Horned Hereford History

The Hereford Comes to America

Compiled By Jill Hotchkiss and Byron Bayers
(Sources: History of Hereford Cattle by T.L. Miller and The Hereford in America by Donald Ornduff)

Herefords derived their name from Herefordshire, or the county of Hereford, in the west of England. Here they first attracted attention as a distinct breed, possessing distinctive characteristics of color, conformation, constitution, fleshing tendencies, habits and temperament.

The cattle of Hereford, England were attracting a great deal of attention in America and the cattle of Benjamin Tomkins, from whom many of the first Herefords were purchased, were considered great beef improvers at the time. There was a great deal of interest at this time in Kentucky in the improvement of livestock.

Henry Clay, noted Kentucky statesman and one of the leaders in the movement for better livestock, made the first authenticated importation of the Hereford breed in America in 1817. The importation consisted of one cow, one heifer and one bull. Some reports say that another bull died on board the ship, Mohawk, which departed Liverpool, England and docked in Baltimore. Clay’s shipment cost him $500. Cattle descended from Clay’s first Herefords were called the “Seventeens” in reference to the year they were imported to the United States.

The Herefords were not alone on this ship as several other breeds of cattle were imported by Lewis Sanders who also lived in Lexington, Kentucky. While it is not totally understood what all of these breeds actually were Sanders outlines them as the following:  “a bull and heifer of the Holderness breed; two bulls and two heifers of the Teeswater breed (from the county of Durham); a bull and heifer of the Durham breed (Shorthorn); and two heifers of the Longhorn breed.”

In a letter written by Sanders, published in March 1849 in the Cultivator, he details the importation of his cattle as well as Clay’s. Following is a small portion of that letter pertaining to Clay’s cattle, as printed in “The History of Hereford Cattle” by T.L. Miller: “Mr. H. Clay being in England in 1816, having always had a fondness for other fine stock, concluded to send home some fine cattle. At this time the Herefords were great favorites at Smithfield. Either from Mr. Clay’s own taste, or from the recommendation of others, he selected that stock, purchased a cow, a young bull and heifer of that breed (Hereford) and sent them to Liverpool to be shipped to the United States. It so happened that they were put on board the Mohawk, the same ship with my cattle, and they arrived together at Baltimore, where they were placed in the same pasture, and the agent that was sent for my cattle brought out Mr. Clay’s to Kentucky.

Although Mr. C. and myself at that period resided in the same city and had always been personal and political friends from the time of his coming to Kentucky in 1789, till March 1825, and our social and personal relations have been unchanged for fifty years, yet, neither Mr. C. or myself had the slightest knowledge or intimation of the intention or views of the other in regard to importing foreign cattle.”

When Clay’s Herefords reached Kentucky they were placed in the care of Isaac Cunningham who was a prominent Shorthorn breeder. For a short time the breeds were kept separate but after continuous inbreeding of the Herefords resulting in adverse affects, the Herefords were eventually crossed with the Shorthorns thus resulting in a loss of the Hereford identity of Clay’s herd.

While their purebred status might have been lost at that point, the affects ofthe Herefords and their beef-making characteristics carried through the cattle of Kentucky for some time.

Prior to the Clay importation there is some evidence, although not documented, that W.C. Rives of Virginia imported Hereford cattle to the United States. However, they were immediately crossed with other breeds of cattle and their pure strain was lost.

The next notable and documented importation of Hereford breeding stock was that of a bull and heifer presented  in 1824 or 1825 by Admiral Coffin of England’s Royal Navy to the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Agriculture. The heifer proved barren. Isaac C. Bates of Northampton, Massachusetts purchased the bull named Sir Isaac, that lived to be 19 or 20 years old.

The documents accompanying this importation stated that the cattle were bred by Sir J.G. Cottrell who received his stock from Mr. Yarworth whose cattle came from Benjamin Tomkins.

The first Hereford importation of record that was responsible for the foundation of a purebred breeding herd was that of William H. Sotham and Erastus Corning.

