Introduction 1 of 7

Cattle are so much a part of Nebraskan life today that it may seem strange to think of a time when there were none in our area.

We think "West" when we think geographically about beef in America, but its story is really about going North. Cattle are not native to the American continents; they were brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the 16th Century.

Windmill
Follow beef as it moves to Nebraska.

In Mexico, strays from Spanish herds, especially in what is now southern Texas, thrived and grew into large herds of wild and self-sufficient animals. Over almost three and a half centuries, these animals evolved into the Texas Longhorn (scientific name: Bos Texanus).

The Longhorn’s high reproductive rate, resistance to disease, and ability to fight off predators swelled its numbers into the millions by the time Texas joined the Union in 1845. These animals became the foundation of the beef empires in the American West and dramatically changed what Americans ate. Driving Cattle into a Corral
"Driving Cattle into a Corral, Nebraska", 1875.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, 94173

America’s Changing Tastes

Before the Civil War, when Americans ate meat, it was mostly poultry, pork, and game. The problem was spoilage.

Mag Me! Select the magnifying glass
for an extreme close-up.
Poultry (like chickens and ducks) and small game (like rabbits and squirrels) could be eaten the same day they were killed. Pork and large game (like deer) could be dried, smoked, or salted, and thus preserved. But Americans never really liked dried beef, and fresh beef spoils quickly.
Central Meat Market, Lincoln 1872
Central Meat Market, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1872.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2158-0183

The Civil War and its aftermath changed that. Demand for beef exploded, both in America and in Europe. Railroads moved west connecting the huge herds of cattle with the industrial-scale packing plants, and artificial refrigeration allowed beef to be processed year round.

When Nebraska became a state in 1867, it quickly led in beef production. Our western regions, particularly the Sandhills, were thick with nutritious grasses for grazing, abundant water supplies were perfect for cattle, and the rich farmlands produced abundant corn for feeding. John Sibbitt on his ranch
John Sibbitt on his cattle ranch in western Nebraska, 2007.
Courtesy Moni Nation Hourt

An exciting new era in the history of Nebraska had begun.

The video, Prologue, sets the stage for our story of beef.
From the 2008 NET Television production Beef State

The Story of Beef was created to complement the documentary Beef State, co-produced by NET Television and  the Nebraska State Historical Society. NebraskaStudies.org is a co-production of the Nebraska Department of Education and the Nebraska State Historical Society.

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Follow THE STORY OF BEEF through the decades.
1850-1874
Beef Moves
to Nebraska
1875-1899
High Falutin’
Beef
1900-1924
Reforming
Beef
1925-1949
Beef Goes Modern
1950-1974
Beef
State
2000-2024
NE Beef
Goes Global