Cattle History in North America

Cattle History in North America  

I felt it was important to record these events about domesticated cattle, because of the discussions today around introgression. Introgression probably started when cattle were imported, (much more DNA research needs to be done on our older bison bones, at least 400 years ago.)   Cattle were not like we know them today, behind fences and in a controlled environment. It was a battle in the early days to keep them close and from harm. 

Interesting read:


Longhorn with bison herd
                               Southwest Bison, Texas (steer)


Some Indians, like in Florida often made raids on the cattle herds, and insects were tremendous, cattle had to be killed, either for diseases or for food. if they didn’t die already. In the east often times they got out of the enclosure and roamed, in Mexico and other parts, they ran loose. I read that in the early days of the Texas Longhorns, they were wild, more so than our bison, and tough, nothing to mess around with.

How much did they mingle with our Native Bison? (Domesticating Bison) There are records of immigrants trying to domesticate bison early on, but how many survived to reproduce? Probably not many if any, they were wiped out in the eastern states in the early 1800s. The Mexican cattle, coming to be the Texas Longhorn, thrived and advanced into “bison country” in the 16th century. By 1840 -1860 we were covered in cattle according to the Livestock Census. Today, the scientific community surmises that bison and cattle hybrids are almost entirely a human-made outcome. It is being called intentional introgression from cross-breeding over the last 200 years. 200 years before that, wild native bison and wild introduced cattle encountered each other regularly across the vast untamed North American continent. This report suggests that naturally occurring hybridization was a well-documented fact, and more likely occurred since the year 1493.

During the period of discovery and colonization there were four possible paths of introduction of cattle into what is now the United States of America. First, from the West Indies to any portion of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coast line. Second, from Mexico into southwestern areas and California. Third, from the French colonies of the St. Lawrence Valley into the area of the “Old Northwest.” Fourth, directly from the colonizing European nations to the American colonies. Historical evidence supports the belief that all of these paths of entry were used. (Intro of Cattle to North America)


When Charles Goodnight set out to gather bison calves to start his own herd, he mentions finding a brindle calf with its Bison mother. 

In our history, there are several accounts of hunters, travelers, and explorers, seeing bison with white spots. (White Buffalo)

Zoological Science tells us that Bison and Cattle both come from the Auroch. So are these cattle genes they find today, also present in the Auroch?

Cattle were independently domesticated from the aurochs, a wild bovine species, in the vicinity of the current countries of Turkey and Pakistan ∼10,000 y ago. Cattle have since spread with humans across the world, including to regions where these two distinct lineages have hybridized. Using genomic tools, we investigated the ancestry of cattle from across the world. We determined that the descendants of the cattle brought to the New World by the Spanish in the late 1400s show ancestry from multiple domesticated lineages. This pattern resulted from pre-Columbian introgression of genes from African cattle into southern Europe. (New World Cattle Show Ancestry from Multiple Independent Domestication Events)

1493 Columbus, the first shipment of domestic livestock destined to inhabit the New World

1521 Juan Ponce de Leon, Florida -Witness accounts February 5, 1573, 1566 (2)

1521- The first cattle were brought to the new world by Gregorio de Billalobos along the Panuco River in 1521 six months before Cortez captured Mexico City. The herds eventually spread northwards into present-day United States. These cattle, a combination of three different breeds of Spanish cattle would become the famed longhorns, which spread through the coastal plains of Texas (

In 1539 cattle were taken from Mexico into the present boundaries of the United States and in 1541, 500 cows were taken across the Rio Grande by Coronado. As early as 1598 a large number of cattle, 4,000 in fact, was taken from New Spain, or Mexico, into what is now New Mexico by Don Juan de Ofiate-(Into of Cattle into the Colonial North)

Jacques Cartier brought the first cattle to Quebec in 1541 when he equipped his settlement at Cap Rouge, just upstream of present day Quebec City, with 20 cows and four bulls as the nucleus for a breeding herd.

