Jack Phillips was well respected in Texas cattle circles and attended major Texas Cattleman's Assn. meetings with a high regard. He served as president of TLBAA for 2 years and was well appreciated. Annual conventions could be right on the edge of a shoot-out and Jack would take the floor and slowly cool the hot-headed loud-mouths down to a conversational tone. Jack loved Texas Longhorns and was excited that his bull Texas Ranger JP had the favor and value to lift the early breed to a higher level.
Pillars of the breed from Phillips genetics early on included Texas Toro, sire of Cowcatcher; Texas Lin, sire of Royal Mounty; Miss Texas Ranger 262, Manchadita Ranger, Ranger's Measles, Texas Trish, Measles Super Ranger, Texas Freckles, Texas Star, etc.Â Current breed leading down-line progeny include Cowboy Tuff Chex, Respect Me, Clear Win, Drag Iron, Tempter, Rodeo Max, Jamakizm, and a cast of thousands.
The Phillips contribution of just one prepotent sire had more authority in shaping the breed than many of the other 7 family whole herds.
PEELER cattle were the first cattle purchased by Dickinsons. In the fifties and sixties many people started raising Longhorns because of the colorful old Graves Peeler, a retired Texas Ranger, of Atascosa County, Texas.
Peeler's efforts to establish his Longhorn program were started about the same time as WR, in the late twenties and early thirties. The other five herds started from ten to several dozen years earlier. Some of these old family herds just don't have any recorded beginning. The Peeler, WR and Butler all have a dated beginning. The WR herd was the latest of origin.
The Peeler cattle are truly professional range cattle. He wanted his cows to come in every year with a fat, live calf and no excuses. They lived in semi-desert, lots of mesquite, diamond back rattlers and timber wolves. Graves wanted lots of fight in his cattle. I've been to sales in the late sixties that Graves attended. When a fighty cow came in the ring, most breeders were not that enthusiastic. They sure weren't going to pay any extra premiums. Not so with Mr. Peeler. One time a WR cow come in the ring, ran over to Elmer Parker, who was horseback, and promptly tried to hook his horse down. Elmer wheeled and got away. Mr. Peeler let out an Indian war hoop, stood up leaning on his cane and placed the final bid. No one bid against him after that. This was his kind of cow . . . with fight!
The old herd that he established were fairly big cattle. Generally speaking they were larger boned than most Longhorns. They were excellent milkers and raised big fat calves. Most of the Peeler stock were sold at the San Antonio Stock Yards, so pounds of meat were his goal. He was successful in raising that. Some Peeler cows give so much milk their udders become damaged and their productive life is reduced.
Like the Yates cattle, only a few Peeler cows had the long horns. Many had a slight Brahman look and a V shape horn, rather than the straight out, lateral shape so popular today. Peeler probably was more careless in allowing non-Longhorn blood to creep into his herd than any of the other six. Who cared anyway in 1929? No one offered any premium for purebred Longhorns thirty years before the first Longhorns were registered.
The King Ranch was the main stronghold of Peeler blood. Some have a slight roman nose and the prominent color is red. Very few people use Peeler bulls today but the heavy milking cows are appreciated by those who do.
The Peeler cattle have size, lots of milk and they are protective mother cows deluxe. Today the Peeler family herd is under the management of Justin Peeler. The Dickinson Cattle Co. LLC herd has about 3% Peeler blood.
Butler Bull - "Classic"
BUTLER cattle trace a family mating program back to the early twenties. Milby Butler and son, Henry, operated ranching interests south and east of Houston at League City.
A detailed article on the history of this family of cattle appeared in the Winter 1979 Texas Longhorn Journal.
Only about 1% of the registered cattle could trace to any Butler blood prior to 1975. Today they are one of the most sought after families for those who breed for horns.
Many Butler bulls became popular, such as Classic, Superior, Unlimited, Blue Horns, Dixie Hunter, Tabasco, Dixie Rebel, Conquistador, Bold Ruler, Man O' War, Monarch, Holman B1, Sam and others. This family is the most popular out cross to other foundation strains.
The Butler cattle are known for their lateral horn. Most of the biggest horned bulls of the breed have some Butler blood. The Butler cow, Beauty at 58" set an early record and her son Classic at 61" topped all bulls prior to 1980.
Butler Cow - "Droop Horn"
It appears the old Butler cattle have practically no blood found in the other six families as far as direct association. They are very different by body type and DNA.
Record prices in the Longhorn world were paid for Butler cattle during the 1980's. Blend Butler blood still tops most sales. It is difficult to predict progeny color of most Butler cattle. They fall to a white color often with dark ears, nose, eyes and ankles.
The Butler cattle are nearly as intensely inbred as WR. Many Butler cattle are also small, much like WR.
About 15% of the Dickinson Cattle Co. LLC herd is Butler blood. They the leading source of the old corkscrew horn twist.
WR Cow - "Measles"
WICHITA REFUGE cattle have the best known history. The sixty-ninth congress in 1927 provided "that not to exceed $3,000 . . . shall be expended for the purchase and maintenance of a herd of long - horned or Spanish breed of cattle . . . to the end that the present few examples be preserved from extinction." The herd was started in the late twenties by selecting individuals from numerous south Texas herds. Two government forest rangers were in charge of the $3,000 and completed the task. (no one knows why government forest rangers were delegated to the job). None of the WR purchases were from other major herds of that day. The other families of Marks, Yates, Wright, Phillips, Butler were not used as a source for the foundation WR stock. The WR cattle were selected from smaller obscure herds, although the rangers travelled right in the same area of the major herds of that day. The original, traditional WR cattle were not of the horn growth, conformation or pretty colors their modern cattle possess. In 1968 Graves Peeler serving as a Longhorn Association inspector, commented that the WR had done a good job getting the badly swaybacked, traditional cattle culled from the herd.
