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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Photo courtesy Panhandle Plains Museum
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.”
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,
Photos courtesy Marlee Goodnight Dickerson, October 2003