In 1572 the cattle business was flourishing in New Spain (Mexico) and it is written that one man had 20,000 head. Hides were the chief source of income, but a certain amount of tallow was shipped. Oxen were used at this date to haul goods, some of which was transported 700 miles. (Into of Cattle into the Colonial North)

Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition, under Sir Richard Grenville, to the Atlantic coast of the New World stopped at Hayti in 1585 where it was entertained by the Spanish. “Which banquet being ended, the Spanish in recompence of our courtesie, caused a great herd of white buls and kyne to be brought to gether from the mountaines, and appointed for every Gentleman and Captaine that would ride, a horse ready saddled, and then singled out three of the best of them, to bee hunted by horsemen after their manner . . . the next day wee played the Marchants in bargaining with them by way of trucke and exchange of divers of their commodities, as horses, mares, kine, buls, goates, swine, sheepe, bull-hides, sugar, ginger, pearle, tabacco, and such like commodities of the Ilands.” (Into of Cattle into the Colonial North)

There were eighty-three wagons and seven thousand head of cattle in the expedition, and a numerous escort of Chichimeca troops. On the 7th of February, 1598, the army left the Conchos….(History of New Mexico)

Virginia: 1613 Don Diego De Molina – (Narratives of Early Virginia)
And this nation by itself will be very powerful because as soon as an abundance of wheat shall have been planted and there shall be enough cattle, there will not be a man of any sort whatever who will not alone or in company with others fit out a ship to come here and join the rest, because as Your Lordship knows this Kingdom abounds in poor people who abhor peace — and of necessity because in peace they perish peace they perish — and the rich are so greedy and selfish that they even cherish a desire for the Indies and the gold and silver there — notwithstanding that there will not be much lack of these here, for they have discovered some mines which are considered good, although they have not yet been able to derive profit from them.

As touching the quality of this country, three thinges there bee which in fewe yeares may bring this Colony to perfection; the English plough, Vineyards, and Cattle.

For cattle, they do mightily increase here, both kine, hogges and goates, and are much greater in stature, then the race of them first brought out of England.

The 22 of November arrived Master Gookin out of Ireland, with fifty men of his owne, and thirty Passengers, exceedingly well furnished with all sorts of provision and cattle, and planted himselfe at Nupors-newes:

This yeere was sent one and twenty saile of Ships that imployed more than 400. sailers and 1300. men, women and children of divers faculties, with fourescore cattle.

Proclamation to that effect, under the great Seale of England, dated the 15. of July, 1624.’ But as for the relations last returned, what numbers they are, how many Cities, Corporations, townes, and houses, cattle and horse they have;  (Narratives of Early Virginia)


Some of the first ships arriving in the eastern states brought cattle. 

Cartier, when he sailed on his second voyage to the New world in 1541, had with him cattle, goats, hogs and other beasts. These were taken for breeding purposes in the new country.

When Sir Humphrey Gilbert reached St. Johns, Newfoundland, in August 1583 he learned from a native of Portugal that over forty years before some Portuguese had placed on Sable Island both neat cattle and swine for breeding purposes, and that these animals had increased greatly in numbers.  (1518 the Baron de
Lery made an abortive attempt at settlement on Sable Island, where the cattle left by him remained and multiplied. )

Swan 1610 -1624
Sarah 1611
Four Sisters 1629
Griffin 1634
Higginson Fleet 1629
Lyons Whelp 1629
Lyon 1629
Sea Venture 1609-livestock


New York Sept 30 1630-On June 25, 1619, a shipment of corn (probably not Zea mays) and cattle was landed safely. By 1620 the total number of cattle in Virginia was estimated at 500 head.

1665 cattle taken into Quebec, Canada by the French Messers. Tracet and de Courcelle, were described as black and brindle in color.

Records from the 1700s mention red cows being raised in Virginia.


The Pennsylvania Gazette
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 04 Dec 1728 (extract)

Dr. Barkley, Dean of Derry, set sail to Rhode Island to winter and to purchase an Estate in order to settle a Correspondence and Trade, between that Island and Bermudas, particularly for supplying Bermudas with Black Cattle and Sheep.


The Caledonian Mercury
Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland 19 Jun 1733

Shields June 1. On the 24th ult. put in here by contrary Winds, and sailed from hence the 28th, three North-West Passage Ships off and from London for Hudson’s Bay, with a great Quantity of Goods and Provisions for the English Factories there, their Commodore Capt. George Spuril, in the Ship Mary, had on Board a Bull with six Heifers, in order to breed black Cattle in that Country.


Pennsylvania: In 1797, Irish immigrant John Gilkey settled in Lawrence County and cultivated the Neshannock Potato, a new variety that achieved wide popularity in the nineteenth century. Like apples, potatoes were critical to the survival of farmers and their families. Spuds kept well over the winter months and were vitamin packed. They also figured prominently in crop rotation schemes and were used as animal feed for cattle and pigs.

