Stonewall Valley Ranch

Raising Longhorn Cattle In the Texas Hill Country

History of the Texas Longhorn

Cattle brought to Mexico by the Spaniards (descendants from cattle brought over by Columbus) migrated up into south Texas and mated with scruffy draft cattle and scrub cattle that had been brought in from the United States and abandoned by settlers in the early to mid 1800s). These animals evolved into the Longhorn. They roamed by the thousands, wild, across southern and central Texas. During the later part of the 1800s, the demand and prices for cattle in the North brought cattlemen to Texas to try to round up and bring the wild Texas cattle to the northern markets. As British cattle, such as the Hereford Breed, became more popular, the number of Longhorn cattle declined to where the Longhorn was on the road to extinction. In 1927, the Federal Government granted $3,000 to search out and acquire for preservation a small, representative group of genuine, undiluted Longhorn cattle. They searched over 5,000 miles through the brush country and coastal bend areas of Texas and even across into Mexico. The result was 20 cows, 4 calves, 3 bulls, and 3 steers. These animals were disturbed to The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma as seed stock for what would become the “Wildlife Refuge” (WR) herd. The WR herd was composed of “remote” herds and did not include any influences from the six other purebred herds of Longhorn cattle known to exist. Most present day Texas Longhorn cattle are descended from these 7 families, each of which has its own distinct attributes. In the early 1930s, the State of Texas formed its own herd with the help of J. Frank Dobie, author of The Longhorns, and his friend, Graves Peeler, who had excellent knowledge of the Texas range country. Gradually more breeders started raising their own private stock.

In 1964, the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America was formed in Texas. At this time, there were less than 1,500 head of genuine Texas Longhorn cattle in existence. Texas Longhorn cattle come in many shapes, colors, sizes, and shapes of horns. 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 earmark each family with a special stamp and cattle type. The seven families were the Phillips, Wright, Butler, Marks, Wichita Refuge, Yates and Peeler. These families originated in the early 1930’s and before. All seven herds were separate from the other herds with minimal exchanges of blood stock prior to 1932. Each of the seven families introduced a blend of new genetics to avoid inbreeding after their herds matured. Today most Longhorn breeders have a blend of superior individuals representing the top genetics of the most popular, pure families.


Emil Marks raised twisty, high-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 Bang's Disease. Hardly any Marks cattle remain today. The old pure Marks were often of a V shape horn style similar to Brahman. The Marks herd ran on sprawling, coastal grass land, west of Houston. The pure Marks blood became extremely popular in the Texas Hill Country, being large bodied animals and extremely good milkers.


The Yates herd was about 1500 head of rugged cows in the Big Bend area of West Texas near Alpine. Captain Yates worked hard at preventing outside blood from entering his herd. He felt all other breeds of cattle were inferior to the Longhorn. The old Yates cattle had the smaller horns and the most solid color of the seven families. The bulls of the Yates cattle don’t have very long horns but some of the steers have proved to be remarkable in horn length in their old age. Through selective breeding many of the Yates cows have achieved 50” horns, and these often become very twisted as they get older.

The Yates cattle represented the old traditional, coarse, small, and rangy type. After Captain Yates died in the late 1960s, his family dispersed most of the original stock.


In the early 1900’s, M.P Wright, Jr. and his son, Chico, bought a herd of Longhorn cattle from Uncle John Webster. These cattle from the old family were distinctly different from all the others. They were nearly all duns, reds, and line backs. Wright cows are extra feminine with very trim necks and straight backs. The Wright cows have been bred to modern popular blend families to produce some of the breed’s most valuable cattle.


J.G. “Jack” Phillips, Jr. and his father were born and raised with Longhorn cattle in Brazoria County. Phillips cattle are taller and longer than other herds. Some of the Texas twist-horn factor is still retained in Phillips cattle. The Phillips cattle have long legs and many have narrow faces and heads.

Texas Ranger, the all-time leading sire, was raised by Phillips. The longest, tallest, and most rapidly gaining Longhorns all trace to Texas Ranger. The Texas Ranger family will produce adult bulls weighing 1,800 lbs. to 2,100 lbs. with horns in excess of 55” tip to tip. Texas Ranger is the strongest male line in the breed. He and his progeny are used for frozen semen and embryo transfer by many breeders.


Peeler cattle were the first cattle purchased by many early Longhorn breeders. Graves Peeler, a retired Texas Ranger, of Atascosa County, started his Longhorn operation in the late 1920s and early 30s. His foundation herd were fairly big cattle, larger boned than most Longhorns. However, only a few Peeler cows had the long horns. Their horns have a Brahman look rather than the straight out shape. Back when he first started his herd, there were no registered Longhorns and straight Peeler cattle were hard to find and costly to acquire. The King Ranch was the main stronghold of Peeler blood. Peeler cattle were mostly red and or tiger striped.


Milby Butler and his son, Henry, ranched east of Houston at League City. Only about 1% of registered cattle could be traced to any Butler blood prior to 1975. They are the most sought after family for those who breed for horns. Semen of Butler bulls is in demand to raise big horned cattle. The Butler cattle have very different blood from that found in the other six families. They are very different by body type and blood type. Butler blood is one of the main sources of the old corkscrew horn twist with big horns and smaller bodies.


Wichita Refuge cattle have the best known history. The 69th Congress in 1927 granted $3000 for the purchase and maintenance of Longhorn cattle to prevent their extinction. The herd was started in the late 20s by selecting individuals from numerous South Texas herds. None of the WR purchases, however, were from the other major herds of that day and none of the other families were used as sources for the foundation of WR stock. Graves Peeler helped the Refuge in acquiring typical WR cattle.

WR cattle records have been very well kept because it was a government herd. Until 2001, WR cattle had complete pedigree records back to the beginning of their herd.