Not every longhorn brought up the trail from Texas was sold and eaten.
Some made a round trip.
Texas longhorn cattle, which were brought into south Texas by the Spaniards in the 16th Century, were ornery. Over three centuries, their numbers grew and they became more feral as they fended for themselves in south Texas.
During the drives of the 1870's and 1880's, cattle in the great herds had the natural urge to return home to their pastures in the south. To keep them moving toward the drover's goal of the railheads or markets, herders used a lead steer.
They chose animals with the leadership traits of wanting to go first and not liking the sight of other cattle ahead of them. These longhorns would instinctually pass all the other cattle to take the lead position.
The best known of these cattle was "Old Blue," a gunmetal blue steer, who was born in Texas in 1870. He made his first drive at the age of three to New Mexico.
Charles Goodnight bought him the next year and took him to the Goodnight Ranch. In 1876, Goodnight took a herd north with Old Blue in the lead.
Sometimes he made two trips a year to Dodge City for a total of eight round trips with Goodnight from the Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle to Goodnight's JA Ranch near Dodge City.
Goodnight noticed each day the cattle lined up in the same position. He hung a bell around Old Blue's neck and the other cattle became accustomed to following the sound of the bell up the Trail.
Old Blue spend a happy retirement on the JA Ranch to the ripe old age of 20.
Charles Goodnight preserved his horns out of respect for the valuable service Old Blue preformed.
In addition to being a leader, the lead steer was calm and a calming influence for the rest of the herd. The lead rarely stampeded in a panic and, at the end of the Trail, he led them into holding pens. After all were contained, he exited the pen - he was far too valuable to go the slaughter.
The statue of "El Capitan" which is located at the intersection of West Wyatt Earp Boulevard and Second Avenue is the embodiment of the leadership shown by those guiding animals.
He is as he would have appeared at the end of a long drive. The sculpture was crafted by Jasper D’Ambrosi in 1980 as a project of Boot Hill Museum, Inc. and commemorates the over four million longhorn cattle which came through Dodge City during the great cattle drives that took place from 1875 to 1885.
The cattle drives firmly established Dodge City as the "Queen of the Cowtowns."