Texas- Through the 16th and 17th centuries, cattle ranching continued to spread north through Spanish Mexico and into the land now known as Texas. The first cattle raising in Texas appeared in the Rio Grande Valley. By 1680, there were several thousand cattle recorded in the El Paso region. The earliest ranches were those of Spanish missionaries. By the mid-18th century, these were joined by competing private ranches. Vaqueros were the first cowhands on these early ranches. Most vaqueros were from lower castas — socio-racial classes used by the Spanish government — like mestizo (of American Indian and Spanish ancestry), mulatto (of Spanish and African ancestry), American Indian, or African. They worked as independent contractors, owning their own horses, saddles, and ropes but remaining unbound to a hacienda or a patron unless they chose to be.

The Spanish crown saw an opportunity in the growing number of cattle in the region. In 1778, the crown imposed the contentious Fondo de Mestenos (Mustang Tax) on all unbranded cattle and horses. Cattle drives out of Texas also began at this time, mostly to provide military rations of beef. Written records from 1779 suggest that cattle were driven to Louisiana to feed Spanish soldiers fighting against the British in the American Revolution. The arrival of the cattle remains unconfirmed, but it would have been the first-ever drive out of Texas. When the United States annexed Texas in 1845, it distributed public lands for railroads and settlement. This expanded new markets for Texas cattle.


Lavoyger Johnny Durham. Who was a third-generation foreman manager of one of the KING ranch Divisions

“The COW—BOY” word—Tom Lea wrote in volume 1 of the King Ranch history—–In May of 1837 when the Texas government could not find pay for its soldiers and Sam Houston had given the furloughs to go live off the country, those who had been driving cattle from south of the Nueces River for the Texan army, decided to keep driving cattle from the same place for themselves.

Rough riding bands of ten to fifteen horsemen would gather 200-500 head of wild cattle and keep them in a punishing run for as long as twenty-four hours, gradually slowing their tired gait until they could be controlled. Central and Western Texas was largely stocked this way, by Mexican cattle stolen from south of the Nueces River. This went on until about 1840 when there were no more cattle left to steal.

The thieves, “largely young men of the country who served in the army and whose fathers had lost all of their personal property in the war,” went in gangs referred to as” COW BOYS”. The generic name for future practitioners, of the most celebrated legend on the continent, thus was given birth, in the region of Santa Gertrudis which is now in the area of Kingsville, Texas. Pleasanton, Texas also claims to be the birth of the Texas Cow–Boy. Whatever the happenings–most of it happened in South Texas South of the Nueces River. Borrowed with permission from Lavoyger Johnny Durham. Who was a third-generation foreman manager of one of the KING ranch Divisions


1872 “I recall one stampede, especially on this trip. We had camped on the south side of the North Canadian River one stormy night and after retiring we heard a big noise and we were up and out to the cattle in a very few minutes. We soon realized that we had our hands full, for the cattle had scattered everywhere and it required two days to get them back together again. As we went through the country, it kept us busy looking out for Indians and buffalo. One man was always sent ahead to keep the buffaloes out of the herd and scout for Indians, for they were very savage at this time and we never knew when they would attack us. We landed in Wichita, Kansas, some time near the middle of July without serious mishaps or the loss of very many cattle.”  F.M. Polk-Texas


The Cattle Hive of North America 1873

In this connection, we may very properly quote from the same writer the following paragraph in regard to the source from whence all the cattle are now brought — that great natural breeding ground, the prairie land of Texas.

“Texas is truly the cattle-hive of North America. While New York, with her 4,000,000 inhabitants, and her settlements two and a half centuries old, has 748,000 oxen and stock cattle; while Pennsylvania, with more than 3,000,000 people, has 721,000 cattle; while Ohio, with 3,000,000 people, has 749,000 cattle; while Illinois, with 2,800,000 people, has 867,000 cattle; and while Towa, with 1,200,000 people, has 686,000 cattle; Texas, forty years of age, and with her 500,000 people, had 2,000,000 head of oxen and other cattle, exclusive of cows, in 1867, as shown by the returns of the county assessors.

“In 1870, allowing for the difference between the actual number of cattle owned and the number returned for taxation, there must be fully 3,000,000 head of beeves and stock cattle. This is exclusive of cows, which, at the same time, are reported at 600,000 head. In 1870 they must number 800,000—making a grand total of 3,800,000 head of cattle in Texas. One-fourth of these are beeves, one-fourth are cows, and the other two-fourths are yearlings and two-year-olds.

