Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Look at Longhorns

I have been re-reading “The Longhorns” by J. Frank Dobie. Being something of a history buff, especially history that relates to Texas and even more particularly, that relates to the Panhandle region, I have really enjoyed getting reacquainted with this classic work.

When we look at the cattle that cover the plains today, what we see is a far cry from the tough-hided, multi-colored Longhorns of legend. We see fine-haired cattle with rarely a stubby set of horns that is descended from British breeds that were first brought to this country to “upgrade” the breed that could be considered the first in Texas.

Considering Longhorns a breed is probably not especially accurate. There was little uniformity in the original Longhorn cattle that developed in the brush country of central and southern Texas. They were descendants of Mexican corriente and crillo cattle that escaped the first ranchers to venture into the wilds of Texas. But that wasn’t all of the blood that flowed through their veins. Oxen that transported the first Anglo inhabitants from the fledgling ports of the 1830’s often escaped to run wild in the brush and add their genetic diversity to what came to be called the Longhorn. Along with the oxen, Old Bossy, the family milk cow added her characteristics as well.

Longhorns were a product of survival. It took horns to fight off wolves and bears which inhabited the brush country in those early days. It also took fleetness and a sort of natural cunning that enabled the Longhorns, in country beset by cactus, drought, and thickets of thorny shrubs that rabbits could hardly penetrate, to survive.

During the period between establishing the first colonies in Texas until after the Civil War, the wild cattle of Texas were rarely bothered. They were commonly hunted like deer for table beef or for their hides. The hides were generally used as rawhide to make many common items that early settlers were unable to obtain by other means.

During the Civil War, a number of these wild South Texas cattle were trailed north and east to help meet the needs of the Confederacy for beef. It was not until after the war was over and thousands of former soldiers and displaced people headed west to make their fortunes that the Longhorns were seen as a potential treasure.

Beginning in the late 1860’s, the cattle were trapped and gathered into herds to make the trail north or east to railroads where they could be shipped to slaughter houses to meet the growing demand for beef. Those cattle trails really weren’t trails at all. They were marked by general way points where good water could be found. The trails were constantly shifting westward as the prairies became tamed and settlers ventured into lands previously under the control of the Indians.

The first Longhorns to trail into the Texas Panhandle arrived compliments of Charlie Goodnight in 1876. The Goodnight cattle came from the brush country of the Nueces River in South Texas. The cattle likely came west on the Goodnight-Loving trail which headed up the middle branch of the Concho River before heading across country to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos. Goodnight supplied cattle to John Chisum at Bosque Redondo in New Mexico as well as to a few other hardy ranchers that were able to hold onto large chunks of range by negotiating, sometimes with lead, an uneasy truce with the Apache and Comanche Indians that still ruled. He also supplied beef that ended up at some of the far-flung outposts of the U.S. Cavalry. Ultimately Goodnight decided to establish a ranch on the upper Arkansas River in Colorado. Some of his first stock was purchased from John Chisum and trailed up the Pecos and then cross-country into Colorado.

In 1876, Goodnight decided to pull up stakes in Colorado and move into the newly “tamed” country of the Texas Panhandle. The natural features of Palo Duro Canyon made it easy to hold his Longhorns. It also provided good grass along the banks of the creek and in the various side canyons that fed into it. The high walls provided shelter from the storms that swooped down from the north. Ranching had come to the Panhandle.

Close on his heels came other ranchers and efforts to upgrade the stock from the wild critter that was built for running and for fighting wolves into the tame creature that we see today. The Texas Longhorns helped to tame the land that no longer needed their survival characteristics.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Humming Wheels

The hum of wheels on the highway
Never ceases
As I sit and watch the commerce of
The nation.

Endlessly the strings of eighteen-wheelers
Roll by.
Covered with tarps, I guess at the loads
They carry.

Some are hauling cattle or other types
Of stock
And some are hauling containers filled
With televisions.

One a moment ago was a tanker full
Of milk
And now I see a reefer rig hauling
Ice cream.

They are filled with parts for cars or
Cars themselves
There's loads of gravel and rock for
The roads.

I see parts for the giant windmills rising on
The Plains
And oilfield parts and things that I
Can't explain.

Loads of corn and food and
Even fuel
To keep them rolling ever more across
This land.

The commerce of the nation is carried on
Those wheels
That never cease their rolling down
The highway.

Thank a truck driver the next time you see one.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A New Blog For Your Enjoyment

I have added a link in my sidebar to a new blog to which I contribute. It is called Blue Island Almanack. The focus of the blog is the environment, economics, education and ethics. Drop by and take a look. Feel free to comment. Be sure and add it to your favorites.

Is it the Hat, or the Boots?

Yesterday afternoon I was privileged to tour one of my customer's ranching and cattle feeding operation. What struck me about it was the simplicity of the operation and the sophistication of the operator. Every part of their organization was designed for functionality. There weren't any frills. There was no show. It was just efficient and effective.

I think that is where a lot of folks miss the boat. They're more worried about what other people think than about doing their job the best it can possibly be done. In the cattle business that's sometimes referred to as "all hat and no cattle." What that means is that they talk big, they put on a show and they want you to think they are really something when in reality it is empty. There's really not much there. Most of the successful folks that I know are the other way. On the surface there's nothing that really distinguishes them from the crowd except possibly a slight air of confidence. If you dig deeply though, you find a lifestyle of success that is evidenced in results, not show. They are the folks that in this business it can be said, "have a little cow manure on their boots."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

In Stillness

In stillness,
God is.

Slowly dissipates.



In stillness,
God is.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Gather the boxes
And pack them
With the accumulation
Of years of living.

Pause for reflection
At discovering
An object unseen
For ages.

Label and stack --
Where will it go?
How will it fit
Into its new home?

Watch as the truck
Is filled with the things
Acquired by sweat,
By inheritance,

By chance,
By investment.
In transition.

It is the end of
And the beginning of

New relationships,
New places,
New habits,
New growth.

One hundred and twenty-five
Years of attachment
Uprooted and transported
In a weekend.


This past weekend we moved my parents from the town in which my mother was born. She has never lived anywhere else -- until now. My father has lived in that town since taking his first job after graduation from college. Added together, it is 125 years of living in the town where I grew up. They now occupy their new home just a few miles from where I currently live.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Heeding Experience

I once had a professor who said,
"I know that it's a cliche
But there's more than one way to skin a cat!"
He was referring to the balance between
Realistic expectations based on how things are
Versus the seemingly unatainable dreams
That inhabit our hearts.

"The key is to never give up," he said.
"Keep doing something every day
That moves you closer to what you really want to do."
He added, "Sometimes our dreams change
As the years go by
And we find that the things that we thought we wanted
Aren't what they seemed
And the things that come our way
Are sometimes better!"

Now who would have thought
That the wisdom of his words
Would be revealed so many years later?
Youth has a way of dismissing
What experience has taught.
Wisdom is heeding
Those with experience.