Longhorn of the Vanities

How hardy Texas cattle became prestige pets for the rich and nostalgic

"The pictures are in black and white, so it's hard to tell what's red," he says, "but you can tell black cows and white cows. There were very few black or white cows, very few with spots."

Because speckles and spots go over wellwith the hobbyists, today's breeders tend to select for thosetraits. The cows that went up the trail tended to be red, brown and earth tones, Kimball says.

Kimball treats his herd like a historical artifact, and deplores efforts to produce abigger, beefier animal. "Why they justdon't buy a Hereford isbeyond me," he says.

He's got the figures at his finger tips and runs a quick comparison between his herd and Darol's beefy longhorns. "Ours are longer headed, not quite as wide a-headed. They're not as heavy an animal--I'd say most of the cows here weigh anywhere between 950 and 1,150 pounds.

"A bull here will generally weigh 1,200 pounds average, where his are weighing better than a ton."

Could Darol's cattle go up the trail?
Kimball snorts. "They wouldn't. I'd almost betours would."
Actually, a media event called the Great American Cattle Drive provided a test case this summer. More than 250 longhorn steers traveled the 1,600 miles from Texas to Montana. They did itwith daily feed and water, veterinarians at their beck and call, and every Monday and Tuesday off. The family dog could do that.

Connie and Tom Liddle have a photo hanging in the dining room of their home west of Cave Creek. It was taken during their days as commercial cattle ranchers near Chinook, Montana, just south of the Canadian border. The photo shows a line of Herefords being trailed through a draw by cowboys on horseback.

"It was zero that day," says Connie with a laugh. So much for romance.
Cold, snow, uncertain beef prices and a desire to see what else life had to offer prompted the Liddles to move to Arizona in 1979. Now Tom drives a mail truck between Phoenix and Monticello, Utah, and Connie is the principal of Shadow Mountain High School. Five years ago, however, they began missing cows, and broke down and bought a longhorn. Now they have 15.

As Tom explains it, the skinniness of longhorns, although it has excluded them from feedlots, has worked to their advantage in one aspect of the commercial cattle business.

Because Herefords have been bred so big, their calves are now literally too fat to be born on their own. On their Montana ranch, the Liddles would have to pull the calves--literally pull them through the birth canal--of fully half the cows giving birth for the first time.

If a first-calf heifer is bred to a longhorn bull, however, she'll produce a calf with narrow shoulders and less weight, one that she'll be able to birth on her own. That saves ranchers the kind of round-the-clock baby-sitting they would otherwise have to do.

"If I were in the commercial cattle business today, I'd use longhorns for first-calf heifers," Tom Liddle says.

After that first calf, however, ranchers will usually breed the cow to a Hereford or an Angus bull. They want to produce the kind of calves feedlots prefer.

Lee Jernigan is not old enough yet to be called an old cuss, but the potential is there. Just at the moment, he's running his ranch by himself, because his help got on his nerves and he fired them all. It doesn't bother him in the slightest that other longhorn breeders run down his cows. He unabashedly admits, "I'm not considered a high-class longhorn herd."

Jernigan leases 26,000 acres south of Safford, in the shadow of Mount Graham. His commercial herd is your basic Hereford-Brangus cross, but he's also got 45 purebred longhorn cows.

Evangeline Jernigan moved here with Lee's father, Dee, in the '30s. The land, asit happened, had been surveyed by thesame Will C. Barnes as gathered the longhorns for the Wichita refuge. In 1944, Dee Jernigan bought some longhorns atthe refuge's annual sale, and the steers earned their keep by appearing in Marlboro ads and a couple of Hollywood movies.

The heads and horns of these animals are stacked up in a shed near the house, along with an old wagon that Dee brought with him when he moved to Arizona. There's also a photo of Dee with a team of longhorn oxen pulling a covered wagon along the main street of Safford in a parade.

"He treasured the old ways, and he'd lived them," says Dee's widow, Evangeline. Dee Jernigan had actually drivencattle in his day, when his family moved from New Mexico down into OldMexico in the early part of the century.

Dee died about ten years ago, and Evangeline still lives at the ranch house,while Lee and his family live at the farm Lee operates a few miles to the south.

The country around the ranch is what Lee calls chaparral--thickets of mesquite, dotted with prickly pear and cholla. The longhorns have the run of it, and the operation R>somehow seems reminiscent of what ranching must have been like in Texas in the last century. He still does the ranch work on horseback.

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