Editor’s note: This is part of a series that celebrates the bulls and boars that shaped their breeds and the ag industry at large.
More than 108 years ago, an Angus calf was born in the rolling hills of western Iowa.
Named Earl Marshall by his owner, W. A. McHenry, that bull calf went on to sire a collection of state, national and international champions. Today, approximately 90% of registered Angus cattle carry Earl Marshall’s genes, according to Angus historian Tom Burke.
“He’s in the pedigree of nearly every animal in the Angus breed,” says Burke, founder of the American Angus Hall of Fame who has also written a book about the bull.
The bull’s owner had led a colorful life prior to Earl Marshall’s birth. Born in New York, McHenry fought with the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War and survived several major battles, including Gettysburg and Antietam.
He was part of the group who hunted John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. McHenry also guarded Lincoln’s body as his funeral train headed to Illinois.
He eventually settled in Denison, Iowa, with only $300 to his name. Despite his humble start, McHenry became a successful businessman as well as a prominent seedstock producer.
McHenry sold his herd to Charles Escher Jr. and Earl Ryan in 1916. Those cattle included Earl Marshall.
“By all accounts, he was a very friendly bull,” Burke says. “And you cannot question the quality of cattle he sired.”
The bull lived most of his reproductive life on the Crawford County, Iowa, farm. Burke says Earl Marshall bred approximately 500 cows over his lifetime.
“Of course, we didn’t have A.I. (artificial insemination) back then, so everything he did was through natural mating,” Burke says. “And he was not rented out. He just bred cows on the farm.”
Earl Marshall died on his 15th birthday — Sept. 4, 1928.
“He got mired in some river bottom mud on their farm near Harlan, Iowa,” Burke says. “Rumor has it that his head was sent to California for mounting, but no one has been able to find it. Believe me, I have looked for it quite a bit.”
He describes Earl Marshall as a bull that showed incredible thickness, adding his genetics were very predictable well before the use of EPDs (expected progeny differences) to predict genetic traits.
“They knew what they were getting from him,” Burke says.
He has no doubt Earl Marshall would have been a good match with the demands of today’s cattle producers.
“Earl Marshall was a thick, meaty and potent bull,” Burke says. “He was a magnificent sire, and I believe he would have been just as magnificent today as he was back then.”