Longhorns make it to the TR Park on the Long X trail
Longhorns on the Long X trail to North Dakota. It started hundreds of years earlier. They originated in central Asia and were brought to Latin America, especially Mexico by Spaniards in the 1600’s Now fast forward to 1845 to know why Longhorn cattle are preserved at the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The breed is very important to the development of North Dakota. The Long X Cattle Company, west of Dallas was a brilliant economic venture by the Reynolds Brothers. They established Long X ranches in New Mexico, Arizona, Montana and North Dakota – the destination points for the longhorn cattle drives. At one time, their Texas ranch as 250,000 acres!
Good timing and Bad Men
Good timing and bad men made it possible for the Reynolds to buy a ranch south of Watford City, north of Grassy Butte along the Little Missouri River.
The ranch started as a sheepherder’s ranch owned by two men, Hall and Braden. They succeeded in starting their sheep enterprise, even seeding 500 acres of hay. Then, in 1884, bad men showed up and the sheep ranchers did not get to harvest their hay. The bad men, vigilantes burned up their hayfield and ran them out of business. You can read OG Libby’s report in one of his historical records held by the ND Historical Society from 1906. (We are researching and developing a series of stories on the vigilantes called “Stranglers” who terrorized eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.)
When the Reynolds brothers learned the sheep ranch was for sale, they bought it and the homestead, complete with buildings in 1885. They moved in their longhorn cattle and established their Long X ranch where the North Unit if the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is now.
The start of longhorns in North Dakota
The Reynolds started in North Dakota with 4,000 head of longhorns. They successfully moved more than 11,000 head to the Badlands by following cattle trails and making their own routes. Their cow boss, A.N. Jefferies of Dickinson was so keen on raising cattle economically, he became a legend to all North Dakota ranches and helped found the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.
Historian OG Libby wrote that under A.N. Jeffries lead “a daring band of Texan cowboys piloted a monster herd of cattle from the Rio Grande to the Little Missouri River. The herd was guided by means of a compass and reached North Dakota in September (1884) having left Texas early in the spring. This process was repeated each year until 1897, and in this way, the grazing lands of McKenzie County were replenished by new cattle.”
The challenge and the reward of trailing longhorns to ND
Cowboys had to be alert moving longhorns, and keep them in the herd. Libby writes that the Longhorn cattle had a roaming instinct. So, when they crossed a buffalo trail, they’d head off on the buffalo trail instead of where the cowboys were herding them. It was said they had an “obnoxious” characteristic about them. Every morning, the cowboys divided up a 20-mile radius and rode out to round-up the wandering longhorns.
Longhorns were scrawny and underweight after months on the move up from Texas. They grazed on North Dakota Badlands grasses for two years. Once they were fattened, cowboys herded them to Belfield, North Dakota, loaded them on a train and shipped them to Chicago packing plants where they got top dollar.
The Long X trail roughly followed a route that today is U.S. Highway 83. It passed west of the Black Hills into Wyoming. Near Devils Tower. The trail followed the Little Missouri River from its start near Devils Tower
The trail continued past Marmarth, North Dakota, Amidon and north through the Badlands along the Little Missouri River to North Dakota’s Long X ranch. Each cattle drive brought thousands to North Dakota. Longhorn herds of 4,000 and more up to 12,000 moved up the trail.
The end of longhorn cattle in North Dakota
Then came the slow closing of the romanticized stories of Badlands ranching. A one-two punch came in the summer of 1886 and winter of 1886-87. First was the devastating drought of 1887. Next came a deadly blizzard that killed the cattle who had no feed from the summer drought. It ended many cattle operations in the Badlands including that of Theodore Roosevelt who ranched a few miles south of the Long X Ranch along the Little Missouri River. Literally, thousands of cattle were killed in the blizzard, their bodies rotting on the prairie in the spring. The Long X ranch lost 4,000 cattle that winter. That ended the North Dakota Long X operation for the Texas owners. They sold the Ranch to a Boston company that didn’t know what it was doing, and in the end, the ranch went broke.
The Long X name lives in Western North Dakota.
On the same land as the Long X ranch once stood, a tourist attraction boasted of outfitting travelers who wanted to kayak or canoe the Little Missouri River. Today, it’s abandoned.
You can explore a bit of the Long X trail. It ties into the Maah Daah Hey trail along the Little Missouri River across from the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Another marker is in the Park, a sign marks a point along the Long X trail.
Outside the Park is the through-truss bridge called the Long X Bridge.
To the east is the Long X road that follows the Little Missouri River, halfway to Killdeer, ND.
In Watford City is the Long X Visitor Center and museum.
Longhorns are alive and well in the Park
The National Park Service sees longhorn cattle as being an integral part of the Badlands and ranching in this part of the U.S. The small herd at the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is living breathing history. The amazing critters whose ancestors come from India and China are at home in the park. So, when you spot the longhorn cattle in the Park, you are looking at a long history of 500 years. Think Spanish Conquistadors, Mexican ranchers, Civil War survivors, economic entrepreneurs, tough and determined men living on horseback, working 7-days a week, in all kinds of weather, night and day eating beans and fry bread, sleeping on the ground every night for months.
Longhorns mix it up with bison for an early morning swim
What happens when the National Park’s herd of longhorns wake up early in the morning and mingle with their park mates, the bison? They go for an early morning dip. You can see it here in this video we shot this summer.
If you want to learn more about cattle drives moving cattle north from Texas to Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota, here is a link from Lubbock Texas
A history of the longhorn cattle in the Badlands is here from the National Park Service.
And on our bucket list, someday, somehow, some time is to ride motorcycles as close to the Long X trail all the way to the Tex/Mex border. Love to do it! If you’re acquainted with all or parts of the Long X trail, we’d love to know what you know. Gives us a shout!
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