Charles Goodnight, also known as Charlie Goodnight, was an American cattle rancher in the American West, perhaps the best known rancher in Texas. He is sometimes known as the “father of the Texas Panhandle.” Born March 5, 1836, in Illinois and died on December 12, 1929, in Arizona. Buried in Goodnight Cemetery, TX.
Mary Ann Dyer “Molly” Goodnight (September 12, 1839 – April 11, 1926) was an American cattlewoman and rancher married to prominent Texas rancher and cattleman Charles Goodnight. She was a 1991 inductee of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.
Is the only southern bison herd left intact from the days of annihilation. There are gaps in the history of the original Goodnight herd, but it makes sense that in all the confusion on the Goodnight ranch and changing owners that the last or part of his herd made their way to the JA Ranch. The JA has been family owned since the 1870’s and is a very successful cattle operation with over a million acres. So, had it not been for the JA leaving the bison herd pretty much alone and just letting them live on their ranch, we would have none of the Goodnight southern herd today.
Of the 42 head captured on the ranch, 10 died, 1 calf was gored and some died from being darted and probably stress. So the remainder being 32 head was the start of the Caprock Canyon herd. (Andrew Sansom, who later wrote a book) I have talked with several people about the original capture and the headcount varies from all who were there.
Goodnights buffalo have been placed in Canada, Germany, Nevada, New Hampshire, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Montana, New Mexico and New York. These are just the receiving states, where they or their offspring, may have gone after this is beyond my research.
Goodnight Bison Herd—One of the earliest herds of domesticated buffalo and one of the oldest now in existence is that established by Charles Goodnight in June, 1878.” This herd is located on the Palo Duro Ranch on Red River, near Goodnight, in Armstrong County, Texas. The nucleus comprised a few calves captured near the ranch at the suggestion of Mrs. Goodnight. By the close of 1888 the number had increased to 13, 2 three-year-old bulls, 7cows, and 4 calves. One of these cows was a half-breed. Mr. Goodnight has always been interested in crossing the buffalo with domestic cattle and in breeding cattalo. In 1894 the herd included 25 or 30 full-blooded buffalo and as many more half-breeds, 4 and about 10 years later, in 1903, it had increased to 45 buffalo and 75 hybrids. The number of full-blooded buffalo in 1908 was reported as 70; in 1910, as 104; and on January 1, 1914, as 164, of which 35 were bulls, 107 were cows, and 22 were calves.
This herd is interesting, not only as one of the largest private herds in the country, but also because it is one of the few which originated from stock obtained from the great Southern herd of wild buffalo which formerly roamed over the plains of Texas. Only a few of these animals have been placed in the Government herds—2 bulls in the Yellowstone herd in 1902 and a cow in the Montana herd in 1909. (he donated a bull and cow, but the bull died after he was shipped)
1866 Charles Goodnight, captured 6 ranging bison calves and tried to start a captive herd on his Elk Creek Ranch, Throckmorton County, Texas. 1866-1867 Charles was not married and he was driving cattle up north with Loving.
Charles Goodnight COWMAN AND PLAINSMAN
http://www.oupress.com, The book is available for purchase both at their website and with other popular booksellers as an ebook or paperback. It will not disappoint, I think it is the best source “from the man” I have yet to find! It clears up a lot of rumors and misconceptions and gives us more great details of some we already know. I purchased the ebook, but after, I wished I would have ordered the physical copy.
By J. Evetts Haley
Varied and widely scattered experiments at buffalo ranching were made in the Western country. While engaged in hunting buffaloes for Fort Bent, in 1840, venturesome Dick Wootton conceived the idea of raising the calves. In 1871 the bill was introduced in Congress proposing the preservation of the species, though Goodnight’s interest was still earlier.
This spring of 1866 was late, and the growth of grass and the start of the buffalo migration correspondingly tardy. On his Elm Creek Ranch Goodnight conceived the idea of starting a domestic herd. He knew that if he pursued a bunch of cows at a moderate gate, the youngest calves would drop behind as they grew tired, and that, by cutting in between a very young calf and the fleeing cow, checking his horse until it came up, and then turning off the trail, the calf would follow his horse.
“The first time I went out to get buffalo calves [he wrote], I moved them up a little until three of the calves fell behind. I cut them off and they followed the home and into the corrals. When night came I roped them and put them to their foster mothers, Texas cows. Later I went and cut out two more in the same way. I wanted six, so I went out again and found one about twenty-four hours old. I scared the cow off some distance, [and] put the calf on my horse. The cow returned and attack me so viciously that I had to kill her to save my horse. I felt badly over it then, and the older I get [he wrote, sixty-two years later], the worse I feel about having to kill that cow”.
“I moved the six calves in their foster mothers down to Parker County, [and] turned them over to a friend who agreed to care for them on shares for half [but he] got tired of the business and sold out, and never even gave me my part of the money.”
Ten years later.
Mrs. Goodnight had been distressed by the slaughter. Sometime in 1878, Goodnight rode down the canon and joined the outfit. Next morning Mann dropped him off on the circle with orders to drive out the head of Wagon Creek. He shook out his reins and on the way ran into a little bunch of buffaloes, roped a heifer calf, flanked it, and tied it down. Remounting, he followed the others out of Wagon Creek Canon to the mesa, picked out a bull calf, and smeared a loop on him. The little fellow ran under his horse, and as they always try to do, causing him to pitch all over the place. Goodnight jumped off and hazed the calf back into the canon, taking vigorous buttings along the way. Leaving them both tied down, he proceeded with the drive until the roundup was in, when he sent the cook with the wagon to haul the calves to the ranch.
These calves were placed on Texas cows, much against the will of the cows.
Leigh and Walter Dyer roped two more calves, and thus was the Goodnight buffalo herd begun. Later, the T Anchors gave him a captive, and two more were secured from Colonel B.B. Groom’s ranch on the Canadian. Mitch Bell, goodhearted veteran of the Palo Duro, clearly recalls their delivery.
Goodnight sent him, Lem Brandon, Sam Carter and Old Blue after the buffaloes – a yearling and a two. Carter drove the wagon, carrying the camping outfit and horse feed, as they were out three nights on the way. They tied Old Blue, roped and dragged the buffaloes up, and necked them real close to him. Then —
“Then,” said Mitch Bell, ‘we turned Old Blue loose, and he was the maddest steer I ever saw. He jerked the little one down, drug him a long ways, and I thought was going to kill him, sure. But finally he got up, on the same side with the other buffalo, and he stayed there all the way back to the ranch.
The first bull was known as Old Sikes. He knew not the meaning of barbed wire, for the general roundups sometimes picked him up as far down the river as the Shoe Bar range.
When he took the notion to wallow in the middle of the roundup, he invariably scattered it far and wide, and his very appearance scared some cow horses out of their wits. He came to the horse corral at the ranch at feed time, stuck his head under the gate, lifted it off the hinges, and ate his fill of corn, while the terrified mounts almost stifled themselves in getting away.
In the early spring of 1886, Goodnight sent Bell and Charlie Heissler to bring him home. They found him many miles to the east, gathered up armfuls of buffalo bones as they road along, and by chunking one at him occasionally, drifted him into the Shoe Bar. Charlie looked at the six-foot fence, and said: “He can’t get out of here,” and then stomped over to the bunkhouse to auger the Shoe Bar punchers.
Next morning they went to the corral to get their horses and resume their journey, an Old Sikes wasn’t in sight. They took his trail and followed him to the Salt Fork, and he had jumped every fence he came to. As they had sent the wagon back to the ranch, they gave up the chase and returned without him. This summer roundup gathered him on the RO range. Goodnight, whose patients was a little worn, cut and dehorned the old bull and threw him into the buffalo pasture, which had been built in the meantime. He got as fat as a bear, and that fall the Colonel sent Henry Taylor out to pen him. Old Sikes got on the prod and chased Taylor out of the pasture, much to the Colonel’s disgust.
‘Hell, you don’t know how to pen a buffalo,” he fumed.
And immediately he buckled on his big Mexican spurs – those with the jingle bells, pulled down the long bull-whip he had plaited himself, saddled old Shystocker, and loped down to the flat to show the boys how buffaloes were handled. Old Sikes, still pawing the earth, grunted a warning, and charged. Shystocker whirled in his tracks, and – with Goodnight’s working him down the hind leg with the coils of his bull-whip, and Sikes horns combing the cuckleburs out of his tail at every jump – almost flew back to the ranch. The Colonel never said another word, but on Christmas Eve, 1886, an immense, fat carcass, weighing nine hundred and sixty-four pounds, was hanging beside the mess-hall, and next day all the old-timers said it was better than beef.
In a 1883 round up he caught a half-breed, a catalo calf, near the carcass of the Texas cow, which was bound to have been its mother. It was more than a freak to Goodnight – it was a challenge to the breeder. As he watched it grow into a ‘sort of a striped brindle yearling,’ his mind was busy. In 1885 O.H. Nelson made him a present of two polled Angus heifers, and Goodnight, considering the breed the hardiest of common cattle, and the buffalo the smartest and the hardiest of Plains animals, conceived the idea of crossing them to produce a beef breed that might “stand the high altitude in severe winters as the buffalo themselves do.’
After many years, money, he was thoroughly convinced of their value, but abortion became so prevalent, and the expense so great, that he sold them.
In spite of his desire to be alone, people gravitated to the ranch from far and near, particularly the ubiquitous sight-seer, scaring or shooting his game and invading the privacy of his home.
For forty years people came to hear his stories and write his experiences. Usually they met with rebuffs, though he who sought ‘information’ on cattle, Indians, buffaloes, trails, and other topics pertaining to Western life, was welcome, and if he was a skillful interviewer usually gathered, indirectly, what he wished to know about the Colonel. For years, Edmund Seymour, President of the American Bison Society, and John R. Freeman, another old friend, implored him to dictate his reminiscences, or let someone write them for him. He told Freeman he desired no biography, for he feared the writers ‘would mix too much red paint and it.’ He answered Seymour in great detail:
‘…. all my life I have avoided publicity or newspaper notoriety. I still have a horror of such. However, I am always willing and have been always willing to put any facts in print that could do the present or future generations any good. It has been my aim through life to try to have the world a little better because I lived in it….
“I would be much pleased to have the Government to take an interest in obtaining such data as would benefit mankind hereafter, but as to my own private life, I only wish to be let alone and only ask that my countrymen treat my record charitably.’
One amusing feature of his extended correspondence with Seymour was the development of a warm controversy with Buffalo Jones, widely publicized Westerner, with Seymour in the inadvertent role of intermediary. The expansive Jones, with his well-known tendency to stretch the blanket, was the type that thoroughly disgusted Goodnight with ‘Western literature,’ and put him on the prod worse than an old buffalo bull. Back in the drawing rooms of the East, Jones was telling how he had killed the bear, and Seymour began writing Goodnight the details of his ‘experiments’ with catalo, his helping ‘guard Billy the Kid.’ and so on. At first Goodnight answered patiently, pointing out, however, his doubts as to whether Jones had ever produced a catalo. Insistent letters flowed on, the old man’s patients became worn, and he wrote, in some irritation, that ‘it has only been my aim to get you to understand the difference between hot air and facts.’ Still the correspondence continued, Goodnight admitting that Jones was ‘quite a wonderful fellow in his way,’ that he had ‘no desire to pick any breeding feathers off of him,’ but that after all, in regard to the cattalo, ‘it is a question of who bred them on the ground and not on paper.’
“Jones has been quite a hunter, and has been over a great deal of the Northwest,’ he continued. ‘In that country they have great windstorms, known as ‘chinook winds.’ They are warm and harmless, but the Colonel seems to have got in one of those storms, and imbided immense quantities of hot air. It has been escaping from him ever since — mostly from the wrong end.’
As to Guardian Billy the Kid at Mesilla, in 1882, Goodnight observed that it was ‘quite likely’ that Jones would be guarding him then, as the Kid had been killed ‘a year or two before.’ At Goodnight’s insistence, John W. Poe, one of the posse that trailed the kid to his death, wrote his account of the killing to keep the record straight, and thus gave to the public one of the most stirring accounts of that interesting episode.
Special thanks to the author, By J. Evetts Haley and OUPress for allowing me to share./
What was known as the “great slaughter” took place in the early 1870s, and by 1878 the so-called southern herd was practically exterminated. There have been several attempts to protect the buffalo. In 1875 the Texas legislature considered a measure to protect the animals from wholesale slaughter, but Gen. Philip H. Sheridan protested the bill, contending that peace with the Indians could be maintained only if their food supply was eliminated; the bill failed to pass. Preservation of a few animals was due to the efforts of such men as Charles Goodnight and others who preserved small herds on their ranches
Brenham Weekly Banner June 7, 1878
The Fort Worth Standard says the trade in buffalo hides is falling off. The price of hides is so much reduced that it does not pay to haul them from the range and hunters are now killing buffalo for their meat, leaving hides on the plains to rot.
Texas has a role in this story. The Comanche, the Apache, and the Kiowa roamed vast parts of this state. Fort Griffin in Albany, an early military outpost built to protect settlers from the Indians, became a clearing house in the late 1870s for buffalo hides and meat. Hide hunters brought wagon loads of hides through Weatherford to ship east to markets. From the 1860s to the early 1880s hide hunters virtually exterminated the buffalo population in the United States and Canada. Charles and Molly Goodnight notably saved the remnants of a buffalo herd which became the source for new managed herds on private lands and protected refuges in the 20th century.