Probably the most appreciated thing about the WR cattle is their fine set of pedigrees. The government herd always had staff carefully record this information. Until 2001 WR cattle had complete pedigree records back to the beginning of their herd. This information was appreciated by producers and had been neglected years ago by the other six families. A new policy was implemented by the 2001 WR leaders to halt all pedigree records and raise a multiple sire herd. Fans of WR cattle were devastated by this seventy year policy change.
The most famous WR bull of all time was "WR 2935." His weight was 1,260 lbs. and his horns were over 42". No other WR bull has had the popularity of WR 2935.
WR Bull - "Don Quixote"
Don Quixote is believed to be the all-time leading contributor of quality genetics representing the WR family. He has sired more over 50" progeny than any other WR bull. His progeny are mostly black and very trim of underline. Their growth and correct type command respect. Nearly all pure black longhorn cattle today trace to Don Quixote.
The WR cattle are intensely inbred. Possibly due to this, many WR cattle are somewhat smaller in size, length and height than other families. A direct out cross to larger families will correct this.
The WR herd in Cache, Oklahoma have calved unassisted and in many ways are managed much like wild animals. Each cow calves within a few minutes walk of hungry government protected coyotes. This means every cow learns to be a good mother or ends up without a calf.
Probably more solid color bulls have been used on the WR cows than most herds. There is a commitment by WR management to perpetuate Spanish type or Longhorns as they historically were. It is not felt the old cattle were consistently highly colorful, which I'm sure is correct in general. The dynamic colors seen today, have been bred into herds by special selection because of public appeal. These were not traditional colors.
More WR blood is available in the nation than any other family. This is due to availability as a result of their many annual surplus sales. Roughly 50% to 70% of all Texas Longhorn cattle possess high percentages of WR blood. This availability creates WR bulls in large numbers and therefore they normally sell fairly economically. This large number of WR cows makes it important for producers to utilize bulls of the other six families. WR is not well appreciated for herd sires.
WR Cow - "WR 1052"
Over the years WR has made an effort to place a small amount of new blood in their herd. Several bulls were acquired from Yates. One Phillips and one Butler bull were used. The bull, Bold Ruler, was donated to WR by the Dickinson family and his WR branded calves were the highest selling in the history of WR.
When evaluating WR bulls, their horns are more curled forward and up like the Spanish fighting bulls, rather than the wider lateral horn spreads that are more popular today. Most WR bulls have a clean sheath but many have excess lower neck and brisket skin causing a somewhat buffalo like silhouette. This is not the case with all WR bulls. Probably less than 10% of the bulls raised by WR ever reach up to 40" horn spans. Most mature WR bulls weigh 1,100 to 1,400 lbs. depending on health conditions. Their shoulder height will range from 52" to 54". Which reveals their Spanish influence.
WR cows are very feminine. Some are colorful. They are consistently above average for milk production because the fattest heifers were for years retained for replacements, concentrating this factor. Dickinson Cattle Co. LLC is about 30% WR blood.
The most famous cow ever produced by WR was "Measles." Her blood is highly sought by most prominent Longhorn producers. WR cattle are moderate in size and horn growth. They are the most numerous of all seven families because of availability at an annual surplus auction which began in 1942. Due to the major numbers of WR cattle sold annually, they often sell for low prices.
Each of the seven families introduced a blend of new genetics to avoid inbreeding after their herds matured.
The major show winning and sale topping cattle are blend genetics, mostly a combination of Phillips, Butler, Wright and WR families in that order. The single family line-bred herds have not sold well except in well managed Butler family sales. The pure family herd program doesn't allow breeders the out cross genetic privilege of the other six Longhorn families.
In 1939 J. Frank Dobie wrote "The Longhorns", where the major theme encouraged preservation of the Texas Longhorn. Today with over 200,000 registered, many read his book and join the preservation call. The breed itself has been preserved. Only two segments are nearly extinct. They are the corkscrew horn and the wine color factors.
At Dickinson Cattle Co. LLC no one of the seven pure families is bred as such, but rather a "blend" of superior individuals representing the top genetics of the most popular pure families. Each family has one or more faults or weaknesses. Fortunately, each family compliments another when properly mated. The major show winning cattle have been "blends" of Texas Ranger, Butler, Wright and Wichita Refuge families. No pure family has achieved major show success when compared to blends. The key is the ability to blend superior individuals to compliment the total correct result.
In summary, all seven families are great cattle. Each has strong and weak points. A Longhorn program designed for the future that is profitable and successful will need to carefully consider which family lines to pursue. This decision will be the most significant any Longhorn breeder has to make if a profitable business is desired.
*Near the Ft. Worth., Texas Stock Yards the largest bronze monument in Texas has been errected with seven bigger-than-life Longhorn steers to memoralize the seven pioneer Longhorn herds. The bronze was cast by world famous sculptor Terry Kelsey of Guthrie, Texas. Within the body cavity of the Philips family representative was placed certain actual bones from the most famous Longhorn sire of all time, Texas Ranger. This fabulous work of art is titled "Texas Gold."