Where’s the Beef? In the early 1500’s Hernando Cortes—with his Longhorns—left Spain, crossed the Atlantic, and eventually made his way to the central Mexican town of Cuernavaca, where he had a hacienda. The breed flourished in Mexico, but by 1860, there was a huge concentration of cattle in southeastern Texas. Back then, ranchers like Captain Richard King and John Chisum had their men drive to markets as far north as Illinois to sell the cattle. Such a long journey took time, so a cook always tagged along in a chuck wagon. “Come a-running,” the cocinero would shout when the vittles were done. The cowboys would lunch close to the chuck wagon—often the only spot of shade apart from that cast by their hat brims.
Small Cut Texas accounts for about 17.4 percent of the total U.S. beef production. Last year, IBP, the giant beef packing company east of Amarillo, processed approximately 1.5 million cattle, only about a quarter of the state’s offering.
Big Ball in Cowtown At the turn of the twentieth century, no cities but Chicago and Kansas City could hold a tallow candle to Fort Worth, home to the Fort Worth Stockyards, where for six decades millions of cows were traded and slaughtered. On a windy day, the stench, a blend of the holding pens and the slaughterhouse, probably carried as far east as the Dallas boutiques. The decline of the railway system in the fifties marked the beginning of the end for the stockyards; ranchers hit the highways and local markets instead. By 1971, two of the big packing plants at the stockyards had closed, and in 1976 the yards were restored as a tourist attraction.
All in the Family In 2002 there were 131 million acres of farm and ranchland in Texas and 151,000 cattle and calves operations in the state. In the same year, five million calves were born in Texas.