1879 Charles Goodnight started a herd. Indians and whites alike were killing off the migratory herds and he conceived the idea of saving some for preservation and future propagation. So he caught a few young ones, which were the beginning of the herd, he is now (1906) willing to place in a national preserve. The story goes, Mary Ann found out they had been killing calves that were left behind by their mothers because the calves could not climb some of the canyon walls.
When Mrs. Goodnight realized the inevitable wiping out of the buffalo she urged her husband to endeavor to preserve them. He set aside at her request 600 acres from his great ranch of 60,000 acres for buffalo park. In a letter telling of his start as a buffalo raiser, Mr. Goodnight said:“In the spring of 1879- to be exact, May 15th- at my wife’s request, started out to look for some young buffalo. At last I found a few younger ones in Palo Duro canyon, and ‘roped’ them from horseback. The month following W.W. Dyer, my wife’s brother, caught two young females. From this start we have now a herd of forty-five purebred buffaloes. In 1884 I began to cross them with Polled Angus and Galloway cattle, and have a herd of sixty of these cross-breeds. This year we have been fortunate in getting fifteen buffalo calves.
“The buffalo breeds slowly in captivity. It seems incomprehensible that they should have grown into such an enormous herds as there were when I came to this country, and which, in fact, covered all the western plains.”
1883 By mid-year nearly all the bison in the United States were gone. The Dakota Territorial Legislature enacted a law to protect bison; it was not enforced. In Oklahoma, the McCoy brothers and J.W. Summers caught a pair of bison calves, 2 of very few left on the southern plains.
Tick Fever (Reinterpreting The 1882 Bison Collapse)
Texas tick fever is caused by a protozoan and spread by a tick native to southern Texas. The protozoa destroy blood cells. When the animal’s blood can no longer carry oxygen, it smothers. The few emaciated survivors are easy prey for a harsh winter or predators. Some survivors achieve limited immunity. They can carry ticks to infect healthy herds. If a herd loses contact with the disease for a time, it loses its immunity and is again subject to the high death rate. Tick fever’s causes were discovered in 1906, long after the bison were gone (Blood and Henderson, 1968). In 1882, the fact that passing Texas cattle meant “native cattle died in vast numbers” was still being attributed to crawling devils, an ancient Spanish curse, poison leaking from their feet, and/or noxiously bad breath (Nordyke, 1955, p. 49)
Tick fever grants new dimensions to an observation by Charles Goodnight. “[T]he summer of 1867 was very dry in the Texas Panhandle, and bison herds had gathered on the Little Colorado River in such numbers that ‘They had remained until the grass was gone, and had died from starvation by thousands and thousands. The dead buffaloes, which extended for a hundred miles or more, were so thick they resembled a pumpkin field.’ Goodnight also stated that although there was still good grass on the Rio Concho, 30 miles across a divide to the southwest, the buffalo had stayed on the Little Colorado.” (Hart, 2001, p. 85) Charles Goodnight had been driving herds of Texas cattle north since the spring of 1866 (Richardson, 2010). If they were carrying infected ticks, and if the bison on the Little Colorado had had no recent contact with southern bison or cattle and had lost any immunity they may once have had… then within three weeks of meeting Goodnight’s herd, they would indeed have died like pumpkins. They would not have been noticeably sick, just too anemic to walk 30 miles to fresh grass until they dropped dead.
Goodnight eventually settled in the Texas panhandle. His cattle lost contact with the fever-carrying tick and their immunity and died like pumpkins when herds of South Texas cattle passed through. His frustrated anguish is clear from a letter published in the Fort Griffin Echo November, 18, 1881. “[Y]ourselves and I have always been good friends, but even friendship will not protect you in the drive through here… if you have any feeling for me as a friend or acquaintance, you will not put me to any desperate actions… My cattle are now dying of the fever contracted from cattle driven from Forth Worth; therefore do not have any hope that you can convince me that your cattle will not give mine the fever… I simply say to you that you will never pass through here in good health.” (Nordyke, 1955, p. 80-81).
One of the last lots of bison robes sold in Texas for $10 per robe.
Late 1800s: Establishment of private captive herds. Herds owned by James McKay, Charles Alloway, Charles Goodnight, Walking Coyote, Frederick Dupree, and Charles J. Jones are source of most surviving bison. (check out Who Saved The Bison )
1885 C.J. Jones purchased a few bison from Charles Goodnight, along with capturing 13 bison from southern Texas, starting his own private herd.
New Orleans, Louisiana June 14, 1886
EXTINCTION OF THE BISON.
One of the cattle men in the Texas Panhandle, seeing that the buffalo will soon be a curiosity, has concluded to keep a herd of them on his range, for the purpose of perpetuating their breed and selling them to circus men and other curiosity seekers. He will also try the effect of crossing them with the Polled Angus breed of cattle, hoping to infuse vigor and strength into the latter. read more
QUITAQUE RANCH by H. Allen Anderson
The following year, to ease the financial strain, he sold a half-interest in the ranch to L. R. Moore of Kansas City and continued using the Lazy F brand.
By 1890, with the influx of farmers into the area, Goodnight and Moore began experiencing occasional problems: mavericking of Lazy F stock, set grass fires, and vandalism of ranch fences. That year Goodnight disposed of his remaining half-interest to Moore in order to pursue his silver-mining venture in Mexico. Albert Dyer filed on Section 70 in Block B-3 I&GN Survey as a homestead but he spent most of his time in Mrs. Goodnight’s home. He possessed a large library. He wore a neat beard and looked more like a country doctor than a frontiersman. He was always well dressed and very neat.When Mr. & Mrs. Goodnight were not around he entertained the visitors and always was very careful to caution them that when they were in the buffalo park not to dismount or leave their rig if the buffalo or elk were near. In 1890 he traded his land to Goodnight for a pair of young buffalo and attempted to tame them but with little success.
1897/1898 Buffalo Jones showed up to buy a couple calves to train to a sled for exhibition
Goodnight established his own ranch near the JA.
The timely formation of Goodnight’s herd and the formation of four other private herds, along with government protection of a wild herd at Yellowstone National Park, saved the species from extinction. Those few herds provided the founding stock that produced nearly all plains bison in existence today.
Goodnight donated to several early bison conservation efforts, such as those at Yellowstone, the National Bison Range and Canada’s national parks. He sold animals to numerous other parks, private individuals and zoos, including “Buffalo Bill” Cody and the New York Zoological Park, which was instrumental in establishing the first U.S. bison preserves.
Most U.S. herds have been mixed and moved, but Goodnight’s has stayed on its original range.
1902: Bison restoration begins in Yellowstone National Park with sources from Colonel Goodnight in Texas and the Pablo-Allard ranch in western Montana. There were 700 bison in private herds. The Yellowstone herd was estimated at 23 animals.
Comanche Indians in Palo Duro Canyon photograph taken 1890’s on JA Ranch. Buffalo hunt with Teddy Roosevelt, Charles Goodnight, Chief Quanah Parker, and Big Tree Lone Wolf Sr.Hunt was staged for Edison film crew.
Wood County Reporter – LOC
Grand Rapids, Michigan May 31, 1900
LAST OF THE BISON
(extract full article in 1900)
Down in the panhandle of Texas there are about 100 boys and girls who are getting an education at a college supported by buffaloes. Fourteen years ago Charles Goodnight, a Texas ranchman, at the request of his wife, caught three buffalo calves from which they have raised the largest herd of buffaloes now in this country. As the herd increased in size Mrs. Goodnight sold some of the animals to zoological gardens, and with the money she started a little college for the children of other ranch people who were without schools or the means of education.
The Goodnights are great friends of “Buffalo” Jones of Kansas, a famous hunter who had a herd in the northwest which he took to Texas and went into partnership in the Goodnight ranch. Mr. and Mrs. Goodnight are growing old. They have never had any children of their own, but they have learned to love their buffaloes almost as much as if the animals were children, and they do not wish the herd to become scattered and left to die after they themselves are dead, so they have asked the government to give them a lease of a big tract of wild land in New Mexico where buffaloes can be raised and preserved, they agreeing to supply animals for national parks to pay some of the profits to the Goodnight college, and at the end of twenty years to give their whole herd to the government, “Buffalo” Jones, their partner, is now in Washington trying to get congress to accept the offer.
1901 Ladies Home Journal
The herds of buffaloes and elks owned by Mrs. Mary A. Goodnight, of Goodnight, Texas, besides being one of the most interestings sights to later-day tourist in the Southwest, is the only herd in the world owned wholly by a woman. The animals have the run of the ‘park,’ a tract containing two square miles of land, which offers abundant pasture, except in the winter season when the herds assemble at a common feeding place where fodder is supplied them.
The Buffalo herd, now numbering about one hundred head- several animals have been sold to owners of private parks and to zoological gardens – had its origin in June, 1879, when Colonel Charles Goodnight, ” The Father of the Panhandle of Texas, ” “roped” two buffalo calves and gave them to his wife. She was much interested in the little waifs of the plain, was greatly delighted at the alacrity with which they learned to drink milk, and surprised at their appetites, which seemed to be insatiable, one of her pets taking as much as three gallons daily. Under such care they grew rapidly, but the one with the voracious thirst for milk acquired the knack of breaking down fences with great dexterity and committing other and similar depredations, and he was turned into beef – nearly a ton of it. But there were two or three calves left, and visitors to Goodnight Ranch shared their owners admiration for the pretty, odd-looking baby bisons, and as it was becoming apparent that the buffalo would soon become extinct unless steps were taken to prevent the extermination, Mrs. Goodnight determined to collect a herd and protect them from the hunter.
Two years later a neighbor ranchman captured two full-grown buffaloes and presented them to Mrs. Goodnight. Three calves were also added to her little group- the present of a brother. From that time on the herd had grown and multiplied. Of the one hundred head more than half are pure bred, the remainder being “cataloes,” as a cross between a buffalo and a Galloway cow is called. The cataloes have the same hump as the buffaloes, and shaggy hair, but their color varies from jet black to light brown, and they are most readily distinguished from the pure bred by their horns, which are longer. The cataloes are also much more tractable, and can soon be taught to eat out of one’s hand. One brindle catalo, which was named “Sister,” was found with a herd of cows, and is very gentle. But the full-blood buffaloes of the Goodnight herd, at least – never repose full confidence in man. Big and powerful as they are they are timid and run away at the slightest alarm, although they have taken food from their owners hand from the opposite side if the fence; nor will they attack unless wounded or driven into close quarters. Even with this reputation for timidity Mrs. Goodnight does not regard the pure-bred buffaloes as trustworthy, and does not consider is safe to go among them on foot.
“We have about fifteen elks, ” Mrs. Goodnight explains in talking of the herds, of which she naturally is quite proud, ” and have had them about ten years. We started with one, and in a year bought three more. We have deer and antelopes, and did have wolves, taming the later with idea that we might employ them to decoy their wild brethren within gunshot: but the domesticated ones became such a nuisance that we killed them. Like the elks, the deer do not thrive well, and the antelopes generally die before they are a year old. Captivity is fatal to them. I have never known one to be domesticated.”
In the great park each animal herds with its kind. Even the pure-blood buffalo looks with a royal contempt upon his plebeian half brother, the catalo, and the two keep wide apart in separate and distant groups.
To see the herd of buffaloes assembling at their accustomed drinking place in the morning is to have an experience that is met with in very few places in the country. From every section they come, the old bulls hulking along like so many elephants, stopping now and again to paw up the earth and wallow, or to bellow defiance at some rival in the herd. Such a sight arouses much interest on the part of the “tenderfoot,” but to the old settler it only feebly suggests the past, when buffaloes literally swarmed over the plains – by tens and tens of thousands.
Fort Wayne Sentinel July 15, 1902
The Billings Gazette
Billings, Montana Jan 22, 1907
NEW HYBRID IS VALUABLE
CATALO ALMOST AN IDEAL BEEF ANIMAL
HAS AN EXTRA RIB
In Addition to Supplying Superior Meat, Robe Resulting From Cross Is Much Finer and Better Than That of the Buffalo.
From Saturday’s Daily. Canyon City, Texas, special:
Charles Goodnight, a noted cattleman of the Panhandle of Texas, proposes, if the consent of the ‘Texas state government and financial aid of congress be given, to form an association for the establishment in Palo Duro canyon, near Canyon City, of a preserve for buffalo and other wild animals native to the southwest, and also of a ranch for the propagation of a breed of beef animal which he has named “catalo,” the same being a cross of the buffalo and the thoroughbred domestic beef animal.
The canyon is a chasm in Palo Duro creek, one of the headwaters of Red river, and is about 50 miles long by five to 10 wide. It begins with a series of precipices, by which it falls about 200 feet and thence by sharp declivities until its greatest depth is 1,200 or 1,500 feet. Through the entire distance the little stream traverses a narrow valley, and all the way on both sides the walls are almost perpendicular.
The valley is fertile land and is covered with a growth of large forest trees, which, wherever it is possible for them to take root, even climb the rocky bluffs. These trees are the pecan, the elm, the hackberry, the walnut, the sycamore, the cottonwood and the cedar. The cedar attains an enormous growth and is claimed by scientific men who have visited the canyon to be the same as the cedar of Lebanon of scriptural fame. The trees of the canyon and the bases of the bluffs which confine it are covered with wild grapevine, poison ivy, Virginia creeper and other climbing vegetation. Beneath it all, the creek meanders, sometimes flowing peacefully, but more often brawling its way over rocky precipices.
