A Research Historian
|In 1958, at age 7, I was taken to
the Kansas City Stockyards for the first time by Dad, a cattle buyer at the Yards. In
those days, the runs of cattle were still large, and it probably looked massive to a
little boy. Scattered throughout the Livestock Exchange building, hanging on the walls of
commission firms, were old sets of mounted Texas Longhorns, some of which had been hanging
there for decades. As a youngster and into my teenage years, I remember visiting these
offices and seeing their old horns; and it was in the Exchange building that my
fascination with old steer horns began. Dad liked old horns, too, and he had
acquired several sets as early as 1947, which we had in storage at the farm; but in later
years they were stolen from us. Dad and I acquired our first set of very old horns in
1972, and that was the beginning of what I have spent the last 36 years building.
As I restored that first set of horns, seeds of preservation and
history began to develop in me. Not only did I want to own old horns, but I wanted to know
about them. Little by little, as I found books and articles, I built a library of
photographs and information about old horns.
Within a few years, I was searching antique stores,
attending auctions and making contacts with collectors of similar interest. Over time, I
developed a network of pickers scattered around the county, educating them about what I
wished to buy. For a while, this was a good source of purchasing horns. On weekends and
vacations, I'm sure I traveled many thousands of miles visiting museums, historical
societies, etc. to view, measure or photograph an old head or set of horns. Observation,
experience and comparison were my teachers.
I learned almost immediately that old steer horns and
horn furniture had a fairly good survival rate but, very often, in poor condition. It
became necessary for me to develop and create my own method of horn repair, which I worked
on constantly, year after year, always trying to find improvements. Cracks and the awful
Dermestid Beetle are a horn's worst enemy. I found that if I was going to be a
collector, I would have to become a preservationist, also.
interest in horns expanded -- and I added horn furniture, hatracks and number of items made
of horn -- my collection began to grow. In the latter 1970s, I set for myself
a goal to collect and preserve what I considered to be the finest collection of antique
Texas Longhorns in the United States. Numbers alone could not reach that goal. Historical
correctness, shape and size were of utmost importance to me. I believe I have accomplished
what I set out to do.
Describes the Historical Correctness of His Collection
Without going into great detail because the story has a little length to it,
one of the negative sides of collecting old steer horns is that the U.S.
market has been flooded with imported cattle horns from Africa for decades.
This demanded and opened up a new area of learning for me. There have been,
and still are, a large number of horn peddlers who have imported, mounted
and sold these horns as old Texans. They are scattered everywhere and are
far more than plentiful. In fact, there are more African-imported cattle
horns in this country than there are old Texans. The number would be into
the tens of thousands. We know for certain cattle horns have been imported
since 1893. Horns from Africa and South America were for sale at the World's
Fair in Chicago that year. From other information I have, I suspect the
importing began in the early 1880s. I'll need a little more time to
conclusively prove that.
Many imported horns are represented as
American, but I feel certain the owners are unaware that the mounts are actually imports.
There's nothing wrong with African horns. Some are large, shapely and quite attractive.
But from a historical standpoint, they must not be represented as part of the American
cattle industry. One museum in Texas has a large collection, and every one is an import.
Another noteworthy museum in Oklahoma has a huge collection of horns, of which about 95%
are African imports. Another well-known museum has some wonderful examples of old Texas
cattle horns, but they also have quite a number of imports, and there is no
differentiation in their display. So widespread is this problem that in 1984 the
Smithsonian accepted a donated set of horns presented to them as those of the famous
steer, Champion, written about in The Longhorn by J. Frank Dobie. However, these
horns are clearly imports and not the horns of Champion. (Read about Champion on the link