There would, therefore, be 950,000 beeves, 950,000 cows, and 1,900,000 young cattle. There are annually raised and branded 750,000 calves. These cattle are raised on the great plains of Texas, which contain 152,000,000 acres. In the vast regions watered by the Rio Grande, Nueces, Guadalupe, San Antonio, Colorado, Leon, Brazos, Trinity, Sabine, and Red Rivers, these millions of cattle graze upon almost tropical growths of vegetation. They are owned by the ranchmen, who own from 1,000 to 75,000 head each.”

As specimen ranches, may be named the following: Santa Catrutos Ranch belongs to Richard King. Amount of land, 84,132 acres. The stock consists of 65,000 cattle, 10,000 horses, 7,000 sheep, 8,000 goats. Three hundred Mexicans are employed, and 1,000 saddle horses, on the place.

O’Connor’s ranch, near Goliad, is an estate possessing about 50,000 cattle. The Robideaux ranch, on the Gulf, belonging to Mr. Kennedy, contains 142,840 acres of land and has 30,000 beef cattle in addition to other stock.

“As the railroads pushed westward across the buffalo country, from the south came the Texas cattlemen driving their cattle to the railroads in Kansas. Like everyone else, the trail drivers saw buffalo. B.A. Barroum of Del Rio, Texas, an oldtime trail driver, wrote in 1920 for J. MarbinHunter’s The Trail Drivers of Texas that he saw many buffalo in 1871 while driving a herd of longhorns north to Kansas.”

  “On the plain about half way between the Red Fork and the SaltFork we had to stop our herds until the buffalo passed. Buffalo, horses, elk, deer, antelope, wolves, and some cattle were all mixed together and it took several hours for them to pass, with our assistance, so that we could proceed on our journey. I think there were mor buffalo in that herd than I ever saw of any living thing, unless it was an army of grass hoopers in Kansas in July, 1874.”


Colonel Dodge and General Sherman 1880’s

In the remainder of his letter, Sherman set down some thoughts about the great historical forces that were determining the fates of the buffalo and the Indians, two populations on which Dodge was an authority. The general discerned the operation of these same forces in another development that now interested him—the increasing number of cattle and cowboys on lands that were once the preserve of the native inhabitants. The near-extinction of the buffalo seemed to him “almost a decree of the Almighty” in which, by Darwinian law, “the fittest survived”. Moreover, he took the supposed inability of most breeding cattle to survive the birth of an offspring sired by a buffalo bull as evidence that the two species were distinct and could not intermingle. The sterility of buffalo-cattle hybrids confirmed this view. Sherman now extended his speculation to the Indian, formerly dependent for survival on the buffalo and other wild game, but with his future fate to be determined by the character of his interaction with the new possessors of his ancestral lands. Just as the doomed buffalo could not survive except through intermixture with cattle, so the Indian’s doubtful future was in the course of natural selection. American Indians must alter their customs and be absorbed into the successor population, or else they must die out. Sherman was convinced that it was “as idle to resist the Conclusion as it was for old Canute to command the tide to cease reaching his feet”. What role the powerful cattle interests might play in the grand scheme of history Sherman did not address in his letter, but he was attempting to relate recent developments on the western plains to some larger pattern of development. “You and I have seen mighty things on this continent”, he wrote Dodge; “and if there be useful lessons let us teach them to the rising generation”.

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He then set forth in considerable detail the results of his research into the history and total population of the Indians of North America, the practicality or otherwise of breeding buffalo with cattle, and other topics. Adopting a dispassionate point of view akin to Sherman’s, he described the destruction of the great buffalo herds as a stage in the nation’s development. “I was in the buffalo region during the great slaughter,” he recalled, “and thought it . . .a National shame. However, he had since come to believe that, borrowing a phrase from R.W. Emerson, the nation’s leaders “builded better than they knew.” By not interfering with the destruction of the buffalo, the U.S. government effectively conquered the rebellious Indian tribes by taking from them their traditional food supply. This radical solution to the Indian Problem made the nation “an absolute gainer of many millions of dollars, many valuable lives, & an extension of its settled area absolutely marvellous”. Wild buffalo no longer roamed the plains, yet that setting now supported great herds of tame cattle that would provide food for millions of citizens. for millions of citizens.
“Can any thinking man regret the change?” Dodge asked.

In his remarks before the cattleman’s convention, Sherman recalled his regret at seeing the buffalo, elk, and antelope disappear from the plains. However, he continued, he had since discerned “a decree of nature” in the replacement of these animals by “twenty millions of fine breeding cattle which supply the world with meat” (ANJ, November 22, 1884, p. 317).