In the bluffs nature has mare caves where bear, wolves, wildcat and panther live, and in crevices smaller fur animals make their homes. In the depths of the forest deer and antelope abound. In the trees song birds build their nests, and high up in crags of the bluffs eagles have their eyries. In the deeper waters of the creek game fish abound, beaver build their dams and muskrats burrow in the yielding soil. It is nature’s retreat for the wild, and to save the native wild animals from extinction Mr. Goodnight is willing to head a movement to collect them in pairs or herds and place them in the canyon for future preservation.
If the two governments will do their part Mr. Goodnight offers to give outright to the association a herd of more than a hundred buffalo which he has preserved on his ranch. This is the only herd of the American bison in the southwest, where it formerly found winter pasture in herds of countless thousands, and Mr. Goodnight thinks it ought to be preserved by government here on its native heath. Mr. Goodnight would corral the buffalo and the catalo on the prairie adjacent to the rim of the canyon. The other animals he would confine in separate corrals in the depths of the canyon.
He chooses the prairie for the buffalo and for the cross-breed because the native grasses of the plain are nature’s food for these animals. They will eat other food, but they prefer the native pasture, and in no other part of America are these grasses so nutritious as here in the midst of the Staked plain, or El Llano Estacado, as the early Spanish adventurers named it three centuries and a half ago. The land is not public domain but enough, including the canyon, may be purchased for the use Mr. Goodnight proposes. Indeed, many large holders have offered for a nominal price to convey to the proposed association lands which they own in the canyon and bordering it.
Must Be Done at Early Day.
The transfers must be done soon however, for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, by its main line and a branch from Canyon City, is daily carrying a great immigration into the fertile and cheap lands of this country, and values are sure to advance; and so Mr. Goodnight and his associates naturally are desirous, of pressing negotiations to an early conclusion. For El Llano Estacado, once feared and shunned by travelers of the plain, has become, by the, discovery of shallow water, by increased annual rainfall, and by scientific farming, a land of cotton, of fruit, of garden, of wheat, of corn, and of alfalfa, and other forage crops, unsurpassed by any other region in the great west. It especially is the domain of beef, as nature intended it to be when it made it the pasture of the buffalo and population is crowding in to continue the work of nature, only substituting for the buffalo the Herford, the Shorthorn and the Polled Angus. It marks the end of vast ranges, cut it means many cattle growers instead of few, and more cattle and better beef.
The most interesting part, of Mr. Goodnight’s scheme is the propagation of his cross-breed, the “catalo.’” It is no doubtful experiment that he seeks to unload upon the government, but a certain and assured fact. The cross, by years of breeding, is a success, and Mr. Goodnight, who is an honorable man of wide reputation, gives his word that it is a better beef animal than the best known domestic strains have yet produced. The domestic animal is a better show animal and will take the premiums; but Mr. Goodnight declares that his “catalo” will make better beef and more of it. Mr. Goodnight does not claim that his cross-breed, has reached perfection yet, but he says that even now it is better beef than the domestic. The cross mixture, he says, is too much is its infancy yet for any one to foretell the ultimate result, but he has gone far enough to know that buffalo blood can be introduced into common cattle, and, properly mixed, it will make a great difference in the value of beef cattle. So far as he can see now, it is a matter only of patience and money to obtain any strain one may choose; that is, to get any proportion of buffalo blood into domestic cattle that may prove to be the best.
Mr. Goodnight established his buffalo herd in 1878. Indians and whites alike were killing off the migratory herds, and he conceived the idea of saving some for preservation and future propagation. So he caught a few young ones, which were the beginning of the herd he now is willing to place in a national preserve. Four years afterward the idea of crossbreeding the buffalo with the domestic animal occurred to him, and now he has a herd of that strain also. Mr. Goodnight is not willing to give the public his process of cross-breeding not until the government will consent to take up the work. However, he makes no secret of the character of animal he has produced.
How to Provide More Sirloin
He crosses the buffalo with the Polled Angus, and by certain and proved processes he has made a larger animal than the domestic and better beef. The buffalo has 14 ribs instead of the 13 of the domestic, and it has been only a matter of perseverance for Mr. Goodnight to perpetuate the extra rib in the catalo. This gives length of sirloin and back to the new animal, thereby adding 200 or more pounds to the most valuable meat.
He also has preserved in the cross the hardihood and the instincts of the buffalo. The mixed bloods, as the buffalo, do not eat the poisonous loco weed; they do not run from heel flies and thereby take off fat; they are immune from blackleg and all other diseases of domestic cattle; they never lie with their backs downhill they keep their heads to storms and do not drift; they do not kill out the range, and more of them graze on a given quantity of pasture; they put on more flesh to the quantity of fool consumed; their digestion is better than any other domestic animal, they have a greater windpipe and stronger lung power; their intestines and stomach are very small and their flesh thick.
It is Mr. Goodnight’s observation that the buffalo have more intelligence than other animals, and this the catalo inherit. They also have a better memory, and thereby they never wander from home ranges. Their brain is protected better, having a double skull and a muscular formation between. The mixed bloods are more easily handled than the original domestic animal; and they rarely ever fight and do not want to run. They take life easy, and their longevity is 25 per cent greater than the domestic. When they rise from the ground they get up fore feet first, and they have more strength in sickness to get up than other animals, they never venture into mires. They will eat waste that other cattle refuse. They are animals. They use little water, and they never muddy the pond. They are fond of salt, but they do not gorge themselves with it.
Since the buffalo never have been used for beasts of burden, the collular tissues of their fat is characteristic of all wild cattle and this the catalo inherit. For instance, the meat is better marbled than the best domestic breeds; there are no muscular streaks of lean and fat, and while they carry plenty of flesh, their tallow is less by 100 pounds than that of the domestic. The hump of the buffalo contains a nutrient from which in times of hunger or thirst the system draws sustenance, and thereby they can take more steps and go longer than any other cattle without suffering. The average natural life of the buffalo is at least 40 years. Mr. Goodnight has on his ranch a buffalo cow 27 years old.
C. J. Jones of Kansas, better known as “Buffalo” Jones, has an experimental catalo farm of similar character it the Grand canyon in Arizona. Mr. Jones has been working on this cross breed the past 15 years. He finds greater value in the quality of the robe.
Collecting and propagating this herd of buffalo and breeding the catalo have cost Mr. Goodnight much time, patience and money, and although it has been and still is a labor of love for him, he is willing for the government to take the work over. For he now is 70 or more years old, past the age of active usefulness, and since he has nobody to hand it down to, he wants to make sure that what he has so well undertaken will not be suspended or abandoned. He believes in the catalo he has made a beef animal superior to any other breed, and that the next generation will even improve upon it. President Roosevelt, it is said, has signified a willingness to recommend the project to congress, if Texas will cede jurisdiction of the canyon.
Cattalo herd by Erwin E Smith Amon Carter Museum
Goodnight herd by Harold Baynes of ABS 1908 PIC
A herd of “cattalo”, a breed of animals resulting from crossing the American buffalo with cattle, an experiment conducted by Colonel Goodnight on the plains of Texas. Goodnight Ranch, Texas, 1908
Mr. and Mrs. Goodnight readily consented to give a pair of yearling buffaloes for the Montana Range, and a little later Mr. Goodnight formally presented the animals in the following letter:
Goodnight, Texas, November 25, 1908.
Mr. Ernest Harold Baynes,
Meriden, N. H.
My dear sir and friend :
This is to assure you that any time during March and April, not later than May 1st, we will load you free for your National Park in Montana, and to go to no other preserve, one pair of choice buffalo yearlings, one bull and one heifer.
Ed Harrell driving a team of Goodnight buffalo.
The the Goodnights have plenty of healthy sentiment, this herd has not been perpetuated for sentimental reasons only. Charles Goodnight is a practical ranchman, and he has treated the buffaloes as he has treated his cattle and sheep and hogs,—as a business proposition,—as a source of revenue. He has sold many buffaloes at splendid prices, and after a life-time’s experience, he earnestly maintains that the buffalo is the most profitable farm animal in America today. So far he has made no use of buffalo wool, but on learning of the Secretary’s experiments with this material, he said that this spring he would shear a number of the animals and send the wool to be woven into cloth.
The Goodnight buffaloes and cattaloes roam over a range of about three thousand acres, half prairie and half broken country, the latter partly grown over with scrub trees and bushes. Natural springs supply the water, which is piped into iron tanks and into natural hollows in the ground. At the time of the Secretary’s visit, the animals were in splendid condition, except that in some cases the heel fly had bothered them so that they had licked off the hair in some places. Twenty buffalo calves were born in this herd in 1908.
Ernest Harold Baynes – Secretary American Bison Society
Goodnight Buffalo Ranch Postcard 1909
1915 – Charles Goodnight sold the famous Reynolds Hereford Ranch 5 head of buffalo, 4 cows and one bull. They grew that little herd to over 200 head by the 1950’s and put on buffalo hunts supervised by the Game and Fish commission.
The Washington Post, October 22, 1916
HUNTED BUFFALO AS IN THE OLD DAYS
Indians on a Texas Ranch Used Bow and Spear
……For a brief interval time turned backward a good 50 years at the big Goodnight ranch in the Texas Panhandle a few days ago, says the Kansas City Star. Once again rang out the triumphant whoop of the Indian as he prodded his cayuse in pursuit of a buffalo: again a flint barbed arrow whistled through the air and sank deep into the flesh of the fleeing animal. And the successful hunter raised his bow high in the air-the olden signal to the women of the camp that the slain game awaited their preparation for the feast.
……It was like the brief cut-in of a moving picture film, for scarcely had the buffalo lurched forward in its death agony before the click of cameras, the honk of motor horns and the put-put of motorcycles sounded. The year 1916 had come back into its own.
……This momentary show of what was once the common life of the plains was staged by Col. Charles Goodnight, owner of the ranch and widely known as a stockman. He planned to reproduce a buffalo hunt as nearly as possible like those before the white man’s rule of the plains began. One of his requirements was that the animal should be shot with bow and arrow. And there the colonel met trouble. He discovered that few of the redskins of the present day could handle a bow. Finally, he found four among the Kiowas who were familiar with the old-time Indian weapons.
George Hunt, the son of a chief, but who prefers to be known as the United States district farmer for the Kiowa agency, was one. The others were Horse, Kiowa George and Luther Sahmont, all well past the half-century mark. Despite their age all can ride a horse in the easy fashion of the plains Indian. All, too, can remember the days when the Indians roamed the plains in untrammeled freedom and when the buffalo afforded a daily part of the menu of the camps.
The Goodnight ranch lies in what was once the Kiowa country, but from which the tribe has long been exiled. Hill and arroyo alike were familiar to the four hunters, who were given an opportunity to live over the days long gone.
Horse Fired Fatal Arrow.
……The news of the hunt had spread far, in the little town of Goodnight was well crowded with visitors on the day set for it. Covered wagons jostled touring car, and spurred and booted cowboy rode alongside sputtering motorcycle. The whole Panhandle country seem to have taken a day off. In an arena half a mile square was formed, bordered on three sides by motor cars packed as closely together as they could stand.
……Into this inclosure was led the doomed buffalo. It was a six-year-old cow, one of the herd of 250 on the Goodnight ranch. It was a pugnacious animal, as the Indians had found when they helped to corral it the day before. As a precautionary measure, lest the animal should get away from the hunters, a man with a loaded high-power rifle road with the Indians.
At a given signal the redskins rode into the arena. His long hair streamed down the shoulders of the oldest of the hunters; the others had to recently patronize the white man’s barber. They wore nearly the garb of the old, free days as convention would permit. There were no saddles on their ponies.
……Led by Horse, they road in triangular formation toward the buffalo. As they approached, almost simultaneously, they drew back their bows and discharged the arrows. One Pierce the buffaloes body, driving almost entirely through it. The cows stumbled upon its knees, sought vainly to arise, then toppled over, dying. It was generally conceded the death-dealing arrow was shot by Horse, oldest of the hunters.
Frontier Days Recalled.
After the killing, a reception was held by Col. And Mrs. Goodnight, and many were the stories of frontier days were told.
The buffalo was dressed and it’s meat served at a big feast. More than 100 guest were present at the dinner.
Col. Goodnight settled in the Panhandle country in 1876, he and his partner taking up half a million acres of land. In 1880, noting the rapid extinction of the buffalo, Col. Goodnight determined to save a few of the specimens. He captured three animals then, and his herd has slowly increased till it now numbers 250.
He has succeeded in crossing the buffalo with ordinary cattle and has a herd of what he terms cattalo, which he greatly prizes.
The Wellington Daily News, Oct 26 1916
……On his ranch near Goodnight, a rail way station in northwestern Texas, Charles Goodnight has 148 buffalo and 35 cattalo, the latter being a cross between the wild buffalo and the domestic Poll-Angus cattle. It was upon the suggestion of Mrs. Goodnight that Colonel Goodnight began to save a stock of the original buffalo. This was in 1878. The race of bison had begun to lessen, by the murderous slaughter which the government permitted, and it occurred to Mrs. Goodnight that a herd of them should be saved for the benefit of science. Accordingly, Colonel Goodnight, thinking well of the idea, captured one male and three heifer calves, and from this stock sprang an important station for breeding wild buffalo and the cross of the wild and domestic. From this stock, he has sold $20,000 worth of the wild buffalo to national, municipal and private parks.
