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Herman Haaff

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Had a Rock Island County man not lost his temper back in 1895, the American cattle industry would have taken a different turn. Meet Herman H. Haaff, a farmer who took the bull by the horns.

Haaff raised cattle on four thousand acres in Henry County east of Rock Island. He had a reputation as a bit of an eccentric. One day he grew so enraged at a mean-spirited bull in his herd that he forced the bull's head into a stanchion and sawed off the horns. When Haaff noticed that the bull's temperament was much sweeter as a result, he proceeded to begin sawing horns off his entire herd of cows and steers.

Rumors spread of animal mutilation—stories of gory piles of bloody horns. Concerned citizens brought the evil Haaff to the attention of the Illinois Humane Society, who soon brought Haaff to trial in nearby Geneseo.

The trial lasted for three days, watched by a mob of angry people wondering out loud how Haaff would like his own fingernails pulled out by the roots. Local newspapers fanned the outrage.

But then, someone pointed out that the cattle Haaff had dehorned showed little ill effect, going out to eat right after the operation. In addition, the dehorned cattle seemed gentler and more at ease. The crowd shifted to Haaff's side in a moment, and newspapers began calling for those evil horns that gored children to death to come off all cattle immediately.

The Humane Society put up one last argument—God had meant cattle to have horns. Haaff's lawyer argued that God put horns there to protect against wolves and since wolves had vanished, so should the horns. There was no answering that kind of logic, and Haaff was acquitted.

Haaff's dehorned cattle were indeed better behaved and more comfortable; in addition, they required less feed. Soon dehorning cattle became a profession which provided hundreds of men with a livelihood, while cattle breeders turned to creating hornless—or polled—cattle.

Herman Haaff eventually sold his farm and moved to Chicago, disappearing without even a mention in a history or an encyclopedia, or a word of appreciation from the cattle.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.