Do the Ankole-Watusi

The amount of money that he’s spent on this whole darn project between the car and the bull I could’ve had a brand new kitchen.

— Rhonda Meyer

Americans are most likely familiar with the word “Watusi” thanks to a 1960s dance craze. In 1962, the Orlons scored a number-two hit with The Wah Watusi. In the next several years, versions of the song by Chubby Checker, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Annette Funicello, and the Isley Brothers proliferated, launching the accompanying dance into the zeitgeist. In 1964, LBJ’s teenage daughter danced the Watusi with Steve McQueen on the campaign trail, undoubtedly propelling the president to victory.

The name Watusi comes from an old name for the Tutsi people of East-Central Africa. The Tutsi culture features elaborate dances. They became prominent in the United States thanks to the 1950 film King Solomon’s Mines, in which Tutsi dancers light up the screen.

The newsletter does not often focus on the dancing arts, nor will this article serve as a shift in paradigm.

The Tutsi have long been pastoralists, overseeing grazing animals on the open pastures of the Great Lakes region of Africa. As far back as 4000 BCE, humans along the Nile herded cattle, as a breed of longhorns appear in Egyptian pictographs in the pyramids. Over the next several millennia, the so-called Egyptian Longhorn spread south among the many pastoral civilizations. Around 2000 BCE, a cow from Asia called the Zebu was introduced to Africa. The mating of the Egyptian Longhorn and the Zebu produced a new breed, called the Sanga.

Over the years, different tribes selected for various physical traits as they bred the cattle, leading to a few strains of the Sanga. The Nkole produced a variety known as the Ankole, while the Tutsi reared a cow called – you guessed it – the Watusi.

These versions of the Sanga display monstrous horns.

Ankole in Rwanda - photo by sarahemcc
Watusi in Uganda - photo by Michel Sautel

Fast forward to the 20th century.

During the early portion of that century, zoos around the world tended to concentrate on bizarre animals that might draw in the tourist, rather than attempting to preserve endangered species. German zookeepers brought Ankoles and Watusi to Europe, banking on the odd horns bringing in coin. By 1960, some of these cattle were imported to the United States, where they were bred with a Canadian bull. A herd arose, filled with a new breed, which proponents called the Ankole-Watusi. By 1983, the Ankole-Watusi International Registry arose, attempting to standardize the breed. Experts believe approximately 1,500 Ankole-Watusi roam the Earth, with 80% of them in the United States.

These cows have veritable mammoth tusks for horns.

An Ankole-Watusi - photo by beckstei
Ankole-Watusi in California - photo by Markfouts

Fast forward to 2023.

When police in Norfolk, Nebraska began receiving calls about a man driving a car with a cow in the passenger seat, they anticipated a calf.

Instead, they encountered a man named Lee Meyer driving a massive bull named Howdy Doody.

Howdy Doody is at least part Watusi (and likely Ankole-Watusi). Howdy Doody does not fit into a 1996 Ford Crown Victoria as it rolled off an assembly line. However, Meyer modified the vehicle for the purpose of parading Howdy Doody across the plains of the Midwest.

“It’s a solid car, so I went on and purchased up and beefed up the frame that was under it and the suspension, the tires and floor and cut the top off, and we were good to go,” Meyer told NBC News. The perhaps inadvertent pun is italicized for effect. 

In the video above, one can witness the mass of Howdy Doody, as the Crown Vic sags under his 2,200-pound girth. Though Meyer retrofitted the car to handle such a beast, he did not foresee every issue of such an endeavor. At 37 seconds in the video, Howdy Doody’s tremendous ability to doody presents itself.

As you can see in the footage, Meyer’s traffic stop was preceded by a visit to Nebraska’s BIG RODEO Parade. He and Howdy Doody took home the “Best Car Entry” honors. How could any other automobile hope to top such an entry?

“I had thought about it. I talked about it, and one of my granddaughters said it was a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it. So I had to show her that Grandpa could do it,” Meyer said. “It might have been a bad idea, but I did it anyway.”

Since then, Howdy Doody has become a staple at fairs and parades around Nebraska. Usually, Meyer takes backroads home, but, for some reason, decided to cruise the highway after the BIG RODEO Parade.

Fortunately, officers let him off with a warning. The lack of citation likely sent Meyer into a celebratory dance, perhaps the Ankole-Watusi.

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