Sotham who was from Oxfordshire, England, was acquainted with the Hereford cattle in their native Herefordshire. Coming to the United States in 1832, Sotham managed an Ohio farm and also was a cattle buyer for New York beef packer, Ebenezer Wilson. At that time there were no central markets so Sotham traveled the country extensively into the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states, making many on-farm visits. He was quick to extol the virtues of Hereford cattle to the farmers he visited.At this time in American history the Shorthorn was the most popular beef breed, which made Sotham’s public relations effort for Herefords difficult.  However, he eventually succeeded in convincing some farmers and his employer that what American cattle needed was an infusion of Hereford blood.

In 1840, his employer agreed to finance the purchase and importation of 22 head of Herefords from Herefordshire. Sotham traveled to England, selected the cattle and returned to New York with them. By this time his employer, Wilson, was having financial difficulties and was unable to go through with the purchase. Wilson went to his friend the Honorable Erastus Corning of Albany, New York, explaining his difficulties. Corning became the primary owner of the shipment with Sotham having part ownership as he had paid the down payment for the cattle in England prior to shipping. Once in America, the cattle were kept at Corning’s Albany farm.

These cattle of John Hewer’s breeding included a cow named Matchless. This cow was actually recorded in the American Hereford Herd Book as Spot 1074 (some sources say spot 1070). At the first meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society at Oxford in 1839 she was selected as Champion.

The local Albany Cultivator had this to report about Sotham and Corning’s cattle: “One of the most important importations of cattle and sheep that has ever taken place in this country has been made by the Hon. Erastus Corning, of this city, and William H. Sotham, of Jefferson County. It consists of 12 cows and some heifers and calves…. The cattle are of the Hereford breed from Herefordshire, and are the very best animals that could be selected. No one can help being struck by the extraordinary size of the cows, their fine forms and their substantial development, denoting strength and power, and showing the basis of the reputation that the Herefords formerly had for working cattle and now for feeding. The expense of the importation was nearly $8,000.”

Corning and Sotham did well with their Hereford cattle and a highly complimentary article was published in the Albany Cultivator about the Herefords shown at the 1844 New York State Fair. The article summed up by saying, “it is but justice to say that no animals on the ground excited more praise than these.”

But Corning was also a prominent Shorthorn breeder at the time and engaged in both business and politics. “A bitter and relentless battle was waged by the Shorthorn interests in general against the interlopers from Herefordshire, and Sotham did not hesitate to denounce the methods employed by them to discredit the Whitefaces,” wrote Donald Ornduff in The Hereford in America. “Evidently the criticism heaped upon him by his Shorthorn friends because of his association with the outspoken Sotham led Corning to sell the bulk of the Whiteface herd to his partner, who removed the cattle to a farm at Black Rock, near Buffalo, New York.”

Corning kept a few head of Herefords, occasionally adding imported stock. His son, Erastus Corning, Jr., carried on the herd.

From this foundation Herefords gained a strong foothold in New England. At one point an area around Augusta, Maine was known as the Herefordshire of America.

Another Hereford importation to note was that of sea captain Phineas Pendleton of Searsport, Maine. Having visited Cardiff, Wales on many occasions he became familiar with the Hereford cattle grazing the green pastures there. He liked the cattle and made inquiries among local farmers as to the qualities of the cattle. Being satisfied with what he found out, Pendleton decided to buy a pair. He employed a local Cardiff butcher to assist him in selecting the animals. He then purchased a yearling bull named Kimroe and a yearling heifer named Kitty. Once back in Maine Pendleton eventually sold the pair to John Heagan of North Prospect, Maine. The pair went on to prove themselves time and time again with Kimroe living to the age of 16. Farmers of the area were particularly impressed with their offspring.

According to Ornduff, “Kimroe and Kitty appear to have the honor of having established the oldest family of American Herefords, the Perfections (the original horned line) and their offshoots, the Fairfaxes and the Woodfords. These all were much in vogue as recently as 1925 and thereabouts. The Perfection family tree can be traced through the American Hereford Record in an unbroken line back to Kimroe and Kitty.”