……Colonel Goodnight, now quite an old man, is much gratified by the results of his experiment. Recently he said: “I have been able to produce in the breed the extra rib of the buffalo, making fourteen on each side, while ordinary cattle have only thirteen ribs on each side. They make a larger and hardier animal, require less feed, and longer lived, and will cut a greater percent of net meat than any breed of cattle. No one knows how long a buffalo will live. I have had a buffalo cow more than twenty-eight years old which produced a calf. The cattaloes are a decided success. They will carry their young and make beef at any season of the year. They do well in the extreme south, or far north, and I believe it will only be a matter of time until they will be used on all the western ranges.”
……The buffalo, and the cattalo as well never drifts with a storm, and, knowing the road home, goes there in the face of the worst blizzard. The buffalo has better manners than the domestic animal. For example, the buffalo does not muddy the water of a pool or stream when it drinks, stepping up to the edge of the water only, and never stepping in. Buffalo and domestic cattle will not mix in the same herd or be at all neighborly unless grown up together from calfhood.
Published in 1918 by ABS – Charles Goodnight submitted test to the Government
BUFFALO WOOL BLANKET
COL. CHARLES GOODNIGHT, of Goodnight, Texas, one of the best-known breeders of buffalo and catalo in the United States, had collected from time to time a quantity of buffalo wool which he reported of fine quality, but rather a short staple. This wool was sent to the Reed City Woolen Mills of Reed City, Mich., and they reported that the wool was very fine and fluffy and somewhat difficult to handle, but this was readily overcome by mixing in a small amount of Karakule wool which did not affect the color and put just enough fibre in it to hold it up for spinning.
The cloth woven from this yarn has a fine appearance, and the strong quality of the wool makes it very desirable. Several blankets were woven for Col. Goodnight, and one was presented to the President of the Bison Society. As far as known, these are the only blankets of this character in existence. They are seven feet long and six feet wide and weigh 4 lbs., 5 oz. It is claimed that there is more warmth in buffalo wool than any other kind, and certainly soldiers stationed at the frontier forts, and anyone who has lived in the northern climate and used buffalo overcoats, know that no other fur so successfully withstood the rigors of winter, and it is claimed, the early settlers affirm, that one buffalo robe was warmer than four ordinary woolen blankets.
The wool used was that shed by the animals in the springtime covering a period of several years. The question of how to obtain the wool from the living buffalo has not been clearly solved. It has been suggested by some that the buffalo be sheared the same as sheep, but this method does not seem very practical owing to the great strength and fighting ability of the animal. Col. Goodnight is of the opinion that the best and safest method would be to run the buffalo in an ordinary cattle squeezer, the same as used for branding cattle. In this the buffalo would be held securely without danger to itself or anyone else, and the loose hair could be pulled off or a portion of it sheared. There are many pounds of this valuable wool going to waste every year, and there is no question but what, if it could be collected and made into blankets or into cloth, these would command very fancy prices and would make appropriate gifts.
1921 West Texas A & M The buffalo was selected as mascot and on May 25 1921 after a spirited campus contest.
On November 16 1921, a pair of buffalo yearlings were purchased and placed in a corral on the campus. The mascots were named Charles and Mary Ann in honor of their former owners. Col. and Mrs Charles Goodnight.
1923 the Goodnight ranch was sold to J.I. Straley, an oilman from Wichita Falls. Straley was in partnership with his sisters husband.
The Ottawa Herald
Ottawa, Kansas Feb. 2 1923
COUSIN OF BUFFALO.
Cross Between Cattle and ‘Buffalo Called Vernier.
Fort Worth, Feb. 2. The first cousin of the buffalo has appeared the Texas range. He’ll be on known to the, livestock world as Vernier and he’s a second cross of the cattle and the buffalo something once considered impossible.
The first Vernier seen at the Fort Worth stockyards and the packing houses came from the ranch of J. B. Slaughter in Garza county. The buffalo bulls came from the famous Goodnight buffalo herd in the Panhandle, and the cattle from the Slaughter ranches. The first cross were the cattle which are more or less common in certain cattle raising districts. The second cross have been termed ‘ “Vernier”. This is a new name in the history of breeding.
The Kinmundy Express
Kinmundy, Illinois Feb 22, 1923
O.B. Jackson and Fyke Rotan Kill a Buffalo
A wild and wooly bison is to be the principal meat on which Shiners and their families of Northwest Texas, Oklahoma and Eastern New Mexico feast on Wednesday night, February 21st. She will ride into Plainview next Saturday morning, coming here from her native heath, the Goodnight ranch in Oklahoma (Texas) and will be slaughtered by the appointed chefs of Tahmineh Shrine Club of this city for their big jubilee and banquet. So saith Judge E Graham, president of the club.
The judge said that he is expecting 200 shiners to be here on that occasion. The auditorium will be used for the banquet during the course of which stunts and speeches will be uncorked. All shiners in the district mentioned above have been invited here to partake of the feats.
Saturday night the buffalo will be taken to Jackson’s Packing house in the outskirts of this city, butchered and placed on cold storage to await consumption. Ovens of the City Bakery will be used to cook the meat.
“It is probable,“ Judge Graham said, “that Col. Goodnight, from whom the buffalo was purchased will be present at the jubilee. He has been invited and practically accepted.”
‘It’s going to be the biggest thing of its kind ever pulled off in Plainview,” Judge Graham declares.
The Amarillo Globe June 18, 1924
LARGEST HERD OF BUFFALO IN COUNTRY PRESERVED ON THE GOODNIGHT RANCH
Probably the largest herd of buffalo left in the United States is to be found on the Goodnight ranch, southwest of Amarillo, in Armstrong county. On a section of this large ranch that remains as wild as when it was taken up by Col. Charles L. Goodnight, the buffalo feed on the native grasses and take shelter when the freezing winds of winter blow in the canyons that branch out from the great Palo Duro canyon. The herd is Down to something fewer than 200, the increase being sold off or butchered for meat and hides. This year surplus of buffalo calves was purchased by that Burnett ranch interest of Iowa Park. (In 1932, “Hugh Exum, manager of the ranch (6666 Ranch) , told me he was posting the place,” Cardwell said. “He has five buffalo he got from the Goodnight ranch and he is going to see what he can do.’ Tom L Burnett died in 1938 and the last 14 head of his buffalo were sold to two ranchers of the same area who planned to use them for stock purposes in May of 1936. Two of them will be exhibited at the centennial exposition in Dallas)
The famous Goodnight ranch, established in 1876 by the present owner, is part of the “JA” ranch in which Col. Adair of England was a partner, and constitutes one of the largest ranches left in the Panhandle country. Since the death of both Col. and Mrs. Adair, their interest in the ranch is owned by Sen. Wadsworth of New York.
To Mrs. Goodnight belongs the owner of the first suggesting the idea of preserving a herd of these great animals that once roamed in immense herds over the section. At her suggestion, a number of buffalo calves were roped and brought into the corrals. Later these were added until a herd was established.
Col. Goodnight Eighty-Nine
Colonel Goodnight celebrated his eighty-ninth birthday in March and is still remarkably active and hearty. In his early days in the Panhandle, he was compelled to cope with the Indians, chiefly with the wild and lawless bands of marauders, who were bent on revenge in themselves on the white man for his ruthless slaughter of the wild buffalo.
Colonel Goodnight’s own account of his early experience with buffalo is extremely interesting.
“In 1845, when I first came to Texas, I came in contact with buffalo on the Trinity river, where the city of Dallas now stands,” he said. “From there to the Brozos and even to the Colorado rivers were many small herds and bunches of buffalo. The largest herds were seen on the northwest prairies. The herds first mentioned soon disappeared with the settlement of the country. About 1854, the buffalo began making their parents along the Western boundary of what is known as “Western Cross Timbers” in the prairie country. These so-called “cross timbers” commence and western Kansas and extend in a southwestern direction to the Rio Grande. The Kyowa and Comanche Indians claimed that the buffalo occupied this country between the timbers in this Stake Plains as far back as they have record.
“The depredations of these Indians commenced in about 1858 and led the frontiersman followed them over this hitherto unknown and unexplored territory, as far northwest as the Staked Plains, where they encountered the buffalo herds. Between 1860 and 65’ we encountered herds that were between forty and fifty miles long. These were northwest of Fort Belknap on the Brazos river. They traveled in an almost solid body. During these five years I passed through such herds of buffalo each year. Sometimes they would average 100 miles in length and about twenty-five miles wide. They were about as thick as they could conveniently graze and there would be not a sphere of grass left behind them. Those two old people to keep up with the herd were left behind. The herds Their course from the northwest to the southeast, as far as the Colorado river. At the starting of grass they turned north.
Thousands Starve to Death
“In 1867 I was coming in on the Goodnight trail from New Mexico at a time when there had been a drought. I struck the Colorado river about the first of June and there was no fresh grass to speak of, but the buffalo were slowly drifting north. They had died in such large numbers from starvation and the of flies that what was known as the ‘screw fly’ had hatched in the carcasses in such swarms that he it was impossible to eat a meal in the day time. That buffalo carcasses were innumerable along this route.
“Wild buffalo seem to be intelligent enough in some ways, and others they do not show the least ‘sense.’ They had a habit of going into rivers wherever they could get in, going down steep bluffs where they could easily go around in swimming against high banks, trying to get out where it was impossible when a landing was convenient and near; trampoline and drowning each other in these ways by hundreds. This did not happen in Texas where rivers are usually broad and shallow, but it often happened in the Arkansas and other rivers.” There is some question as to whether two different herds should not be called the “northern bison” in southern Buffalo.” While there is no doubt that they are the same species, there is enough difference in the two for any judge who is familiar with their peculiarities to tell them apart at once. I positively know that the southern herd, the ‘buffalo’ never went as far north as the Arkansas river, though they went as far as the Wichita mountains. I know also that the northern herd, or ‘bison’ came as far south as the Wichita mountains and then turned and drifted back. When this herd came to the Arkansas river with the order of the River frozen and a strong current in the middle, many thousands drowned, being unable to raise themselves on the ice. The Army officers who lived in this section in those days could verify the statement.
Hunting Period Began in 1870
“The historic buffalo hunting period did not begin until about 1870, after the Kansas Pacific railroad was built. The first hunters at that time were working on the northern herds. I have been on the road when the train would have to stop fifteen or twenty minutes for the buffalo herd to cross, because when the buffalo once started in a great herd or body, nothing, even in a stream of cars, could stop them.
“Bands of hunters commenced on the southern herds in 1870 and had them about wound up by 1878. From the trading post where ammunition was bought, it was estimated that the buffalo hunters numbered about 3,000 men. They went in parties, certain of them doing the shooting and others the skinning. They left great piles of strict carcasses lying about on the prairies. I have talked with sharpshooters who claim to have killed over 100 in one day. In riding out, I would hardly ever be out of sound of buffalo guns from sun up to sun down.
“I laid off the Goodnight trail in 1888, striking the Pecos river at Horsehead crossing and following it to Fort Sumner, a distance of about 400 miles. The Pecos country was the most desolate that I had ever explored at that time. The river was full of fish, there was scarcely a living thing to be seen, not even wolves or birds. On one trip I did see one wolf; he seemed to be unconscious of the advent of man and unafraid. I saw nothing for him to live for and thought it would be a mercy to shoot him, and did so.”
Goodnight died in 1929, and he wanted the state to take over his ranch and bison herd.
Goodnight lost everything in a bad business deal. He sold his ranch a few years before he died and the buyer said he could stay and live out his days on the ranch. He bought a home in Az to stay during the winter months. Charles Goodnight died in Az at his winter home, with his new wife (Corrine) by his side.
When Col. Charles Goodnight died in Tucson, Arizona, on December 12, 1929, at the age of 93 years, it not only marked the passing of one of the most interesting figures of the Old West but it also seemed likely to spell the doom of the largest herd of buffalo in the United States more than 200 in number but only a pitiful remnant of the millions which had once roamed the Great Plains. for the famous Goodnight herd of buffalo in Texas had passed into other hands and there were sensational rumors afloat that the new owners (Straley)were planning “a big-game hunt” where Eastern sportsmen ( upon payment of a big fee) would be allowed to enjoy the thrills of an old-time buffalo chase.
The American Bison Society recorded this herd in 1929 as having 208 head, it was listed as Charles Goodnight-J.I. Staley
1930 May 23 Denton Record
Gift to College
J.I. Staley and his sister, Mrs. Fleet Staley Wynne, both of Wichita Falls, have presented a buffalo head to the college which came from the Goodnight ranch near Amarillo. Mrs. Wynne is a former student of C.I.A.
The Indian Journal
Eufaula, Oklahoma Mar 19 1931
EXTERMINATION OF THE WILD BUFFALOES
As Told to ANNIE DYER NUNN By CHARLES GOODNIGHT
(Copyright 1931, by the Home Color Print Co.)
CHARLES GOODNIGHT and in one of the first pioneers in the Panhandle, was known as a breeder of buffaloes and cattaloes. The cattalo is a cross-breed between buffalo and native cattle. His old ranch near Clarendon, Texas, where Col. Goodnight lived for half a century and where he established his buffalo herd, still flourishes and is known far and wide as a breeding ground for the native buffalo. Colonel Goodnight died December, 1929.
