Legend of the Longhorn

Once nearing extinction, these iconic beasts are making a Colorado comeback.

December 2006

In the stout outdoor pens of the Latigo Trails Equestrian Center east of Colorado Springs, nearly 120 Texas longhorn cattle stand in stately calm, one or two or three to a pen, awaiting the start of the Rocky Mountain Select Sale auction. The heat of an August midday bakes their loamy scent into a sweet-earth aroma as dozens of longhorn breeders and their families stroll the aisles surrounding the pens, eyeing the cows. Like devotees of fantasy football, they’re mulling their dream picks for their home herds.

There’s something about these animals that makes the heart beat faster. A herd of Angus is just a bunch of squatty black cows, identical as Harleys lined up in front of a bar. But Texas longhorns—high of hips, long-legged, uniquely colored, with horns like ceremonial sabers and a regal air—seem fully aware of their pedigree as the alpha survivors of 500 years in the Texas wasteland. In their every sinew they carry the ghost memory of the glory days when they rumbled across the vast prairie in a living floodwater.

Top breeders from the Rocky Mountain region as well as Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Michigan, and Maine mill around the pens set in the rolling green countryside of the Black Forest, just outside of Colorado Springs. The Select Sale is one of several annual events throughout the year that bring Texas longhorn breeders together, a combination of block party, gossip session, and marketing expo. The ranchers swap lies, catch up on old friends, grouse over the price of hay, and hatch dating plans for each other’s cows and bulls.

The two longhorn registry organizations, the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America and the International Texas Longhorn Association, list more than 120 Colorado breeders, and members say there are a few dozen more that haven’t joined either group. Longhorn outfits dot our state from the grassy Western Slope high-country valleys near Fruita, Ordway, and Pagosa Springs to the eastern plains around Colorado Springs, Elizabeth, and Bennett.