The Hereford movement grew and the breed gradually increased in numbers through the century and later in the 1800s the Herefords were introduced to the commercial herds of the nation. In the late 1870s the Herefords started to appear in the larger commercial herds as the cattle industry moved west with the settling of the western part of the nation. Previous to this time, mixed herds of cattle of all descriptions were brought from Mexico and the southwestern herds, in cattle drives that gave the West its historic glamour “aura” of the past. Later the Shorthorn breed moved into the West and was crossed on the Longhorn and other “Mongrel” breeds.

Throughout the 1870s the Hereford gained strong footholds in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and Texas, then some of the largest cattle states, with the abundance of free grass, transportation and central markets.


Polled Hereford History

In the Beginning...

by Dan McFarland, Fredericksburg, IA

The year was 1723 and the saddened family of Squire Richard Thompkins gathered at their stone home in Herefordshire, England to mourn his death. Squire Richard had spent a lifetime trying to improve the cattle of Herefordshire. He had embarked on a new idea of selective rather than random mating. These “Herefords” were nondescript animals of hodge podge ancestry dating back to the days of Caesar. They came in a varied assortment of colors ranging from red to dark gray with faces that were mottled to pure white. “And to my six-year-old son, Benjamin, I leave Silver with her calf.” Silver would become the foundation of the Hereford breed. She had a line of white which ran the length of her back and had a pure white front and face. It was Silver who indelibly stamped the “white face” into the legends of history.

Benjamin Thompkins and “SILVER”

Young Benjamin and his son to follow continued to breed the progeny of Silver; Herefords continued to thrive in England and ultimately, by 1846 the registry of purebred Herefords was established. Across the Atlantic a great Kentucky orator Clay, had an eye for the attractive white face and in 1816 the first Herefords were imported to America. (Editor’s note: According to “The History of Hereford Cattle by T.L. Miller, these cattle were purchased in England in 1816 and arrived in Kentucky in 1817.)Herefords would thrive in the East, but West of the Mississippi it was the tenacious Longhorn that prevailed by its will to survive. Despite being cantankerous, meatless and milkless the Longhorn was not challenged until after the Civil War. It was then that the English Shorthorn crossed with the Longhorn prospered, along with a “handful” of Herefords. Not until the severe killing winter of 1889-90 were the Herefords, with their thick hide and tenacity to “tail into a blizzard,” able to prove their worth. When the carcasses were counted that spring it was the Herefords who were still standing.

While “freaks” or “sports” occasionally appeared, it was still perceived that Herefords needed to be “crowned with the horns of purity.” About 1893, three cattlemen set out independently to breed” the horns off the popular white-faced heads. Mossom Boyd of Canada and J.L. Terry of Wyoming crossed purebred Angus bulls with Hereford cows. It was W.W. Guthrie of Kansas, using a Polled Hereford bull named “Discovery,” who began crossing with Shorthorn/ Hereford cows. Discovery consistently sired polled calves which Terry began to exhibit as “Polled Kansans.” It was the “Polled Kansans” who caught the eye of  Warren Gammon at an exposition in Omaha in 1898. Intrigued by their possibilities, Gammon returned to his farm near St. Mary’s, Iowa and initiated a similar program using Red Polls and Polled Shorthorn bulls on horned Hereford cows. He succeeded in removing the horns, but the results were as plain as the stock he started with. Gammon’s cattle resembled purebred Herefords in most respects but they were not eligible for registry by the American Hereford Association. A new approach was needed.

