January 17, 2018

The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Texas Longhorn: An Evolutionary History

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Abstract

This article examines the history of the Texas Longhorn, a cattle breed that emerged in what is today the American Southwest during the nineteenth century. Using the methodologies of evolutionary history and animal studies, this article argues that the Texas Longhorn was both technology and laborer. Longhorns were ideally suited to nineteenth-century ranching, largely because the animals themselves performed much of the labor involved in beef production. Initially celebrated for its ability to endure grueling cattle drives, the breed was later abandoned in favor of more market-friendly breeds. In the twentieth century, however, the Texas Longhorn was rehabilitated as a symbol of Texas history and culture. Yet this memorialization was predicated on a false view of the longhorn as a more natural and premodern breed. By contrasting their earlier contributions to ranching with the breed’s twentieth-century memorialization, this article argues that animals are not simply inputs in our agricultural system, but key agents for creating and operating this system.

by Joshua Specht

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