It sure was a lot different when the Texas Longhorns meandered into Wichita this month, compared to 150 years ago.
As a highlight of the Kansas 150 Festival Sunflower Parade at Wichita, a herd of Longhorn cattle sauntered down paved streets between large office buildings as cowboys with clean-starched shirts and jeans and neatly, shaped hats eased them along on sleek Quarter Horses.
Contrasting would have been the look in the year of statehood as much larger herds ambled along the dusty Chisholm Trail driven by grimy, beleaguered cowboys on gaunt horses completing the many days’ drive from Texas to the Wichita railroad stockyards.
Quite similar, however, to those of yesteryear were the cattle.
In days gone by, the Longhorns likely wouldn’t have been as large and mature, but today’s cattle have horns, coloration, and general physique comparable to their predecessors.
Certainly, the Longhorn cattle were a highlight of the parade and attracted more comments than any of the limited number of horses, bands, floats, classic cars, and other entries.
Even, the special “Kansas: Home on the Range” concert, and an encampment featuring representatives from Kansas cities and counties, along with other historical re-enactors, failed to match the Longhorn appeal.
“The state’s history began with the ‘Bleeding Kansas’ battle over slavery then to the days of the wild-west cattle drives, and ultimately becoming the nation’s breadbasket and supplier of the world’s energy and aviation needs. We are proud of our great heritage,” said Governor Sam Brownback in announcing the festival and inviting everyone in Kansas to the state’s birthday bash.
Parade participants from across the state included marching bands from Goodland to Erie, current and former Miss Kansas Pageant winners, a horse-drawn wagon filled with Kansas Livestock Association officials, a Mahaffie Stagecoach from Olathe, a Protect The Flint Hills wagon from El Dorado, the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon from Benton, and the Kansas Stage Company from Wichita’s Cowtown.
Governor Brownback saddled up to lead the parade’s 120 entries as about 3,000 spectators waved from the sidewalks, and cattle came down Wichita’s Main Street for the first time in decades.
The governor was accompanied by cattlemen from throughout Kansas who helped drive the herd.
Included was Wes Sander, owner of the Longhorns from the Chain Ranch, with operations in both Kansas and Oklahoma.
Majority of the 30 head of 8-to-20-year-old cattle had horn spans exceeding seven feet, creating an “awe factor” for parade-goers.
“The Kansas Livestock Association’s objective in sponsoring the Longhorns was to show the public the quality of care we give our animals and, while we had their attention, remind them of the industry’s significant contributions to the state’s economy,” said Ken Grecian, Palco, president of the state organization who also rode in KLA’s parade wagon.
Among other dignitaries helping with “the cattle drive” were Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn, and Kansas ranching historian Jim Hoy of Emporia.
Josh, Gwen, and Josie Hoy represented the Flying W Ranch of Cedar Point and provided the wagon and saddle horses for honored guest riders.
In this former 19th century cowtown along the famous Chisholm Trail, a herd of Texas Longhorns fit the bill perfectly to kick off the special parade celebrating 150 years of statehood with something historic, symbolic, and awe-inspiring.
Indeed, the animals do live a pampered life, according to owner Wes Sander.
“We treat them real good,” he emphasized. “Some of them are 20 years old now.”
They’ve paid their way without ever going to the packinghouse.
“We usually book them for 12 to 15 events a year,” Sander related. “Some years, it’s more than that.”
Not only are the animals trained to drive and good at trailing a horse. They have to be ready to load up on a semi-truck to travel to engagements that might be as far away as Detroit, where 120 of them were hired by the Chrysler Corporation to help introduce a Dodge pickup.
“They’re pretty acclimated to just about anything,” Sander insisted. “They are really docile and very smart.”
Key to driving the Longhorns is to make sure no animal gets separated and can always get back quickly with the rest of the herd, Sander noted.
Sander has kept as many as 350 Longhorns at one time.. The whole thing started in 1997 when he saw a set of 44 at a cattle sale and couldn’t let them go to the packer.
“That’s not something you’re going to get a second chance at,” he said, recalling that purchase.
The annual Woodward, Oklahoma rodeo had attempted to re-enact a cattle drive with rodeo stock and never had much success, but Sander now had a new approach to making it happen.
“We drove our Longhorns into town four days before the rodeo started, and it was a big hit. The rest is history,” Sander declared.
Rodeo contractors started calling, interested in bringing the Longhorns to their events. After making appearances at area rodeos and wild-west shows, they were booked for Colorado’s Greeley Stampede and have also appeared regularly at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“I don’t know of any other herds that can be loaded up in a truck, hauled 700 miles, and driven through town in a parade,” Sander remarked.
Sander is one of several family partners in the historic Chain Ranch, which has a 3,000-plus-head cowherd, predominantly Angus and Red Angus.
However, Sander is still impressed by the Longhorns. “They are hardy. They don’t need much feed in the winter. And, they are really adaptable,” he contended.
Texas Longhorns trace their beginnings to cattle brought to the West by Christopher Columbus and eventually to Mexico by settlers. The wild cattle migrated northward and grew in numbers along with Texas ranching.
After British breeds began arriving from the East Coast, Longhorns fell out of favor and became nearly extinct before two federally protected herds were established in Oklahoma and Nebraska.
In 1964, the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America was formed in Lawton, Oklahoma, with the goal of reviving the breed. The association is now based in Fort Worth, and there are a estimated 250,000 Longhorns in the country today.
No, there wasn’t a big birthday cake with lighted candles.
Neither were there oxen teams, only a few men had beards that had been grown for the sesquicenntial and just as few women wore long dresses and sunbonnets, reminiscent of 150 years ago.
However, Longhorns again in Wichita made the sesquicentennial celebration worth the effort, and those who weren’t there lost the opportunity that will never come again.
Governor Brownback did stand behind his promise: “I can guarantee the Kansas 150 Festival will be a once-in-a-lifetime party that Kansans won’t want to miss.”
It was that.