His knowledge of the buffalo and its native habitat dates back to the year 1845 when, as a child, he saw buffalo grazing west of the Cross Timbers in Central Texas. He knew them in the 60s when their numbers had increased to over two millions. He knew them in the 70s – those years that marked their passing – when hunters killed them by the thousands for either of their sport or for the hides, which sold in the open market from 10 cents to one dollar each.
“When you were in the buffalo country,” related Colonel Goodnight, “you were in it, that’s all. Buffaloes meant buffaloes by the hundreds of thousands. The prairies were literally thick with them. In all directions, as far as the eye could reach, there was a sea of these moving animals. They ranged, for the most part, in groups and as close together as they could conveniently graze. They migrated from necessity only. I have known small herds to haunt some particular region for years, but the main herd, due to scarcity of grass or water at certain seasons of the year, had to move or die.
The ‘Southern’ and ‘Northern’ Herds
“There were two main herds in the United States – the southern and the northern,” said Mr. Goodnight. “The southern heard ranged south of the Arkansas River, through a portion of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas; the northern herd stayed north of this river, in Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and Dakota.
“While the Civil War was in progress I was with Norris’ Regiment of Texas Rangers, fighting Indians on the frontier, and during that time I was in close contact with the southern herd. After the war, as a drover, trailing cattle from Central Texas into New Mexico and Colorado, I was still in the heart of the buffalo country – for the next ten years, in fact, which was as long as the southern heard continued to exist.
“The herd would come in the southern Texas for the winter, returning northwest into New Mexico and Kansas when grass started; but not until it did start. I had good reason to remember this peculiarity, as a result of an experience I had on the trail when, in 1867, I was returning home from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where I had gone to deliver 3,000 head of steers.
“Although it was the latter part of June and grass, owing to a drouth, barely up, the buffalo were still on their winter ground. Incredible numbers had died from starvation, and everywhere I looked I saw hundreds of carcasses rotting in the sun. The odor was fearful and the air black with flies. For two days and two nights my course led me through this belt of dead buffalo and desolation.
Killing for Commercial Purposes
“In the United States buffalo hunting for commercial purposes had been going on more or less since 1830, but in 1868 it began in deadly earnest. By this time wholesale destination from every conceivable quarter descended upon the buffalo. They were slaughtered for meat by settlers and by Indians in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska; by professional hunters employed to supply me to military forts and railroad construction companies; by “sportsmen” who killed merely because they could kill.
“The performance of the sportsmen was to me one of the most distressing features of buffalo extermination. The majority killed needlessly and with ruthless abandon. I have seen passengers on a train, which had been held up by a herd that was slowly crossing the track, shoot buffalo for hours at a time. Hundreds were slaughtered in this way, while others were wounded and left to a lingering death. For years the most conspicuous objects along western railroads were bleaching bones of these defenseless creatures that had furnished “sport” for passengers.
“There are stories of want slaying of buffalo by Indians, but I know this did not occur in the southern herd. The Indians killed what they could use and no more. They were maddened beyond measure by the wholesale slaughter of buffalo that was being waged all around them. It was the main cause of the Adobe Walls battle which occurred in Texas in 1874 between Indians and buffalo hunters. Buffalo meant everything to the Indians – food the year round, hides for tepees, roads to cover their bodies, etc.
Hide Hunters by the Thousands
“With the completion of the Pacific and the Kansas Pacific railroads in 1868 and 70’, buffalo hide hunters poured into the country by thousands. They made military forts their basis of supply and their ammunition centers. There were some good men among the hide hunters but, generally speaking they were a hard lot.
“At one time it was estimated there were 3,000 buffalo hunters in the Panhandle of Texas. From sunup until sundown their guns boomed death and destruction. Seasoned frontiersman though I was, I could never become inured to these scenes of brutal and want butchery. The buffalo had to go, of course, but there was no excuse for the hurry, waste and savagery that attended their extermination.
”Sharpshooters were employed mainly. The hunters moved in companies of four to fifteen men whose work was systematize – some did the shooting, some the skinning, some the gathering of hides. I have talked with hunters who claim to have killed as many as one hundred buffalo in a day.
“Still hunting’ was the most popular method, or shooting on the run left the dead animals scattered over a wide area and increase the work of skinning. A sharpshooter would conceal himself in a thicket, behind a rock or some other place where he could not be seen by the herd, and begin operation. He would first kill the leaders of the herd, knowing that the dull-witted animals would seldom leave the spot where the leaders fell. Killing the leaders so bewildered the rest of the herd they usually milled around one spot until all were killed. Aside from the fatigue of holding a gun for hours at a time, the Hunter would experience no difficulty in continual slaughter.
Kills 1,114 Buffaloes in Six Weeks
“One Kansas Hunter killed 1,114 buffalo in six weeks. Another hunter who built a blind around a mesquite bush near where a herd was passing shot them for three consecutive days. His partners did the skinning. The outfit follow this heard from many days, separating from it only when they ran into the teeth of the Kansas blizzard.
“Fresh hides were stretched on the ground by means of small pegs, then salted and dried. For years after the Buffalo were gone cattle outfits, moving through any part of the country, had firewood in abundance from these pegs. After the hides for dried they were hauled into military forts and stacked there to await the coming of wagon trains which would carry them to railway centers for shipment. In Fort Elliott, the first of the largest settlement Panhandle, I saw 300,000 hides at one time.
“Wagon trains which called the hides constituted one of the most interesting and picturesque phases of frontier life. They brought supplies to the forts the big ranches. Low prices were made on hauling hides, since they were incidental freight; without them the wagon trains would have returned empty to the railway centers. Lee & Reynolds owned the largest wagon train out that the West. It consisted of 1000 head of mules, 1500 head of oxen and a big string of wagons.
“Thirty wagons comprised of train. There were ten drivers, each operating three wagons and six head of oxen or mules. The oxen were used only in the summertime and were called “grass trains.”
Low Prices for Buffalo Hides
“Buffalo hides in 1870 brought as much as $3.50 each, but after it was discovered that they made inferior leather the price dropped, each year, until they were bringing but seventy-five cents for cow hide and fifty cents for a bull hide. Owing to improper curing of hides there was great loss. It was estimated that every hides that the market represented from three to five dead buffalo. Some hunters received as little as ten cents apiece for hides. Later, when the art of curing hides had passed the experimental stage, there was practically no losses of this kind.
“Some of the buffalo meat was sold to border settlers and some of it shipped out of the country, but it was never handled in sufficient quantities to make this phase of buffalo hunting an industry. The meat that rotted in the wake of hunters would have fed a main people every year. No attempt was made to eat any part of the carcass but the tongue and the hump – the two choice morsels of the buffalo. The hump lay on top of the spine, just behind the neck. It had alternate layers of lean and fat, and was tender and delicious when broiled or fried. When cut out it was a strip about three feet long, ten or twelve inches wide, and four or five inches thick at its heaviest point. I never tasted anything better than a slice of hump meat about an inch thick, fried rare.
Wiped Out in Nine Years
For nine terrible years a ceaseless slaughter was waged upon the southern buffalo herd. But gradually it became no longer possible to kill without reducing numbers; at last, it was necessary to “hunt” for buffalo. The vast herd had dwindled to a few small bunches that fled into canyons. I had hoped that this remnant might be spared, but by 1878, it too disappeared, killed to the last animal. The four buffalo calves I captured that year were the only buffalo left in Texas.
“There were miles and miles of bleaching buffalo bones. Eventually these were gathered up, carted away and sold. They were made into phosphate fertilizer and into carbon, used in the refining of sugar. The price generally paid for buffalo bones was $7 to $10 a ton at the railroads.
“The merciless hunters moved northward and in Nebraska, Dakota, Wyoming and Montana the fate that had befallen the southern herd descended upon the northern. At the end of the year 1883 the buffalo were practically exterminated from these states. The last carload of hides was shipped from Dickerson, Dakota, in 1884.”
The Canyon News
Canyon, Texas Aug 13, 1931
BUFFALO BILL PASSES BOTH HOUSES AUG. 12
FIVE CANYON MEN VISITED RANCH SUNDAY.
Amendment Requires Donation of Land to Keep Buffalo Herd On.
The Legislature passed a bill authorizing the condemnation of the Goodnight buffalo herd by the State Game. Fish, and Oyster Commission, late Wednesday, after an amendment was added providing that the buffalo could be purchased only if suitable land to keep them on is donated for that purpose.
Some of the proponents of the buffalo campaign are going to work strenuously in attempt to bring about the purchase of the Goodnight ranch.
Accompanied by delegations of men from various Panhandle towns, including Amarillo, Canyon and Clarendon, the State Game, Fish, and Oyster Commission visited the Goodnight Ranch to view the buffalo herd which was announced several weeks ago would be killed in a big hunt this fall.
Members of the Commission, as well as Fred Haskett who is promoting the campaign to save the buffalo. have declared that they would not consider any proposition of preserving the buffalo unless the Goodnight Ranch was furnished as a preserve. It was said that the ranch and buffalo herd are heavily covered by a mortgage, payment of which is due soon,” Fred Wortham who made the trip to Goodnight said J I. Staley and Chester Wynne,, owners of the ranch and the buffalo, ask $20.000 for the 219 buffalo, and $126,500 for the 11,500 acres in the ranch of which less than 2,000 acres are suitable for agricultural purposes.
Those making the trip from Canyon were: Travis Shaw, Fred Wortham, J A Hill. L N George and Ray V. Davis
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake City Utah Oct 4, 1931
Bison Hunt Stirs Wrath Of Texans
Move Starts to Prevent Slaughter of Famed Ranch Herd
AMARILLO, Tex. —Pioneers of the Texas Panhandle, where millions of buffaloes once grazed, are rallying for a last stand against the invasion of “hide hunters.”
On the famous Goodnight ranch, near Clarendon, Tex., a small remnant of the once great herds has had refuge since the late Colonel Charles Goodnight, colorful character of the west, placed four calves under fence in 1878 to save them from hunters who wantonly decimated the thundering ranks.
Present managers of the historic old ranch, now owned by J. I. Staley of Wichita Falls, Tex., have announced they will open their range to sportsmen in November, inviting eastern hunters to shoot the buffalo on their native plains.
Each hunter, for a consideration would kill one buffalo and receive the animal’s hide as a trophy. The herd would produce 250 rugs, the four calves having multiplied to the number during fifty-three years under fence. There are about fifty calves.
Those opposing the slaughter say the buffalo are tame and there would be no sport in “hunting” them.
J Frank Dobie, Texas author, told the state legislature: “It would be like slaughtering milk cows in a milking pen.”
There is also the appeal that the buffalo represent a part of Texas history and should be preserved.
As the fight continues, early day cattlemen are reminded of protest they made back in the 70s, when “hide hunters” invaded the plains, slaughtered the buffalo and sold their hides.
The great herds that were once the food supply for Indian tribes were exterminated in this fashion
Hobbs, New Mexico man, Linam, buys a pair from the Goodnight herd. In Oct of 1941, he sells two head of his now six head to a Texas banker, E.M. Richards of Brady for $100.00.
In Jan 1932 Joseph I Straley sold the ranch. Information received here was that the sale was made on a $50,000 mortgage, and that the Great Southern Life Insurance Company was the biggest mortgage holder. Efforts of Panhandle people to raise funds to purchase the 11,000 acre range to be turned over to the Texas game commission as a preserve so far have failed. They had the assurance of the game commission that the buffalo herd would be bought and preserved if a suitable range was provided. A movement to save the buffaloes received nationwide attention last August when Staley announced that he would stage a hot in November, inviting Eastern hunters to come to the range and shoot the buffaloes in their native haunts he sought, in this manner to dispose of the herd and probably save his ranch.
Immediately a storm of protest against the destruction of the Goodnight buffalo herd arose among Texans in the legislature passed a bill authorizing the state game and Fish commission to purchase the buffalo provided a suitable place for keeping them could be obtained. but no appropriations was forthcoming for the project and it was not until a syndicate, headed by A. C. Nicholson of Dallas, was formed to take over the buffalo and a part of the Goodnight estate and to finance the project of maintaining herd in tact that it’s preservation was assured.
No finer monument could be erected to the memory of Col. Charles Goodnight, “the father of the Texas Panhandle, “and his wife, Mary Dyer Goodnight, then that preservation of this rearguard of the “thundering herds” of the long ago.
BIG GOODNIGHT RANCH IS SOLD TO CREDITORS
FATE OF BUFFALOS TO BE DECIDED BY PEOPLE
MUST FURNISH RANGE
STATE IS WILLING TO BUY FRONTIER BEAST
Pampa Daily News Pampa, Texas
Jan 6 1932
GOODNIGHT, Jan 6 — The famous Goodnight ranch, founded by the late: Col. Charles C. Goodnight, cattle baron of the Panhandle was sold to mortgage holders yesterday for $50,000.
The fate of the buffalo herd, started by the pioneer rancher and his wife in 1878, and the only descendants of the great herds that formally roamed the staked plains, was placed in doubt by the sale. He did not know into whose hands the management would pass, nor their attitude toward disposal of the herd. He has been in charge of the ranch and the buffaloes for years but had not talked with the former owner Joseph I. Staley, of Wichita Falls, since the purported sale yesterday.
A movement to save the buffalo’s received nationwide attention last August when Staley announced that he would stage a hunt on the buffaloes in their native haunts. He sought, in this manner, to dispose of the herd and probably save his ranch.
