Restoring the Buffalo in Texas

Quitaque  (Kitty-quay) is located in the Texas Panhandle.

Quitaque (Kitty-quay) is located in the Texas Panhandle.

The mighty bison, or buffalo, is currently experiencing a restoration in Texas and other parts of the American west after being almost exterminated between 1870-1880 by commercial hunters.  Some estimate that over a million bison were killed in Texas alone in 1877. Caprock Canyon State Park near Quitaque, Texas is home to the official Texas bison herd. The video above by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department describes the herd today.  Visitors can drive through the park to see bison roaming natural grasslands as they have done for thousands of years. The park also offers various talks and activities, such as the Bison Festival, which was held September 28, 2013, or the discussion of Mary Ann Goodnight on March 22, 2014.   The Ft. Worth Nature Center will also host the Bison Boogie May 4-10, 2014 for the public.

Mary Ann (Molly) Dyer Goodnight (1839-1926) is the person most responsible  for preserving

Mary Ann Goodnight

Mary Ann Goodnight

the American bison from total annihilation. She was married to Charles Goodnight, and together they ran the famous JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle.  She became concerned at the horrendous bison slaughter after the American Civil War, and saved several Southern Plains bison calves herself.  She fed them cow’s milk, which they apparently could tolerant without problem.  According to a story in the February, 1901 Ladies’ Home Journal, the calves drank up to three gallons of milk a day. This was the beginning of the Goodnight bison herd, one of the five foundation herds from which North American bison spring today.  For more on the “Mother of the Panhandle,” see this article from the Texas State History Association www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgo35.

A group of images by Eadweard Muybridge set to motion to illustrate the movement of bison

A group of images by Eadweard Muybridge set to motion to illustrate the movement of bison

Several public bison herds exist in Texas today, including the one at Caprock Canyon State Park and one at the LBJ National Heritage Park near Stonewall, Texas, and over 40 private herds. In 2008 there were 61 Plains bison conservation herds in North American containing over 20,000 animals, and  over 400,000 bison in commercial herds. A large herd also exists at Yellowstone National Park, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/american-buffalo-spirit-of-a-nation/introduction/2183/.

Bison are the largest terrestrial animals in North America. Adults are about 10 feet long and weigh anywhere from 700-2000 pounds. They can run up to 30 miles per hour and have been known to jump six-foot fences. Both males and females have short black horns that may spread to three feet. Evidence of several massive bison jumps, or stampedes off a cliff, have been found at Bonfire Shelter near Langtry, Texas, on the Rio Grande. To learn about how ancient people accomplished this, see www.texasbeyondhistory.net/bonfire/index.html.  To read about ancient people of the Lower Pecos stampeding bison, see my book, Peyote Fire, coming soon!

6 thoughts on “Restoring the Buffalo in Texas

  1. It’s been several years since I’ve been to Caprock, Mary. But as I remember the park, it was quite beautiful with it’s red rock canyons, especially in the early morning and evening. I enjoyed the video. It is exciting to see buffalo out in the wild again. –Curt

  2. Great article. If I’m not mistaken the Caprock herd and the Yellowstone herd are the only 2 genetically pure herds in existence. TPWD is going to extremes to prevent interbreeding W/ cattle or other bison strains that have been raised for commercial meat sales. Kudos to TPWD and to you, Mary, for bringing this up.

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