“The Mendelian Laws”

Warren Gammon had long admired Darwin and read with great interest Darwin’s publications dealing with variations and mutations in nature. Much earlier, in 1866, a Christian monk, Gregor Mendel, had published an obscure paper on inheritance. Mendel died in obscurity in 1884, believing, “My time will surely come.” Mendel’s true contribution was to demonstrate a mathematical pattern of inheritance in all living creatures and to distinguish between dominant and recessive traits. Mendel had made selective breeding predictable! Mendel’s time did come and his predictions re-emerged at the turn of the century as a sensational new genetic theory. Bert Gammon, a graduate student of 19, was doing a study of genetics and it was one of his papers which proved to be the spark that ignited a fire of new ideas in the minds of the Gammons. They discarded their cross breeding system and set sail on a course which would make them famous as founders of the Polled Hereford breed. Following Mendel, they set out to extract the polled gene from within the purebred Hereford itself; in effect, to transform an infrequent trait into an expected one. The Gammons would create the only pure breed of cattle native to America!

“The Early Years”


Polled Hereford founder, Warren
Gammon, Des Moines, Iowa.

In the year 1900, at age 55, Warren Gammon, set his course to develop a purebred Polled Hereford. He began by writing to all 2500 members of the American Hereford Association, inquiring if they might have a hornless, registered Hereford. Out of 1500 replies, he located 14 purebred Herefords, born without horns; 4 bulls and 10 cows. A jubilant Gammon bought all but one cow; two cows proved barren, reducing the number of foundation cows to 7. They selected as their herd sire “Giant,” the first Polled Hereford herd in the world, the embryo of a dream, had conceived and taken root among the green hills of a rented farm near St. Mary’s, Iowa. Average price per head $140. In later years, Warren would brag in jest that he once owned the world’s record priced Polled Hereford bull. Shipped by rail to his new home, Giant was mated to his first Polled Hereford cow in 1901. Three polled calves were born that first year, six polled calves the second; the beginning of a stream of calves that would ultimately span the earth.

At the very outset, Gammon also founded the American Polled Hereford Cattle Club, to register purebred, Polled Herefords. The American Hereford Association refused to make a distinction between Herefords, either polled or horned. Warren Gammon would not live to see the day when the AHA would recognize his Polled Herefords.

It would take 50 years, in 1952, after 1.5 million Polled Herefords had been registered, before the AHA would distinguish between the two. From the very beginning Gammon was adamant about breed purity. He insisted that every Polled Hereford also be registered in the AHA and thus from the beginning, his Polled Herefords became known as “Double Standard” cattle, registered in two associations.

In spite of Gammon’s stringent standards, Polled Herefords seemed to be born among controversy. Skepticism and ridicule were the rule rather than the exception. By 1907 there were still only 5 members in the APH Cattle Club. Warren was the Executive Secretary and headquarters were in the Gammon’s home in Des Moines. Progress seemed frustratingly slow. Warren described his herd as “very plain cattle with plain breeding and it looked as though it would require 100 years for us to get a good quality of cattle from that kind of foundation stock.”

Even Giant himself had been the center of a controversy. Born May 3,1899 on the ranch of O.F. Nelson, Hiawatha, Kansas, Giant was sold as a calf to Geo. Fadley, Horton, Kansas for $150. Unknown to both, he was a mutation. Both Giant’s sire and dam were horned, but when he failed to develop horns, his owner sued for the return of his $150. True to his destiny, 7 of Giant’s first 10 progeny were already polled. You can imagine the owner’s surprise and elation when Gammon showed up looking for a hornless bull! Giant was sold for $200. “A fool and his money are soon parted,” thought Fadley. Said Warren Gammon, “In the building of Solomon’s temple the stone that the builders rejected became the chief corner stone.” Giant, #1 in the registry was a rangy unimpressive bull.

His greatness was entirely genetic.

What the Gammons were soon to discover was a second genetic marvel of mutation, that of “variation.” They learned, as did Burbank in the plant world, that progeny of a mutation or freak, have a greater degree of variation — “a wonderful thriftiness,” an ability to outbreed themselves. Said Warren, “At the time that we started this strain of cattle in 1902, we did not know that those cattle had freaked two attributes, to wit; the polled head and thriftiness. This I was not looking for.”

