The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Gammon, Burton Osmond "Bert"
(March 26, 1881–September 27, 1972)


Gammon, Warren

(January 16, 1846-1924)

–developers of the Polled Hereford breed of beef cattle–devoted their lives to the breed's promotion. Warren Gammon was born in Franklin County, Maine, to a family that would eventually include 14 brothers and five sisters. He left home at age 17 to serve in the Union army during the Civil War, then settled in Guthrie County, Iowa, in 1869, and married Anna Elvina "Annie" Pickett two years later. Despite minimal formal schooling, Warren studied law in the 1870s and was admitted to the Iowa State Bar. In 1879 the Gammons moved to Harlan in Shelby County, Iowa, where Warren continued to practice law and where Burton O. Gammon was born. The Gammons also had two other sons, Arthur L. and Dallas P. Gammon. In 1889 the Gammons moved to Des Moines, settling near Drake University.

    In 1898 Warren visited the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, where he first saw polled (naturally hornless) Hereford crossbreeds, produced by mating registered Hereford cows to an unpedigreed, naturally hornless bull. Warren was intrigued; a naturally hornless cow would not need to undergo the common but painful practice of dehorning, which reduces the likelihood of injury to humans and other cattle. When he returned home, he obtained a Red Polled bull and began a similar breeding program with the Hereford cows on his farm south of Des Moines near St. Marys. He kept records of the lineage of the animals he produced and with several friends formed the American Polled Hereford Cattle Club.

    In 1901 Burton Gammon, a college student at Drake University, introduced his father to Charles Darwin's works, The Origin of Species and The Variation of Plants and Animals under Domestication. Inspired by Darwin's ideas, Warren hoped to produce naturally hornless purebred Herefords by using purebred Herefords exhibiting a hornless mutation to introduce the hornless trait instead of interbreeding with other types of polled cattle. Warren and Burton sent word to the 2,500 members of the American Hereford Breeders Association, asking if any ani-mals with documented lineage existed in their herds that also were naturally hornless, or "muley."Within the year, Warren Gammon acquired four bulls and 10 cows from around the United States. The breed was developed from 11 of those animals, with the first planned mating of Polled Herefords taking place on February 21, 1902, at the Gammons' barn near St. Marys. Because all of the animals were purebred, they were already registered with the American Hereford Association (AHA), but because at that time the AHA refused to note whether an animal was polled or not in its official records, it was necessary to maintain a separate Polled Hereford registry.

    Burton Gammon received a B.S. from Drake University in 1903 and married his college sweetheart, Edith Vivian Koons, on November 23, 1904. After graduation, he joined his father in breeding and promoting Polled Herefords. Warren Gammon served as executive secretary of the American Polled Hereford Cattle Club (renamed the American Polled Hereford Breeders Association in 1907, and eventually shortened to the American Polled Hereford Association) until 1911, running the organization out of his home for many years. He continued to breed and sell Polled Herefords with his son Dallas as well as send out a free weekly Polled Hereford Bulletin until his death at 78.

    Burton succeeded his father as executive secretary of the association, and served until 1946, after which he assumed the title of secretary emeritus. Although Warren is credited with major responsibility for originating Polled Herefords, it was chiefly Burton who brought the breed to national prominence, traveling the country, often without pay, to promote the breed. Burton became the first living man inducted into the American Polled Hereford Association's Hall of Fame when it was established in 1965. After his wife's death in 1963, Burton entered the Wesley Acres retirement home in Des Moines, where he lived for the last 10 years of his life. Burton bequeathed 75 percent of his estate to Drake University to support further research in genetics, his lifelong passion. The American Polled Hereford Association also designated a scholarship in his name to support graduate work in genetics.

    Due in large part to the efforts of the Gammons, the Polled Hereford breed expanded from the original 11 animals entered into the American Polled Hereford Record to several million registered animals by 1995, when the American Polled Hereford Association merged with the American Hereford Association and their registries were combined. The Polled Hereford continues to be a well-established and popular breed of beef cattle today, with herds existing in countries all over the world.
Sources A historical marker marks the site of the first breeding of Polled Herefords near St. Marys, Iowa, but the Gammons' barn was relocated to the Iowa State Fairgrounds in 1991. The restored barn now houses a Polled Hereford Museum, including a scrapbook compiled by Warren Gammon and Edith and Burton Gammon's family photo album. Materials from the American Polled Hereford Association Hall of Fame, formerly located in Kansas City, are also housed in the Gammon barn following the merger of the American Polled Hereford Association and the American Hereford Association in 1995. An extensive biography of Burton Gammon, also including biographical information on Warren Gammon, appeared in Polled Hereford World, 11/15/1972. Burton Gammon appears in Who Was Who in America (1976); and an obituary appeared in the Des Moines Tribune, 9/28/1972. Orville K. Sweet's Birth of a Breed (1975) is an interesting portrayal of the establishment and early years of the Polled Hereford breed.
Contributor: Kathryn M. Dunn