Such a protest went up from Panhandle citizens that legislation was enacted to prevent the hot, and authorizing the game commission to buy the herd.
At a barbecue held at the ranch headquarters near this city last September 7, Gen. John A. Hulen of Fort Worth was named chairman of a statewide committee that was in instructed to direct a campaign for funds.
Corsicana Daily Sun
Corsicana Texas Jan 8 1932
BUFFALO HERD TO BE DISPOSED SOON AT DALLAS MEETING
DALLAS, Jan. 8 –A.C. Nicholson, manager of the investment department of the Great Southern Life Insurance company, said today disposition of the herd of buffaloes on the Goodnight Ranch in the Texas Panhandle would be decided tomorrow at a meeting here of business men holding mortgages on the herd and the ranch.
The Life Insurance Company and the City National Bank of Wichita Falls hold most of the mortgages on the property which was sold Tuesday at a foreclosure sale.
The herd of 242 animals is the last remnant in Texas of the many thousands of buffaloes which formerly roamed the plains of West Texas, Col. Charles Goodnight started the herd 55 years age to prevent extinction of the animals by hide hunters. Both the ranch and the herd of buffaloes formerly were owned by Joseph I. Staley of Wichita Falls.
1933 Marlyn Groves reports 200 head of bison for the Goodnight ranch
Old Charlie Bull in West Texas 1934
“A lonesome survivor of the thundering buffalo herds! His forefathers were saved
from extinction by the wife of Texas Panhandler’s pioneer rancher,
Colonel Charles Goodnight, for whom he is named.”
“Old Charlie” “Buffalo (American Bison) Bull in West Texas” “Photo 9368 B Copyright, 1934 by McCormick Co. 4AH-1930” “Distributed by McCormick Co, Photographers, Amarillo, Texas” “Genuine Curteich – Chicago “C.T. Art-Colortone” Postcard (Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.) Original vintage color lithograph postcard, 1934 TheGalerii.com
In 1936 a stone marker was placed in the yard by the state of Texas stating: first ranch in the Texas Panhandle established in 1876 by Charles Goodnight 1836-1929 Noted Scout, Indian Fighter, Trailblazer and Rancher
The Amarillo Globe Jan 22 1937
Goodnight Buffalo Meat Furr Food PigglyWiggly
The Kerrville Times
Kerrville, Texas June 16 1938
Goodnight Ranch Bison Herd Has New Protector
Amarillo, June 14. – The famous herd of Goodnight buffalo has found a new protector.
Contract for purchasing the Goodnight ranch, including 11,500 acres of land and 170 buffalo, has been signed by Mattie Hedgecoke of Amarillo. She intends to keep the bison on the ranch.
Transfer of the property hinges gain only on approve! of the title.
About 15 years ago, several years before Colonel Goodnights’ death, the ranch was bought by J. I. Staley, Wichita Falls oil man. Short afterward it was obtained by the; Great Southern Life Insurance Company, from which Mrs. Hedge coke is purchasing it
1938 Mrs Mattie Hedgecoke bought the Goodnight Ranch. later that same year Pleasant Ranch of Claude in Palo Duro Canyon was bought from Montie Richie of the JA Ranch. Included in this was the land known as Jackson Jog. Another section, the Johnson place, was also added, bringing the total to 54,000 acres.
Most of the buffalo were sold off by the Great Southern Life Insurance Company, at a large sale held at Higgins, Texas before the Hedgecoke land purchase.
The ranch is operated as part of the Mattie Hedgecoke properties under the direction of James Andrew Hedgecoke of Amarillo.
Pampa Daily News
Pampa, Texas Nov 21 1938
150 BUFFALOES SELL FOR AROUND $40 HEAD
Hundreds of persons, many, of whom carried cameras, gathered at Higgins Saturday when 150 head of buffalo were offered for sale at the Higgins Livestock Sales pavilion.
Mosier, Hughes and Stuckey purchased the buffalo for the sale: at Higgins, bringing them in from the Goodnight ranch. The bison originated from the herd started in 1878 when the late Col Goodnight roped a number of calves from a wild herd on his ranch.
A concert by the Higgins school band, directed by Duane Fuqua, preceded the sale. The band was dress- forms.
Fred Schabau of Kiawa, Kas., was the largest Individual purchaser. He bought 52 head, including nine head of two-year-old steers at $50 each; heifer calves at $44-$48 a head; eight bulls at $36 each, and a number of cows at $34-$46 each.
George Davidson of Arnett, Okla., Okla., bought the highest priced bull calf, paying $60 for the animal.
Other buyers included A. C. Ellis, Claremore, Okla.; J. K. Rlbble, Mobeetle; J. Oblandler, Longdale, Okla.; Bob Robinson, Matador; A. M Johnson, Canadian; Ed Queen, Camargo, Okla.; L. Halstead, Fairview, Okla.; A. A. Stewart, Dumas; N. H. Foreman, Stinnett; W. R. Masters, Halstead, Kans.; John Vinaman and J. I. Steel, Spearman, and Jim Bozzell, Panhandle.
Amarillo Daily News
Amarillo, Texas Feb 20 1941
BUFFALO HERD FOR PALO DURO PARK’
Voice of Experience Heard in Debate Over Suitable Corral
What about a small herd of about 15 or 20 buffaloes for the Duro park?
The Palo Duro park was one of the natural homes of the buffaloes in the past and is ideally suited for them. They would attract thousands of people annually. A fair idea of the national reputation of the old Goodnight buffalo herd is the hundreds of people who stop at Goodnight each year, asking to see the herd which is owned by private parties and is so located as to make it inaccessible to the public. Some say the Goodnight buffalo herd is better known than the Palo Duro Canyon itself.
Leland Abbott, Amarillo business man, advanced the above suggestions and Ideas at the chamber of commerce meeting at noon Wednesday when the Palo Duro park was up for discussion. He offered to donate the price of one buffalo which would be about $30 as a starter toward a herd.
His idea and plan promptly brought knowing smiles from Kennedy Clapp, state park board member of Lubbock, and when Abbott declared they could be in with a fence on one side the walls of the Palo Duro on other Clapps smile broadened. He had other support in the audience, also, and so he suggested to Abbott that the experience of state park board with buffalo extremely unpleasant and that would be better to start: with two or three buffalo at Palo Duro.
He suggested it was almost impossible to fence, a buffalo inside anything.
Clapp told of the trouble a trio of buffalo caused at Brownwood where they never could build a fence that would hold them. Finally the buffalo were put out on island in the park there. They promptly swam from the island to the shore. The biggest trouble came, however, when. the buffaloes took to roaming the country side and owners of fine Hereford and dairy cattle called to protest against the buffalo bull’s aggressiveness about their herds. They began to get cattalo calves, half buffalo and half cattle, instead of the high class registered product. That brought the matter to a head so one day when irate stock farmer called an official of the park board and screamed over the phone that If “the board didn’t come and get its buffalo he was going to kill the blankety-blank “the park official came back In a pleading voice to say:
“Please, please shoot ’em and I’ll get you a vote of thanks doing it.”
Both Clapp and Abbott agreed the plan might be worked gradually. Abbott contended there should be a small herd and Clapp insisted that two or three were probably that many too many buffaloes. Both agreed on seeking a large herd of antelope as an attraction.
“Thousands of people would make a trip to the Palo Duro to see a part of the Goodnight buffalo herd in its old home setting,” said -Abbott. “I believe the animals could be fenced and be an asset. Surely there is some cove in the canyon with walls they couldn’t scale and surely we could build a fence, thirty feet concrete if necessary, that would hold them in that place.”
What about a small herd of buffalo for Palo Duro park? That topic was still being argued from all of its angles the last time Abbott, Clapp and several other park boosters were, seen together Wednesday. However, it came near being closed against Mr. Abbott, when someone suggested a ranch down in South Texas trying to give five buffalo to anyone who would come and take them off their hands.
“I’ll still give the price of one buffalo to start the herd,’ said Abbott.
Amarillo Daily News
Amarillo Texas Feb 22 1941
BUFFALO CAN BE KEPT IN PALO DURO PARK -(extract)
Plainsman, Who Worked With Goodnight Herd, Likes Proposal
EDITOR’S NOTE–Leland Abbott whose suggestion for a small herd of buffalo at Palo Duro Park and his offer to donate the price of one animal really started a lot of talk. H.M. Timmons, pioneer Amarillo resident, joins Abbott in his suggestions and disagrees with the position taken by Parks Commissioner Kennedy Clapp of Lubbock who can say from experience that buffaloes are hard to handle. Anyway here is Mr. Timmons experience and observations, and he has reared among the shaggy king of western animals, the buffalo.
By HERBERT M. TIMMONS Let’s place a buffalo herd in the Palo Duro canyon park, not keep them up in a small pen as they are in so many zoos and parks, but give .them a fenced range where tourists and our own children can drive by and see .the shaggy licks with our past in a natural setting.
It is not hard to fence buffalo in. I was raised at Goodnight, and often helped Mr. Goodnight and Johnnie Martin with the buffalo, and know the habits of the wild animals. Unless the buffalo has degenerated with the years, they are not fence breakers. I recall only one time that the buffalo broke a fence at Goodnight, and then it was to go back to the old range, not to get out.
Amarillo Daily News
Amarillo, Texas Feb 26 1941
Harold Bugbee Wants Buffalo For Palo Duro
Leland Abbott has strong support for his proposal for a herd in the Palo Duro Canyon from Harold Bugbee, the Clarendon cowboy artist, who has perhaps drawn and painted more buffalo than any living artist. Bugbee comes right to the point in a recent letter on the proposal.
“I have always felt that some the Goodnight buffalo should be preserved in the Palo Duro whether there is another herd in the Southwest or not,” he writes.
“If the present part board is incapable of fencing them–We need a new park board. Count on me for anything I can do.”
The sad story of the last buffalo hunt which Frank Collinson had in the Panhandle will be of many interesting features in The Sunday Globe-News. It is illustrated by Mr. Bugbee and captions and the story were written especially for the use of The Globe-News and the artist. Persons interested in the buffalo should plan to preserve this material.
The Canyon News
Canyon Texas Aug 28 1941
Funeral services for Mrs. Mattie Hedgecoke. who died at her home in Amarillo Tuesday afternoon (Aug 26th), will be held at the family home in Amarillo.
Mrs. Hedgecoke was extensively interested in ranch and oil properties in the Panhandle and adjoining sections of Oklahoma and New Mexico. She also had several mercantile interests in Amarillo, A part of her holding comprised the old and famous Goodnight Ranch and parts of the equally famous J A Ranch.
The Odessa American
Odessa Texas May 29 1955
See Nature’s Best, Never Leave Highway
However, Goodnight s buffalo were the last on the Panhandle and the two buffalo which graze in corals in this park are descendants of that same herd.
Until the 1930s the canyon remained a haven for cowmen and wanderers. In 1934 it was opened as Texas’ largest state park, having more than 15,000 acres.
(In 1931, a major landowner signed a two-year contract with the local chamber of commerce to allow public access to the canyon. The upper section of the canyon was purchased by the State of Texas in 1934 and turned into the 20,000-acre Palo Duro Canyon State Park.)
The Courier Gazette
McKinney Texas May 26, 1956
Before one gets to Rockpile the pavement branches off through Dobie House Canyon and goes 23 miles to Kent on U. S. 80. If it is the traveler’s lucky day he may see buffaloes on the Flat X ranch of the Reynolds Cattle Company. The Reynolds started their herd in 1915 with five animals from the famous Goodnight ranch upon the Plains. Now they have about 200. “We’ve never actually counted them.” they say. “Too much of a chore.” The buffaloes are classed as domesticated’ but that is a relative word. They will stroll casually through a barbwire fence to reach succulent grass on the other side. They won’t stand for petting. Visitors ask if it is dangerous to get close enough to take pictures of the brownish, shaggy beast. A joking reply in Fort Davis may be “Oh, go ahead and try, maybe they won’t hurt you.” A few persons have obtained nice close-up snapshots — without being chased.
In the summer of 1962, renovation was done to the old Goodnight home. Care was taken both in planning and execution to keep the work done in character with the original house as Goodnight built that. Mrs. Nona Hedgecoke Mills served ably as chairman of the family committee for this project.
1965, the state also put up a highway marker in honor of Goodnight directly north of the house in sight of the highway.
The Canyon News
Canyon, Texas April 6 1972
“Texas” Program Features Bugbee Sketches
The young cowboy soon took the recommendation of Taos, N.M. artist Bert Phillips and traveled to Des Moines, Iowa where he spent two years at Cumming School of Art. Charles Atherton Cumming was school director and head of the art department at the University of Iowa.
After Cumming had taught him all that he could, Bugbee returned to the Texas Panhandle to paint the vast country he loved .the rugged Palo Duro Canyon, the windswept plains with its longhorn cattle, wild mustangs, Col. Goodnight’s buffalo, buffalo, and the ranch life of the cowboys.
Bugbee would sit and sketch for hours under the shade of scrub bush or big umbrella that he had rigged up to shield the hot sun from his back.
On occasion, Frank Collinson or Charles Goodnight would suggest a detail change in the artist’s work. The change would be taken from their memories of “how things were”
Some of the animals Bugbee desired to paint were not still in the region, thus he would travel to the zoos in such metropolitan areas as New York, Chicago, or Denver. On one such trip James L. Clark, director of the American Museum of Natural History, offered him a position as their staff artist. It was an offer he felt he must decline.
