Most Americans love a great steak. It has become a staple of the menu of most restaurants and commonly fetches a premium price. Steaks have come to signify indulgence and distinction. We celebrate with steaks and enjoy them on our special occasions. It is difficult to even imagine a time when this was not the case. There was such a time though and it was all changed by one bull.
Many of the tales of this country’s history focus on the lore of the cowboy. These were the rugged men who lead the cattle across the plains to feed cattle to the nation. They drove the Longhorns and Shorthorns from Texas to the cattle yards of Kansas and Kansas City so they could be packed on to railcars to be processed in Chicago. The part of the story that is seldom told is that these cattle were often scrawny and produced a steak that would be sent back at most modern restaurants. While these breeds were plentiful, they did not have a flavor or texture that would make the mouth water.
As early as the first part of the 19th century, cattlemen looked to Europe for breeds of cattle that could provide better beef. One of the first breeds imported were the Hereford. The great politician Henry Clay brought the first Hereford cattle to America. They matched American cattle in resilience to heat and lack of food, but carried far more meat and were more docile. The drawback of the Hereford was where they carried their meat. The Hereford was very lean in their hindquarters which are where most steaks are cut from. As a result, the fetched a lower price per pound at market.
Two men found a solution to this problem in 1881. Charles Gudgell and Thomas Alexander “Governor” Simpson imported a Hereford bull named Anxiety IV from England that had an unusual feature. This bull had far larger hindquarters than the Herefords being bred in America. He also had remarkable success in passing this trait to his offspring. From their Independence, MO ranch, Gudgell and Simpson began breeding and showcasing Anxiety IV.
Gudgell and Simpson’s true contribution was choosing to “linebreed” their new bull. This specific type of breeding created an entire herd of cattle with Anxiety IV’s large hindquarters as a dominant gene. Soon ranchers demanded Hereford bulls from this bloodline. It is estimated that 99% of all Herefords today can trace their lineage to Anxiety IV. He is known as “The father of American Herefords” and “The bull that gave Herefords hindquarters.”
While Anxiety IV is definitely a legend among Herefords, it is also safe to say that he changed America. Herefords produced a much higher quality of meat than Longhorns and Shorthorns. The improvement in quality created a skyrocketing demand for beef. This began a love affair with beef that still thrives today.
The docile nature of the Herefords also expanded the opportunities for ranchers. Previously, mostly native cattle from the Southwest and Texas had been driven up to market. The introduction of profitable Herefords opened Northern states with their vast lands to cattle ranching. Ranches even began in the East for these easy to raise cattle. This was furthered by the introduction of Polled (hornless) Herefords into the bloodline.
Anxiety IV changed how cows were bred, where they could be raised, and created a substantial increase in demand for beef. Herefords are now only rivaled by Angus as the primary beef cattle. The flavor, marbling, tenderness of the steaks we eat today can be traced back to one bull. Chances are the last steak you enjoyed was a descendent of Anxiety IV. Almost 150 years later, one bull still shapes the way we eat. He truly was a bull that changed America.