Saturday, January 16, 2016

Old Blue, the Longhorn Leader

I've been researching for my next book, Tina Tracks a Trail Boss, and needed more information about the cattle breed which traveled from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail.

A friend loaned me his 1941 copy of The Longhorns by J. Frank Dobie, and I found it to be a fascinating read.

Here's the description from Amazon, where you can get a copy of the book.

"The Texas Longhorn made more history than any other breed of cattle the world has known. These wiry, intractable beasts were themselves pioneers in a harsh land, moving elementally with drought grass, Arctic blizzards, and burning winds. Their story is the bedrock on which the history of the cow country of America is founded.

J. Frank Dobie was a tale spinner who appreciated the proper place of legend and folklore in history. In The Longhorns, he tells of the Spanish conquistadors, who brought their cattle with them; of ranching in the turbulent colonial times; of the cowboy, whose abandon, energy, insolence, and pride epitomized the booming West. He writes of terrifying stampedes, titantic bull fights on the range, ghost steers, and encounters with Indians.

A tireless prospector of the history and legends of the Southwest, Dobie spent most of his life preparing to write this book. He was born in the Texas brush country where the Longhorns made their last stand; he back-trailed them into Mexico; he pursued the vivid lore of Texas cowboys and Mexican vaqueros. No historian or naturalist has ever so related an animal to the land, its people, and its history."

Besides details of the actual animal and the trails they took, there are stories, which made the book enjoyable. One of my favorite chapters is about a lead steer named "Old Blue". Born in Texas in 1870, he walked his first trail at three years of age to New Mexico.

The next year Charlie Goodnight bought Old Blue, who was in a group of five thousand head driven to Pueblo, Colorado. Goodnight realized the steer's potential and the longhorn wasn't sold, but stayed with the home herd on the Goodnight Ranch.

In 1876, Goodnight decided to move back to Texas and Old Blue lead the herd. Over the next eight years, Old Blue kept leading herds, sometimes twice a year, to Dodge City. When the drive was over, he'd travel back to Texas with the horse remuda and drivers.

Old Blue was always be the pointer animal, and the herd learned to follow the sound of his bell. Attached to the bell was a little strap to tie up the clapper so it would stay quiet at night. Old Blue would let a cowboy tie up the clapper at night, and release it in the morning when the herd was ready to move.

The longhorn became a pet, walking right up to the camp to eat bread, apples, or whatever the cook would give him. He preferred to bed down with the horses instead of the herd. The steer faced storms, Indian raids and buffalo stampedes, and lived to be twenty years old.

This is the kind of research which makes interesting background for the writer's imagination, and for the reader. So, be sure to look for the lead longhorn steer in my next book, because he'll be leading the herd to Ellsworth, Kansas in 1873.

1 comment:

  1. Linda, I love the title of your WIP. Research can be so much fun and interesting, many of us do get lost in it. Thank you for the book recommendation. I wish you all the best.

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