Iowa History
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Iowa History

Pleasant View Stock Farmhouse built in 1913 in Shelby County, Iowa.

Angus Bull Puts Iowa Farmstead on National Register of Historic Places

The Pleasant View Stock Farm in Shelby County, Iowa, was full of bull more than 100 years ago. Today, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In early 1916, the prominent but aging W.A. McHenry of Denison, Iowa, sold his cattle to Charles Escher Jr. and Earl Ryan, who managed the Pleasant View farm’s breeding program. The sale included 210 head of cattle, including a young Aberdeen-Angus bull named Earl Marshall.

Earl Marshall at 2 years of age, circa 1916.

McHenry, Escher and Ryan didn’t know it at the time, but Earl Marshall would become one of the most celebrated and influential Angus bulls in U.S. history.

Earl Marshall lived the majority of his reproductive life on the farmstead and is the traceable ancestor to more than 99.9 percent of all purebred Angus cattle registered by the American Angus Association between 2000 and 2010. Of the roughly 3 million cattle registered during that period, all but 964 are his descendants.

Photo of W. A. McHenry published in the Jan. 30, 1916, edition of Iowa Homestead.

McHenry’s farm manager, John Brown, wrote that Earl Marshall was “no freak accident. He was bred to be great. He came from a great line of bulls and cows. Bred the way he was, Earl Marshall should have been a good bull. But not even the most incurable optimist would have predicted that he was to go on to become the Sire of Sires.”

Earl Marshall sired five International Grand Champion sons and one daughter, and he won First Prize Get-of-Sire at the Chicago International Livestock show for seven consecutive years, from 1918 to 1924. No other Aberdeen-Angus bull has achieved that level of success in the history of the breed.

Earl Marshall’s first son, Bar Marshall, was born in 1917. Bar Marshall won the Senior Bull Calf Class at that year’s International Livestock Show in Chicago and later became the International Grand Champion Bull in 1922. That award along with the others marked an era of success and increased renown for the progeny of the “King of Sires” or “Sire of Sires,” Earl Marshall.

Earl Marshall, 1925.

The National Register nomination also cited Escher and Ryan for their farm operation, noting it produced a disproportionately high number of national and international purebred Angus champions and show cattle.

“(Escher and Ryan) were leaders in the transition of American agriculture to commercialization, helped increased the national awareness of the breed overall, and propagated the breed’s most significant genes,” according to the nomination.

Charles Escher Jr. (left) and Earl Ryan.

In addition, the nomination cited the farm’s residential and agricultural buildings for their architectural significance.

“The period of significance for this district is from 1882, when the farmstead was established by Thomas Ryan, and 1924, when the property was lost and the farm was no longer associated with the raising of Angus cattle,” the nomination said.

Gable-front-and-wing house built in 1884 and a single-stall garage built around 1920.

Here is a quick timeline of the farm’s early years:

  • 1884: Thomas Ryan built the existing gable-front-and-wing house and the site’s oldest extant barn.
  • Circa 1910: The site’s two other existing barns were built.
  • 1913: The four-square house was built.
  • 1916: Charles Escher and Earl Ryan (Thomas Ryan’s son) purchased the Angus herd that included the bull Earl Marshall.

The Angus breed, formally referred to as the Aberdeen-Angus breed, originated in the counties of Aberdeen and Angus in Scotland. Formal recognition of the breed originated in the 16th century, though it took quite some time — more than 200 years — for selective breeding to make it a better and more popular breed in that area.

Predominant breeders who led these efforts included Hugh Watson (1789–1865) of County Angus, from whose cattle Earl Marshall is descended, and William McCombie (1805–1880) of County Aberdeen.

The first Angus cattle to reach the United States — four bulls — were brought by George Grant to central Kansas in 1873. These bulls were crossbred with other cattle until subsequent importations of both male and female Angus cattle were shipped from Scotland to the American Midwest over the next few decades.

– Jeff Morgan, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

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Iowa Culture

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The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs empowers Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to resources. iowaculture.gov