Once while taking a train load of cattle to Kansas City, Missouri he stopped by the Findley Art Gallery to show some of his work. That gallery was the first to exhibit the paintings of the now famous Charles M. Russell. They immediately snapped up the opportunity to handle Bugbee’s art.
WORKING ON THIS TIME FRAME
In 1998, the JA gave the state the last remaining wild herd of buffalo within Texas. (Rumor is the herd wondered off the Goodnight ranch, onto the JA. The two ranches are close together and is possible)
The herd in Caprock Canyons was actually donated by JA Ranch and there is no documentation demonstrating that this was the herd preserved by the Goodnights.
In 2005…”the site was donated to the museum by Amarillo businessman Brent Caviness and a partner. The museum raised about $1 million from area foundations and private donors to fund the project”.
“BUFFALO,” Handbook of Texas Online accessed July 18, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Indiana, Pennsylvania, Jul 17, 1995
Historic bison herd migrates
AUSTIN, Texas – The official state of Texas bison herd has a home.
Some 50 bison, descendants of a herd saved and maintained by famed Texas pioneer rancher Charles Goodnight, will be moved to Caprock Canyon State Park near Quitaque in the Texas Panhandle.
Texas Parks and Wildlife accepted the bison as a donation from the JA Ranch and owners Monte Richie and Ninia Bivins. The animals constituted a free-ranging bison herd there but will be held in pens at the park. The department has until early next year to relocate the bison herd.
Biologist met with local residents and historians before choosing Caprock Canyons as the home for the bison herd, according to Ron George, deputy director of wildlife at TPWD. The animals will be tested to determine which are pure bison and which are descendants of Goodnights attempts to crossbreed bison and cattle. – Cox News Service
McAllen, Texas Jan 10 1997
Biologists work to save Amarillo’s bison
By Jim McBride
Once they thundered across the plains by the thousands, the clouds of dust from their numbers nearly blotting out the sun. But today, wildlife biologists are fighting to save the last remnants of the Great Southern Plains bison from history’s boneyard.
The historic JA Ranch donated dozens of bison to Caprock Canyons State Park, and they were moved to their new home range, 320, acres of mesquite-covered grasslands that overlook Briscoe County’s reddish-orange canyons.
Two years ago, media mogul Ted Turner donated three bulls from his New Mexico ranch to help bolster genetic diversity in the Texas herd, the last remnants of the South Plains Bison, which once thundered across the Panhandle in the thousands.
Danny Swepston, wildlife director for Texas Parks and Wildlife, said the herd’s protectors hope to introduce Turner bull genetics into the herd, but they also want to retain genetics from the historic Goodnight herd bison. Blood and hair samples are taken from selected calves to see how the genetic mix is turning out.
“From those, we pretty much know who the mother is and whether it’s a Turner bull or a Goodnight bull. This is simply an experiment with the Turner bulls to see if we can increase the genetic diversity without severely altering the DNA of this herd,” he said. “Once we get some animals with the Turner DNA in them, then we’ll turn around and breed those back to Goodnight animals.”
Early December marks an annual checkup of sorts for the herd, which now numbers about 60. This year, 10 new calves joined the herd and wildlife officials come from across the region to protect the bison from diseases and check for any injuries.
A couple of weeks beforehand, wildlife technician C.L Hawkins began dropping feed pellets closer to a massive complex of pens and lured the herd closer through a series of narrowing passages. Individual bison found their way into the narrowing enclosure, which is controlled by volunteers manning a system of ropes and pulleys. On- On- a catwalk above, volunteers swung “rattle poles” old cans with rocks inside to capture the bull’s attention and nudge him into the weighing station.
The Marshall News Messenger
Marshall, Texas Dec 10 1997
Historic bison herd being moved to Caprock Canyons State Park
Historic bison herd being moved to Caprock Canyons State Park
AUSTIN – A herd of bison, whose lineage can be traced back more than a century to the last of the great Southern Plains herds, is getting a new home on the range.
Fourteen animals have been relocated to Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque, about midway between Lubbock and Amarillo, with more scheduled to arrive there on Monday.
“This is really historic,” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Tom Harvey said Tuesday.
The herd is being moved from the JA Ranch near Amarillo. It was started there by pioneer cattleman Charles Goodnight in 1876, when the bison were rounded up for preservation.
The bison being moved are descendants of those animals, a herd that has supplied stock for Yellowstone National Park and the Bronx Zoo.
“Of all the bison alive today, the JA Ranch bison are uniquely important because they have been kept isolated at the site where they were caught in the 1870s and not crossbred with other bison,” said Andrew Sansom, executive director of the Parks and Wildlife Department.
“They are a potent symbol of the American West, and their addition to the Texas state park system means the heritage they represent will be preserved for future generations,” he said.
Wildlife officials say the animals are the purest-blooded bison left in North America. Harvey said officials believed there were about four dozen bison on the JA Ranch when the project began.
The animals are being moved to a temporary home, a 330-acre holding area surrounded by what parks and wildlife officials have dubbed a “Jurassic Park” fence.’
The 10-foot-tall, steel pipe fence strung with high-tensile steel cable is located near a Native American archaeological site where prehistoric hunters processed bison kills.
For safety reasons, park visitors can’t approach the bison now and won’t be able to view them until appropriate methods are devised sometime next year, Harvey said.
The Parks and Wildlife Department is working on plans for a visitor program to interpret the ecology of the Plains bison and their relationship with native tribes.
Historical estimates suggest that bison herds numbered between 40 million to 60 million at one point, but dwindled to about 500 because of buffalo hunters.
Parks and Wildlife officials said there are few pure wild bison remaining in the world. The 14 bison moved so far were confirmed pure through DNA testing.
Over the next few decades, the department hopes to develop a herd of several hundred and acquire or obtain access to enough land within the bison’s historic Panhandle range to allow the animals to roam free in a natural prairie ecosystem.
The Indianapolis News, 16 Dec 1997
Texas rounds up bison for breeding project Houston Chronicle QUITAQUE, Texas With TV news cameras rolling and state biologists holding their breath Monday, nine shaggy, wild bison snorted, bucked and charged from holding pens into a 20-acre pasture at the Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas Panhandle.
It was the first public display of a herd of historically and genetically unique bison, descendants of buffalo calves that legendary Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight rounded up in 1876 in an effort to save the last of a once vast. South Plains herd. The 22 bison at Caprock Canyons, along with 10-15 or so others still to be captured, will form the nucleus of a breeding herd state wildlife officials hope one day will produce thousands of offspring.
“If there was ever a project where we could save a piece of Texas for our grandchildren, this is it,” said Andrew Sansom, director of the state Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Officials are confident they will have a large enough herd to produce genetically sound offspring.
“Even though it seems like a small number of animals,” Sansom said, “it’s clearly a sufficient gene pool to take us where we want to go.”
Since November, teams of biologists have been capturing the wild bison 40 miles away on the JA Ranch, a 1,000-acre spread owned by the heirs of Goodnight’s business partner, John Adair. Ranch heirs Monte Ritchie (died in 1999) and his daughter asked the state to take over the small herd because they are no longer able to keep up with the animals’ fence-busting, wanderings on the ranch southeast of Amarillo.
State wildlife officials say the bison stand a better chance of flourishing under the watchful eye of trained biologists.
Biologists in charge of Monday’s release into the pasture were apprehensive and with good reason. In the four weeks of capturing the wild animals, seven died in various incidents before or in the days after they were tranquilized with dart guns. Sansom said that once the herd is breeding steadily, the state likely will move some of the animals to other large state tracts, such as Palo Duro Canyon State Park, also in the Panhandle.
As the parks director told local supporters, Monday’s release “is Just the first step in a long journey toward restoration.”
QUITAQUE- Conservationists believe” a small herd of purebred Southern Plains bison roaming a new West Texas home could be the start of a rebound for a species once 60 million strong in these parts.
Five more bison were transported Monday from the famed J A Ranch southeast of Amarillo to a holding pen 30 miles away at Caprock Canyons State Park, where Texas Parks and Wildlife officials hope to build a flourishing new herd.
Calling it the “most important conservation project in the history of our department,” TPWD Executive Director Andrew Sansom said he hopes bison here can rebound as whooping cranes and bald eagles have in other efforts. “
“This is the last remnant of pure Southern Plains bison in North America,” Sansom said as nine of the animals darted and bucked in a 10-foot-high pen behind him.
“Beyond the biology of it, these animals are symbolic of the west and symbolic of our identity as Texans.”
The animals are descendants of a bison herd set aside in 1876 by celebrated. Panhandle rancher Charles Goodnight, whose wife encouraged him to preserve some of the animals that dominated these badlands before man arrived.
With little interference, the herd had roamed the spacious JA Ranch until its current owners donated them to the state last year.
Construction of 330 acres of pens began in August, and TPWD crews began capturing bison in November.
Twenty-nine of the approximately 42 bison at the JA have been captured, loaded onto skids and transported into manmade pens for the first times in their lives.
Six bison died from the stress of being tranquilizer, and one calf died from a gore wound from an adult beast. “We’d hope to hold the mortality rate to 10 to 15 percent,” bison project coordinator Roy Welch said.
At least four bulls and 10 cows have been confirmed as purebred, meaning they’ve undergone no genetic mixing with other species. Officials might sell off impure members of the herd, Welch ‘said.
The series of pens and fences, reinforced with high-tensile steel cables strung between stands of drill pipe donated by Texaco, is expected to be completed in August by laborers from a prison unit in nearby Tulia.
Plans are still in the works on observation platforms for the park’s estimated 150,000 annual visitors.
Genetic research and study of the herd’s DNA is top priority now. Welch said careful development of the small herd must be monitored closely for six to eight years to prevent inbreeding.
The Galveston Daily News
Galveston, Texas Aug. 28, 1998
Texas A&M professor’s research generates debate over bison genetics
The Associated Press
HOUSTON – A Texas A&M University professor’s belief that some bison may be less than 100 percent has earned him the wrath of the industry.
The debate of bison purity centers on James Derr, assistant professor at Texas A&M University. The molecular geneticist claims that some bison are, in fact, a hybrid, part buffalo, part cattle, the Texas Journal of the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
The genes, he says, are probably the legacy of a turn-of-the-century breeding experiment by ranchers to mix bison and cattle to see if they could raise better meat.
But his ideas have rocked the industry where bison owners fear Derr’s claims could send prices spiraling downward for U.S. bison, including the 3,000 or so being raised in Texas.
“If the public perception that matters,” said Paul Jonjak, chairman of the National Bison Association board and a challenger of Derr’s work “We’re not beefalo. We’re not cattalo. We’re bison.”
Jonjak points to last fall’s auction of bison in South Dakota’s Custer State Park. Prices at the auction fell 23 percent after Derr spoke about his findings at two bison seminars. Park officials say the comments may have cost them at least $50,000 on 100 buffalo.
It was as if Derr “yelled fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire,” Jonjak said. The dispute has become so heated that the South Dakota’s attorney general dispatched a letter last October to Derr and Texas A&M President Ray Bowen demanding Derr not speak publicly about his findings in South Dakota until state officials reviewed his notes.
State officials note that South Dakota has an agricultural product slander law, similar to one in Texas, that would allow ranchers or Custer Park officials to sue for damages if they can prove Derr’s comments hurt the market for their animals.
The bison at Custer State Park are “taxpayers’ critters,” said Larry Long, South Dakota’s Dakota’s deputy attorney general. “And they’re defaming our critters.”
That’s not the only complaint. Custer officials allege Derr stole the DNA he used to test their animals. Derr concedes he obtained the genetic material without Custer State Park permission. But he says he got the DNA fair and square from a California graduate student he was helping with a thesis, who obtained the DNA from Custer officials for genetic testing.
“They always knew it was for genetic studies, and I’m doing genetic studies,” Derr said. “There’s no deception in it.”
He added that he notified Park officials about his results, and they did not complain until after he spoke publicly.
Critics further allege Derr’s true intent in speaking publicly about the animals is to generate a market for his testing expertise. So far, he has tested about a half-dozen private herds in Texas, but he says he did not charge for the services and has no intent to do so in the future.
“I’d rather this wasn’t true, too,” Derr says. But to preserve bison purity, he said, “it’s important to raise animals that are in fact true and pure bison.”
Derr discovered the cattle gene during an ongoing three year, $120,000 study funded by the National Science Foundation. The study is designed to see what could be learned from bison herds to help conserve dwindling populations of other animals.
Cattle DNA has appeared in about 6 percent of the more than 400 bison he’s studied so far from herds around the United States.
Last fall, Derr found the cattle gene in four animals in a 32 bison herd maintained by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Caprock Canyon State Park between Amarillo and Lubbock.
As a result, Parks and Wildlife officials, who paid $10,000 to Texas A&M to cover expenses for the testing, have separated the animals from the herd while they decide what to do with them.
One option is to slaughter the animals and sell them for meat. Another is to keep the animals in the herd, but not allow them to breed.
“We’re in the wildlife business, and we don’t want domesticated stock in our wildlife. We want real, pure bison,” said Tom Harvey, Texas Parks, and Wildlife spokesman.
Derr stressed that the cattle gene is rare and its presence should matter only to those trying to preserve the purity of the species, but not if the animals are sold for meat. Bison typically sell for more than comparably aged cattle.
