Oxen Are “Educated” Cattle

“The oxen that drew emigrant wagons west were just everyday domestic cattle, Bos taurus, that had been trained to pull under yoke. That training is what distinguishes an ox from ordinary beef or dairy cattle. . .

“The Milking Red Durham, now known as the Shorthorn, made the best all-around ox team,” says Ford. “Along with the Devon, they were the frst cattle to be brought to America by the English Pilgrims and were the breed of choice on the farm, so they were readily available everywhere. They are a large breed, moderately fast [under the yoke]; the cows give lots of milk, and the meat is of high quality.” Red Durhams were the ideal all-around animal, he notes, and the preference of Mormon pioneers. Today’s familiar Jersey, Hereford, Brown Swiss, and Holstein cattle were not imported until later in the nineteenth century and so were not breeds that went west during the overland emigration period. 

Another breed, however, was available to the emigrants in the mid-1800s. This was the longhorn, descended from livestock brought to North America by the Spanish some fve-hundred years ago. This variety, having run feral on the Southern Plains for centuries, came to be regarded as “native,” even though no breed of Bos taurus is truly native to the Americas: all were introduced from the Old World. But the longhorn’s traits of intelligence and hardiness helped it survive in the wild.1