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Texas | Columns | Somewhere in the West

MARY ANN GOODNIGHT
and
The Texas State Bison Herd

By Linda Kirkpatrick
At first you only see black specks on the horizon then you inhale and exhale and feel a slight tingle up your spine and the specks get larger. They keep coming, their lumbering stature draws you into their being and your heart swells with pride as you realize that what you are witnessing is a part of history.

These tiny specks have now exploded into The Texas State Bison Herd. Their story is not simple. Their story began many, many years ago and when you know it your heart will fill with the same pride that you get at you watch Old Glory waving in the breeze.
Bison close up, Texas
Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, 2007
Many years ago millions of these magnificent creatures roamed North America. The herds almost became extinct in the late 1800’s. The arrival of the buffalo hunters did much to defeat the Indians by killing out their main source of survival and these same hunters contributed greatly to the massive decline of the large herds of buffalo.

Vicki Sybert, Wildlife Interpretive Specialist for the Texas State Bison Herd located at Caprock Canyons State Park added much insight to the interesting story of the Texas State Bison Herd. One story that she told was the basis for the poem, “Mary Ann’s Legacy”. Vicki had the opportunity to read one of Mary Ann’s diaries and the line she shared just ripped my heart. Mary Ann, sometimes called Mollie, wrote about how during the day she heard the rifles ringing and at night the orphan calves bawl. Not only is the line poetic but it speaks chapters as to the near demise of the buffalo.
Bison skull with horn, Washington-on-the-Brazos State
Bison skull with horn on display at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park
TE Photo, 2007
Commercial hunters would often only harvest the adult buffalo, no matter if they had a baby at their side or not. It was at this point in time that Charles Goodnight and his wife Mary Ann realized that they were witness to the demise of the buffalo. Probably at the insistence of Mary Ann, Charlie captured two buffalo calves in 1878. Their herd slowly grew. The Goodnight Herd is the only Great Southern Herd still in existence.

Charles Goodnight played a great part in the history of Texas and the west from cattle drives to ranching, his stories impacted the state of Texas but what intrigued me was the story of Mary Ann. Mary Ann Dyer married Charles Goodnight on July 26, 1870 in Hickman, Kentucky. They set up ranching near Pueblo, Colorado but the Panic of 1873 and the drought drove the Goodnights back to Texas. In the Palo Duro Canyon of Texas, the Goodnights entered into a partnership with John George and Cornelia Adair to form the JA Ranch.
Mary Ann Goodnight
Photo courtesy Panhandle Plains Museum
Molly’s life in the canyon was lonely but she always claimed to be happy. Molly generously gave of herself to her husband and the cowhands. She often claimed that her chickens were her closest friends.

Molly nurtured the two calves. The orphans thrived on three gallons of milk a day and Molly’s herd eventually grew to several hundred.

The herd passed through several owners eventually they escaped the Goodnight’s buffalo ranch and settled their range on the JA Ranch. In the late 1990’s the herd was given to the State of Texas. On December 10, 1997 Texas park officials began the job of rounding up the buffalo and moving them to their new home at Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque. Shirley Jones, an interpretive specialist for Parks and Wildlife, said, “These buffalo have stood on their historical range—free range—wild since prehistoric times. This is something to think about.”
Buffalo in Kentucky

A lone buffalo in Western Kentucky
Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, 2008

Mary Ann’s Legacy

By Linda Kirkpatrick
I rode to the edge of the caprock
And gazed in the canyon below
I thought of a time and a lady
And of her life of so long ago.

I watched the remains of her legacy
Thundering within the canyon wall,
While the red-tailed hawk soared peacefully
Beckoning with its lonely call.

The preservation of the buffalo
Was the center of her dream,
And because of this honored lady
The hunter was not supreme.

She had returned in desperation
To a Texas she’d once known.
Vowing to never leave the canyon
And to forever call this land home

She saw to the needs of her husband
And to the cowhands on the old JA
She was wife, mother, sister, doctor
And preacher when they’d lost their way.

Life in the canyon was lonely
Her chickens her closest friends
Her undying love for the buffalo
Stayed with her until her life’s end

Mary Ann Goodnight grieved and watched
As progress raised its vicious head
And as way was cleared for progress
They shot the buffalo dead.

During the day she heard the rifles ringing
And at night the orphan calves bawl,
As these sounds echoed the canyon
With their haunting lonely call

Her heart pained for the buffalo babies
And her feelings she did convey
So Charlie went out and roped two for her
The ancestors of these today.

The rest of the herd was swallowed up
As if it had never been
As the canyon walls loomed in silence
And Mary Ann’s buffalo lived within.

Millions once roamed the canyons
But now there are only a few
But thanks to Mary Ann Goodnight
Hers are here for me and you.
Charles and Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight Marker in Goodnight, Texas
Photos courtesy Marlee Goodnight Dickerson, October 2003
Buffalo in Texas
Photo courtesy Ken Rudine, 2007
Copyright Linda Kirkpatrick
Somewhere in the West
July 11, 2008 Column

See Goodnight, Texas


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