Records on the Highland cattle first brought into this country from Canada and Scotland are rather obscure due to the absence of a U.S. registry prior to 1948. We know there were small importations made of Highlands between 1880 through the 1920’s. Mainly due to western cattlemen looking to replace or cross breed for hardiness to their herds of predominately Texas cattle after the catastrophic winter of 1886-87, which was known as the Big Die-Up.
The earliest known importation on record from Scotland was made in 1896 by S.F.B. Biddle, a cattleman who owned the Cross Ranch near present day Biddle, MT. This importation consisted of four registered bulls and twenty-six cows. They were railed to Moorcroft, WY then trailed North along the Little Powder River to the ranch according to the Crook County (WY) Monitor. Prior to this, Biddle had obtained Highlands from KS, these cattle may have been imported from Scotland through Canada. A later importation was made by Walter Hill into Montana in 1922. These cattle would eventually make up the first four bulls and forty-five cows in the U.S. registry after being purchased by Baxter Berry of Belvidere, SD in the 1940’s. Also around this time, Jess, Cyrus and Earl Shoop of Browning MT, collectively known as the Shoop Brothers, were found to have one of the largest herds of Highlands in the country. Their foundation stock also came from Walter Hill around 1925. Many early day breeders got their foundation stock from these brothers. The Shoop Brothers deserve much of the credit for saving the breed from disappearing in the U.S. before the formation of this breed association.
Highland cattle were also imported to the East Coast states during the 1920’s. The two best known herds were located at Hayfield Farms in Trucksville, PA and Alta Crest Farms in Spencer, MA. The herd at Hayfield Farms was dispersed from the estate of William Conynham, president of National Biscuit Co. (aka Nabisco). Years later part of this herd was purchased by Col. W. John Stitler Jr of Greensburg, PA while others went to Kerrville, TX to Bear Creek Breeding Farm which was owned by a Mr. Frederick of San Antonio, TX. Most of the cattle purchased by Col. Stitler eventually were sold to Baxter Berry of Belvidere, SD. Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, the famous WW1 fighter ace, purchased the Bear Creek Breeding Farm and also sold his Highlands to Baxter Berry. The Alta Crest herd was eventually dispersed and ended up with Alister F. MacDougall of Westford, MA. He in turn sold part of the herd to Hollywood actor James Cagney who owned a farm in New York and was interested in using the Highlands for conservation practices. Mr. MacDougall also sold some to James M. Faulkner, the medical director for M.I.T. from Stoddard, NH. He already had a herd purchased from Baxter Berry and was now the largest breeder on the East Coast.
On August 30, 1948 a group of cattlemen and their wives met at the Double X Ranch owned by Baxter and Lyndall Berry, South of Belvidere, SD and organized the American Scotch Highland Breeders Association. The purpose of this association was established; to collect, verify, preserve and publish full blood pedigrees of Scotch Highland cattle; to investigate and report on doubtful or suspect pedigrees; to arbitrate and settle disputes or answer questions pertaining to Scotch Highland cattle and the breeding of the same; to do all possible to protect and sustain the validity of the breed and its blood lines; and to extend every possible effort by means of advertising or otherwise promote interest in Scotch Highland cattle throughout the U.S. These founding members present were former SD Governor Tom Berry of Rapid City SD, Baxter and Lyndall Berry of Belvidere SD, Paul Berry of Norris SD, Ray Carr of Valentine NE, George and Judy Holmes of Decker MT, and Rank Forbes of Henry IL. At this Founder’s Meeting George Holmes was elected president, Baxter Berry was vice president and Rank Forbes as secretary-treasurer. Directors elected were Tom Berry, Paul Berry, Ray Carr, Cyrus Shoop, John Matter, Phillip Spear and Col. W.J. Stitler Jr. On February 15, 1949 the herd book was officially opened with the first Highland being entered, a bull named Blue Hill, registration no. 1 owned by Baxter Berry.
The first annual meeting was held on June 10, 1950 at the same location as the Founder’s Meeting on the Double X Ranch, Belvidere, SD. New breeders present were E.J. Eddie, Stanley Sloan, John and Margaret Manke and Roe Bailey. Following a lengthy discussion relative to accepting for record cattle of pronounced Highland type and other characteristics but not known to be full blood, the consensus of those present was that under no circumstance will cattle of questionable ancestry be accepted into the herd book.
The second annual meeting was held June 1951 at Decker, MT. At this meeting Baxter Berry was elected as president. New directors were Stanley Sloan, George Holmes, Gerald Nunn, John Manke and T.R. Larsen. The association was incorporated at this meeting.
The third annual meeting was held June 28, 1952 in Belvidere, SD. At this meeting Lyndall Berry was hired as the secretary-treasurer at a salary not to exceed $100 per month. Lyndall served in this role until 1958 at which time Margaret Manke replaced her.
Early highlights of the association were the relationships that these first generations of association members had with the Highland Cattle Society in Scotland. Forging a relationship between the two registries to protect and promote the Highland breed. At the request of the HCS, Baxter and Lyndall Berry along with Stanley and Francis Sloan made trips to Scotland in 1953 and were made honorary members of the HCS. Subsequentially in 1954, the HCS sent a member to the U.S. Mr. T.H.L. MacDonald of Scotland visited the annual meeting in Belle Fourche, SD. Ray Carr of Valentine, NE was well known for his herd of beautiful silver Highlands which received much publicity in 1954. In 1950, Baxter Berry purchased the bull David Of Fordie which was a HCS registered bull from Scotland that had been imported to Canada. In 1951 Baxter imported five heifers and two more bulls from Scotland, All registered by the HCS. At the same time Leonard Pugsley of Chester, MT and the Shoop Brothers of Browning, MT imported seven more registered bulls from Scotland. In 1955, twenty more registered bulls for various association members were imported of which five went to Baxter Berry on his Double X Ranch. During these early years of the association many other members had either visited Scotland and or imported Highlands to the U.S. So many were importing to build the herd book during this period that they all cannot possibly be mentioned here.
