Regardless of their diverse body types and coloration, scientists believe that all of the world’s cattle come from the humped cattle of Asia. From Asia, cattle expanded to Africa and then introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors. Over thousands of years, Asian cattle evolved into many types, including a longhorn variety. When Columbus continued his expedition to the Americas in 1493, he took with him many of these longhorn species. Descendants of these animals were the first cattle in Mexico.
Longhorn cattle have a strong survival instinct — which means that they are strong breeders. Disposition-wise, they tend to be strong-willed and among men who earn their living as stockmen, often dangerous to themselves and their horses. Among large herds of domesticated cattle, there are always hundreds that wander off into the brush. If they are not recaptured and returned to the herd, they become feral animals. In the case of the longhorn, they existed for around two hundred years on the plain of present-day South Texas and increased their numbers. During this time, these cattle developed resistance to drought and other hardy characteristics, such as their mean stubbornness.
The people who migrated to the Mexican province of Tejas took with them their own breed of cattle. Early Texians discovered these wild longhorn animals between the Nueces River and Rio Grande, captured them, and bred them with animals derived from English specimens. The result of this cross-breeding was a tough animal with long legs and exceptionally long horns that extended up to around seven feet in length. They were adaptable to their environment, healthy, fertile, and structurally sound.
Through the 1840s, longhorn cattle provided beef mainly for Texas consumption; there was no national market for these animals. Beginning in the 1850s, however, the demand for beef increased, along with its price, which made some ranchers quite wealthy. The American Civil War was an economic disaster for Texans. The state suffered through twelve years of reconstruction policies. Between 1850-1877, the population of Texas Longhorn cattle increased to well over five million head. There was no substantial market for these animals in the financially ruined south, but there was a very high demand for beef in the north — if the ranchers could find a way to move them to northern markets.
Joseph McCoy was a livestock trader in Chicago. He wanted to bring Texas Longhorn cattle to Chicago and distribute them to eastern markets. One of the problems encountered in moving cattle from Texas was the blood tick found on Texas Longhorn cattle. Longhorn animals were impervious to the disease carried by this blood tick; Kansas cattle were not. In a short time, the relationship between Texas and Kansas cattlemen became somewhat hostile. Well, “somewhat” evolved into a hesitance of Texans to risk getting shot while moving Texas cattle through Kansas. Joseph McCoy brokered an arrangement between Texas ranchers, the Chicago meat industry, and the railroad companies.
Additionally, McCoy constructed a hotel, brokerage, bank, and stockyard at a small railroad town named Abilene. Abilene was one of America’s first cow towns. McCoy’s plan was for Texans to drive their cattle to Abilene, and then he would ship them to Chicago by train.
McCoy’s plan was the start of a very lucrative business. One Texas cattleman bought 600 head of longhorn cattle for $5,400, drove them to Abilene, and sold them to McCoy for $17,000. Between 1867-1881, McCoy sent more than 2 million head of cattle from Abilene to Chicago. After 1880, the cattle business began to decline.
A Cowboy Named John Ware
Historians believe John Ware was born into slavery around 1845 in northern Texas. As already noted, the cattle industry rapidly expanded after the Civil War, and there was a sudden demand for experienced cowhands. John Ware was just such a man. In the spring of 1882, John met Tom Lynch in southern Idaho. Lynch, a Canadian, was looking to purchase cattle in Texas on behalf of Sir Hugh Allan, owner of the North-West Cattle Company (also, Bar U Ranch). Lynch managed to obtain 3,000 head of Texas Longhorn cattle and hired John Ware to help move the herd to the Rocky Mountain foothills. The drive began in May and took six months to reach Alberta.
Seasoned stockmen were in short supply on the Canadian range, and Lynch persuaded Ware to remain with him at the Bar U. Four years later, John moved over to the Quorn Ranch near the Sheep River. The owners of the Quorn Ranch were a consortium of English investors in Leicestershire. There was a sizeable cattle herd at the Quorn, but the primary interest among these Englishmen was raising horses for the British market. Ware became the foreman of the horse raising end of the business and earned a good reputation for his knowledge and ability.
According to an article appearing in the Macleod Gazette, “John [Ware] is not only one of the best-natured and most obliging fellows in the country, but he is one of the shrewdest cowmen, and the man is considered pretty lucky who has him to look after his interest. The horse is not running on the prairie which John cannot ride.” In a similar fashion, English investor Edward J. F. Hills wrote of John Ware’s reputation as “the best rough rider in the northwest” of the “rough Montana cowboys,” and of Ware’s personal kindness in helping him master range-land skills.
John Ware established his ranch along the north fork of the Sheep River, not far from the Quorn Ranch. He called his ranch Walking Stick and registered his brand as 4-nines (9999) (later changed to 3-nines). In 1892, he married Mildred Lewis, the daughter of a Canadian homesteader and cabinet-maker named Daniel V. Lewis. John and Mildred were married in the Calgary First Baptist Church.
In 1902, John sold his foothills property and moved eastward to a homestead on the Red Deer River (northeast of Brooks). Ware expanded his herd and, with Mildred, raised his family of four sons and two daughters. Tragically, Mildred passed away in April 1905 from typhoid fever, and pneumonia and John sent his children to live with relatives in Alberta. In September, while herding cattle, John’s horse stumbled into a badger hole and fell on him, killing him instantly.
Since his death, cowboy John Ware has become a Canadian folk hero. Canada’s government officially recognizes John Ware by such place names as Ware Creek, John Ware Ridge, and Mount Ware … all of which are located near his first ranch. John’s children were still very young when their parents died. We do not know what became of them.
- Barnes, W. C. “Wichita Forest Will Be Lair of Longhorns,” The Cattleman, April 1926.
- Breen, D. H. “Ware, John.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography 1901-1910. Online resource.
- Dobie, J. F. The Longhorns. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980.
- Barrett, N. Jr., Long Days and Short Nights: A Century of Texas Ranching on the Y O (1880-1980). Y O Press, Mountain Home, Texas, 1980.
 Several factors contributed to the rise of the American cattle industry: increased railroads, refrigerated cars, and removing hostile Indians from the range.
 Joseph McCoy’s reliability as a cattle broker gave rise to the expression ‘The Real McCoy.’
 Factors of decline included the closure of open ranges and limited pastures, increased agriculture on the plains, periodic droughts, excessively cold winters, and less demand for beef in the north.