Bison herds, which went from millions of animals to about 200 a century ago, have recovered to more than 200,000 without showing genetic defects from the inbreeding that can accompany repopulation efforts.
AT HOME ON THE RANGE AGAIN
The Texas State Bison Herd roams the prairie at Caprock Canyons with a heritage that echoes across the Plains.
By Russell Roe
The mission was this: Find the last remaining native wild bison in Texas.
For decades, the herd had been roaming the Panhandle’s sprawling JA Ranch after a handful of its ancestors were set aside by legendary rancher Charles Goodnight during the great slaughter of the late 1800s. The herd had a place in history: The Goodnight/JA herd played a key role in the recovery of bison from the brink of extinction, and the animals were believed to be the last remnants of the great southern plains bison herd.
In 1994, the state was considering taking over the herd, and then-Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Andrew Sansom wanted to see what he might be getting into. Problem was, the JA Ranch, which once covered more than a million acres, wasn’t exactly sure where the bison were.
Sansom and Robert Cook, his deputy and former head of the Wildlife Division, took the TPWD plane to find them. “We took the plane up there, and we started looking for them.
I’ll never forget when we found them. We came up over a rise, and there they were,” Sansom says. “They took off. That’s what you think of when you think of buffalo. It was exciting. I was absolutely thrilled by that sight.”
That day in the Panhandle, the bison thundered across the plains just as bison had done for generations in great herds across the continent as the keystone species of the prairie.
TPWD decided those animals were worth protecting, and the JA Ranch donated them to the state in 1996. Those Panhandle bison became the Texas State Bison Herd, living at Caprock Canyons State Park.
Now the 79-animal herd is undergoing dramatic changes. The state park has more than doubled the amount of territory devoted to the animals — a welcome development for the bison and a development that will allow visitors greater opportunities to see the animals. And, a breeding project undertaken to bring more genetic diversity to the herd and ensure its survival is reaching a crucial stage in its development.
From his seat in the plane, Sansom saw what we all see in bison: an icon of the West, America’s largest land mammal, a symbol of near-extinction and recovery, a relic from a time of wide-open spaces and a reminder of a time when America was full of great, wild creatures.
In North America’s history, there’s been perhaps no more important wildlife species than the bison. And Goodnight’s herd was once one of America’s best-known bison herds.
Members of the Panhandle herd and their ancestors are part of the larger story of all North American bison, commonly called buffalo. However, their historical affiliations, their connection to Texas and their genetic makeup set them apart from other U.S. herds.
Survival of bison was on Goodnight’s mind when he captured a couple of bison calves in 1878 at the urging of his wife, Mary. The bison slaughter had wiped out the great Texas herds, and Mary Goodnight, saddened by the killing of the animals, wanted her husband to save a few before they were gone.
“He thought bison were interesting, but I think Mary was the passion, the heart and soul, behind the need to save those animals,” says Vicki Sybert, interpretive specialist for TPWD in Lubbock and Goodnight herd historian.
Just two years before, in 1876, Goodnight had driven a herd of cattle down into Palo Duro Canyon to establish what would become the JA Ranch with partner John Adair.
Goodnight had to shoo thousands of bison out of the canyon to make room for his cattle. By 1878, he no longer had to chase the bison off. The buffalo hunters had taken care of that.
Goodnight was an iconic Texas figure. He established the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail and was a pioneer in cattle breeding. He invented the chuck wagon. In establishing the JA Ranch, he became the Panhandle’s first rancher.
And he was a pioneer in bison conservation. After roping those first calves and acquiring a few others, he set about raising a bison herd in addition to his cattle operation. His initial herd of five to seven animals grew to 13 animals by 1887 and reached a peak of more than 200 animals in the 1920s.
The timely formation of Goodnight’s herd and the formation of four other private herds, along with government protection of a wild herd at Yellowstone National Park, saved the species from extinction. Those few herds provided the founding stock that produced nearly all plains bison in existence today.
Goodnight donated or sold bison to several early bison conservation efforts, such as those at Yellowstone, the National Bison Range, and Canada’s national parks. He sold animals to numerous other parks, private individuals, and zoos, including “Buffalo Bill” Cody and the New York Zoological Park, which was instrumental in establishing the first U.S. bison preserves.
Goodnight’s efforts also ensured preservation of animals from Texas and the vast southern plains bison herd, which covered Texas, Oklahoma, and part of Kansas and was split from the northern herd by the transcontinental railroad in the mid-1800s. Most U.S. herds have been mixed and moved, but Goodnight’s has stayed on its original range.
It wasn’t all about saving the bison, though. Goodnight sold meat and hides to customers across the country. And he was one of the most prominent ranchers to experiment with crossing cattle and bison to create “cattalo.”
Goodnight left the JA Ranch in 1887 and established his own ranch near the JA. Goodnight died in 1929, and he wanted the state to take over his ranch and bison herd.
Everything seemed to be moving toward state ownership of the herd: The state game commission supported the purchase and had the money to buy the animals, and the Texas Legislature gave the game commission authorization to buy the herd, provided that a suitable home could be found. It never happened.
Goodnight’s ranch — and his bison herd — changed hands several times. Efforts to kill the herd in a “last great buffalo hunt” were halted after public outcry. The bison occasionally escaped into Palo Duro Canyon, and they eventually were allowed to stay on the JA Ranch, where they remained for decades in relative obscurity.
The state takes over
Things started to change in 1994 when TPWD received an urgent and unexpected message from Germany.
German conservationist Wolfgang Frey, who had an interest in American bison, thought the JA herd might represent one of the last “pure” bison herds in the United States.
Frey’s urgings piqued the interest of TPWD officials, but it wasn’t until months later, when the owners of the JA Ranch approached them and started talks about the herd, that “it suddenly became a really exciting project,” says Sansom, who is coming out with a book on southern plains bison and the Caprock herd with photographer Wyman Meinzer.
Blood testing was done on the animals to see whether Frey’s assertion was true. Sybert says: “Not only were they pure bison, but these bison did have some unique genetics that were not shared by other bison in North America.”
The JA owners agreed to donate this distinct and historic herd to TPWD, and the agreement set in motion one of the largest and most complex projects undertaken by the department.
Just how do you capture and transport a few dozen wild bison? The department hadn’t done anything like this before. Capture and relocation efforts began in 1997 after Caprock Canyons was selected as the site for the herd. Capture pens were built on the JA Ranch, and, simultaneously, a 320-acre enclosure at Caprock was fenced. In often cold, harsh conditions over three months in the winter of 1997-98, the wild bison were darted, rolled onto metal skids, (see picture above Dec 1997) loaded onto trailers, taken to the JA pens, assessed and then taken to Caprock Canyons. The State of Texas was now the proud owner of a 36-head bison herd.
Bison conservation and genetics
The recovery of bison from the brink of extinction is one of the best-known conservation stories. More than 450,000 plains bison exist in North America, a remarkable comeback from a low of a few hundred animals in the late 1800s. But the fate of the wild bison is far from secure. Ninety-five percent of today’s bison are in commercial herds — meaning only 5 percent are in conservation herds, which are those managed by federal and state governments and conservation groups primarily for conservation purposes. Those in commercial herds are raised mainly for meat production, with pressures pushing them away from their wild origins.
For the Texas herd, genetic tests, in addition to confirming the herd’s unique DNA, uncovered something troubling. Researchers from Texas A&M University, led by James Derr of the College of Veterinary Medicine, found that the Texas herd had low genetic diversity and was suffering the effects of inbreeding. An A&M analysis revealed that the herd had a 99 percent chance of dying off in 50 years.
In 2003, TPWD brought in bulls from another herd to inject some genetic variability and ensure a more stable future. Three bison bulls were chosen from a New Mexico herd owned by media mogul Ted Turner, the largest single owner of American bison. Goodnight and Turner — in bison terms, this was a celebrity marriage.
But it wasn’t an easy decision. TPWD and A&M officials didn’t want to dilute the historical importance of the herd by bringing in outside genes. They didn’t want to see the herd die off, either.
“That was the question we were tortured over,” Derr says. “The options were: keep this herd as closed, separated and isolated with a very high probability of it becoming extinct in our lifetime because of inbreeding depression, or try to be as smart as we can with as minimal amount of outside animals as we can bring in, and populate this herd with some genetic diversity to increase fertility in the herd.”
TPWD and A&M officials sought outside bison that had high levels of genetic variation were free of disease, had no evidence of cattle genes and, if possible, had some connection to the Goodnight herd. The Yellowstone herd was an ideal candidate — 100 years after Goodnight sent three bison to Yellowstone, three animals could return to the Goodnight herd — except that members of the Yellowstone herd are known to have brucellosis. TPWD officials found what they wanted with the Turner animals, which are partially derived from Yellowstone stock.
“What we’re doing is vastly increasing the fertility of that herd,” Derr says. “The question is: Have we done it enough?”
That’s what A&M researchers are currently trying to determine.
Changes at Caprock
At Caprock Canyons, the bison now have more room to roam, with more than twice as much territory as before. The herd, which doubled in size under the watchful guidance of the Wildlife Division, was transferred to the State Parks Division last year to give the bison additional room and provide visitors a better chance to see the animals. Now the herd has 500 acres of new territory in addition to the more than 300 acres it already had. As time and money allow, the bison territory will be expanded to cover more of Caprock Canyons, which was once part of the JA Ranch. TPWD’s goal is to establish the herd in a natural ecosystem setting with other native animals and plants.
Donald Beard, Caprock Canyons superintendent, gave me a preview tour of the new bison habitat last fall. The original bison pasture at the park offered limited viewing opportunities, and Beard says the new territory will put the bison where the people are. “You are now in the bison territory,” Beard told me as we drove through the restored prairie at the front of the park. He says park staff will be vigilant about monitoring the bison and will take an active role in informing visitors about the animals.
We drove by Beard’s house, which is in the bison territory near Lake Theo. Lake Theo has its own piece of bison history. It’s the site of an ancient bison kill, where people butchered and processed bison thousands of years ago. At the lake, scientists have recovered bison bones and tools that are 10,000 years old.
C.L. Hawkins, a longtime Caprock Canyons employee, has been the main caretaker of the bison since they arrived from the JA, and he took me out into the original bison pasture in his pickup. The bison know it’s Hawkins coming, and they approach the pickup. Pretty soon, we’re surrounded by the Texas State Bison Herd. Hawkins’ appreciation for the animals is evident. To him, the cultural, historical and genetic significance of the animals makes them something to be treasured. “There are no other animals like this anywhere,” he says.
Hawkins then took me to the working pens, where TPWD staff rounds up the bison every December to vaccinate them and perform a health checkup. The designs of the chutes and pens were overseen by Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin, who uses her experiences with autism to guide her designs of stress-reducing animal handling facilities and who was the subject of the 2010 Texas-filmed, Emmy-winning HBO movie Temple Grandin.
In December, the grandchildren of the Turner bulls were rounded up for the first time for evaluation, and TPWD officials and A&M researchers are eager to see what the genetic results will show.
In the meantime, members of the herd will be exploring their new home on the prairie at Caprock Canyons, where Texans will have more opportunities to see and appreciate them — a herd that represents all that’s left from the great thundering herds of the southern plains, a herd that’s a living reminder of a Texas gone by.
“For many folks, when they think of the whole idea of the great prairie, they think of bison,” Sybert says. “We’re looking at a group of animals made up of 70-80 individuals. But we’re also looking at an icon, something that symbolizes the wildness, the independence, the whole feel of Texas and what Texas is all about. I think once you’ve seen them, once you’ve worked with them, once you’ve spent very much time around them, they do truly capture your heart.”
March 27, 2011, Today, the Texas herd has 38 cows and 37 bulls, and more are on the way. Eleven females are pregnant and will give birth this spring, the result of crossing Turner-Goodnight offspring with Goodnight animals. Some older Goodnight animals have died.
The Times Recorder Zanesville Ohio Mar 28, 2011
(Ted Turner Bull @ Caprock)
The Odessa American
Odessa Texas April 3, 2011
Ted Turner’s bison help Texas herd
CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK Six years ago, inbreeding threatened to destroy the last herd of southern Plains bison. Only 53 were left, and breeders were having trouble getting females to carry their calves to term. Tests showed that unless something was done to increase the diversity of genes in the historic herd, all the animals would be gone within 50 years. Researchers now say a donation of a few bulls from media mogul Ted Turner seems to have done the trick. The herd has increased to 75 bison, and while more work to preserve the animals remains, there’s no longer an immediate risk of extinction. “It has made a significant difference, “said James Derr, a professor of veterinary pathobiology at Texas A&M. “We have definitely improved the genetic diversity and reduced the inbreeding in the herd.” Bison are the largest land animals in North America, and as many as 60 million once roamed the Great Plains. When the Transcontinental Railroad was built across the United States in the 1800s, the bison were split into what was known as the Northern and the Southern herds. The Southern herd included animals from Texas, eastern New Mexico, eastern Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and southern Nebraska. While there are no visible physical differences between the animals, those in the Southern herd have some unique genetic traits, Derr said. “That herd is the last remaining vestige of the southern Plains bison herd,” he said.
I have reached out to TPW several times over a few years, its been extremely difficult, no one seems to know the real numbers or what exactly happened. After having to file with the state of Texas I did get a response that looks like it may lead somewhere. Heres’ hoping.
I finally made contact with Caprocks bison herd manager and was told he was working on his records getting them organized. I look forward to having that updated herd info and will publish it as soon as I get it.