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.



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).

"DRIVING CATTLE INTO A CORRAL, NEBRASKA"
Source: Nebraska State Historical Society


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

Click the Magnifying Glass icon or the picture for a closer look.

Mag Me!
Central Meat Market, Lincoln Nebraska, 1872
Source: Nebraska State Historical Society
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.

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.

John Sibbitt on his cattle ranch in western Nebraska, 2007
Source: Moni Hourt


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.

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

The video, Prologue, sets the stage
for our story of beef.

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.



Homestead Act
 
 
 
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