Giant, at 1650 lbs., was to sire Polled Columbus at 1900 lbs; Columbus sired Gabriel who reached 2300 lbs. and a Gabriel son, Gabriel 38th, weighed in at 2700 lbs. Of the first 100 registered Polled Herefords, 42 were sired by Giant, living proof of Darwin’s theory and Mendel’s Law.

Still, times were tough. By 1909 there were only 22 members in the APH Cattle Club. The Gammons were accused of “laboring under a mental delusion and of riding a hobby.” What was true was the fact that Bert Gammon became a one man field staff, out riding the rails, not a hobby. Bert promoted Polled Herefords from one coast to the other. He was supposed to be paid $30 per month, but there seldom was enough money to pay him. Early breeders, just as dedicated as the Gammons, would meet him at the train, put him up for the night, feed him, dig a little deeper and send him along with a few more dollars! Warren continued to meet his critics head on. “Horns are no more essential for cattle than they are for horses, hogs or sheep.” One critic accused him of creating Polled Herefords by cross-breeding and committing fraud to get his cattle registered in the AHA. Retorted Gammon, “The American Hereford record will show that there had never been a freak Hereford animal recorded by me and all of the freak animals used by me had been recorded before I bought them.” He also laid out a challenge to the world: “Show me a breed of cattle in which you can make such marvelous improvement in so short a time as can and has been made by Polled Herefords.”

“Changing Tides”

But then the tides began to change. Polled Herefords became more profitable than their traditional cousins. Their sale averages surged ahead of horned Herefords. Raising Polled Herefords was a logical profitable business! On their 10th anniversary, in 1911, Bert became the Executive Secretary; registrations cost 50 cents and most important of all, Polled Herefords had spread to 34 states, Canada and South America. Registrations for the year totaled 2,250.

Success stories and enthusiasm continued to mount. Bullion 4th set a new world price record by selling for $9400. A 3rd generation son of “Variation,” Bullion 4th was a champion bull in both the U.S.A. and Canada, against horned competitors. Variation had once been bought and sold by Warren Gammon for $150.

By 1916, Marvels Pride, who traced to Giant, was sold for $5400 to Ralph Painter inducted into the Hall of Fame in the 1980s). Three years later, Marvels Pride was again sold for a new world record price of $14,500.

The Anna Pickett Society (named for Warren’s wife) was established in 1918. Polled Hereford breeders from all over the country came to Des Moines annually to celebrate “Polled Hereford Week.” Cattle were bought and sold, but a National show was yet to come. Twenty years after Giant, over 30,000 Polled Herefords had been registered. Annual registrations topped 10,000 by 1940; 50,000 in 1951;100,000 in 1955 and set an all time high of 207,000 registrations in 1974. The popularity and flood of Polled Herefords could not be stopped. It was Warren’s turn to needle his critics. “It is easier to change from horned to polled cattle than it is to convince men that they want horned cattle.”

At age 75, Warren continued to issue his “Weekly Polled Hereford Bulletin,” mailed free to anyone interested.

“New Challenges”

Buoyed by the realization his vision had become reality, Warren reflected, “Who would want a greater reward than the happiness that I have enjoyed!” Warren also issued a new challenge. “We all know that there is a law of the survival of the fittest and that the invincible, matchless Polled Herefords are the fittest and if a Polled Hereford breeder will rustle half as hard for the Polled Hereford as the Polled Hereford rustles for himself, the success of the Polled Hereford is assured.”

Warren Gammon died in 1923, the same year the oldest and largest traveling breed show in history was established, the National Polled Hereford Show.

Bert Gammon continued as Executive Secretary until 1947 when, at age 70, he stepped down as active secretary, a job he’d held for 36 years. However, Bert never stopped being an active advocate of the breed. Then in September 1972, at the age of 91, the last of the founders of our breed was dead.

There were lots of “rustlers” in Polled Hereford history, giants whose dedication and perseverance stand without equal; breeders who hung in there when the going was the toughest; ones who chipped in from the bottom of their pockets to make our breed what it is today. To begin to name them would only assure that we would overlook someone. But some of these original Giants are still with us today and they deserve our praise.

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