In the past 75 years the association has seen many changes, not the least of which being the association’s name change in 1992 to the American Highland Cattle Association. Presidents of the association have been George Holmes, Baxter Berry, Ray Carr, Stanley Sloan, John Manke, Gerald Nunn, Wallace Wineinger, R.T. Beaty, Jack Stroh, Keith Crew, Russ Bueling, Jim Newland, Jim (DJ) Kennel, Ted Millen, Adrian (EZ) Braun, Joe Brownlee, Lincoln Bordeaux, John MacKenzie Anderson, Raymond Blalock, Fred Wellner, Allen Dyer, Gloria Brooks, Ted Robbins, Art Robbins, Doug Osborn, Roger Smoker, Don MacLeod, William Lipsey, Skip Hougland, Jim Pugh, Eddie Mackay, Jaquelyn Becker Chotkowski, Dean Adams, Nick Self, Deborah Nelson, Laura McDowell-May, Josh Gregg, Kevin Opperman and Josh Krenz.
Executive Secretaries over the years have been Rank Forbes, Lyndall Berry, Margaret Manke, John Stroh, Gloriann Allen and Frani Hogate. It was not until 1994 when Ginnah Moses took over the position that the association had a permanent office in the Livestock Exchange Building in Denver, CO where they operated until 2011. The association then moved to an office in the Historic City Hall building in Brighton, CO where they have been since.
Ray Blalock should be remembered for his years of service as Chairman of the Board, keeping that seat during the turmoil after President Fred Wellner’s death. More recently the leadership of President Josh Gregg should be acknowledged during the Covid 19 pandemic.
Too many members have served on the Board of Directors to list. But the breed and association are forever indebted for their service. Many have went on to serve as officers of AHCA. According to records, on becoming president of the ASHBA, Stanley Sloan said, “Friends, and I am sure you all are my friends or I wouldn’t be here, I am honored to be selected to be your president for the coming year. There has been nothing in my previous training to prepare me to be president of anything. I remember when I went to the first grade, my teacher told me that if I would be a good boy I might get to be president someday. I gave up being good in the second grade!”
Many members and regional associations have been hosts of the annual meetings. In the early years, the meetings were held in South Dakota during June. This has changed in recent years to alternate among the different regional associations. In 2023, the association’s 75th year, we will be going back to the place of our founding, South Dakota.
The AHCA Member of the Year award was started in 1980 by the association to honor an individual(s) who has contributed most significantly to the association and the breed. The Highland Hall of Fame was established in 1988 in memory of association President Fred Wellner and recognizes those members who have also made notable contributions to the association’s goals. These honorees are an outstanding group of Highland breeders.
In 1986 some of our members traveled to the UK to join in the Centennial Celebration of the Highland Cattle Society. The families of John Anderson and Lincoln Bordeaux were among those members who made this unforgettable trip.
A special recognition needs to be made for John “Jack” Stroh (1921-2012) of Walsenburg, CO who was considered the foremost authority on Highland cattle in the U.S. Jack was given the honor to judge Highland cattle in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Jack was instrumental in opening up the National Western Stock Show to other breeds instead of just the standard English breeds. His Highland and Highland crosses went on to win the NWSS Carcass Contest an impressive eleven times. Jack was a very special man and a real asset to this association and breed.
In the early days of the ASHBA, the official publication for members was The Fold, edited by Betty Jo Nolan of Chehalis, WA. In 1975, The Bagpipe, our current association publication was started. Editors have been Joe Brownlee, Dayton Nordin, Lloyd Howard, Bob Reiman, John Reiman, Colin Davidson, Chris Hawkins, Bill Lipsey, Jaquelyn Becker Chotkowski and Anne Proctor. It is published four times per year and is included in a AHCA membership. It is chock full of management/health articles, marketing information, association news and events, regional news, show results and much more.
The association meets once a year for the annual membership meeting at the National Gathering. The Executive Committee, Board of Directors and the many standing committees meet several times a year either by teleconference, zoom call or in person.
AHCA has had their National Show and Sale in Denver, CO every January during the National Western Stock Show since 1989. This is a premiere Highland event thanks to the hard work and dedication of our staff and volunteers who organize, manage and implement it.
The association looks forward to broadening our relationship with the other Highland cattle societies throughout the world. We were proud to be part of the First International Gathering of Highland Breeders in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1995. AHCA hosted the Second International Gathering of Highland Breeders during June 2006 in Sheridan, WY. The Third International Gathering was held in Glasgow, Scotland in Sept/Oct 2010. The Fourth International Gathering was held in New Zealand in November 2014. We value the relationships, both professional and personal, that have been formed at these Gatherings of Highland breeders, as we do those that are formed at our own national and regional level events.
With respect and admiration for those breeders that have gone before us in this great association, we look forward to a future in which the Highland breed has a presence and is well known in the cattle industry in the United States. That the value of the finest beef in the world is appreciated by the industry and the consumer. It’s the job of each of us in the association to strive for that goal.