has seldom – if ever – portrayed buffalo hunters as civilized, erudite men. Screenwriters
and producers of Westerns usually have their buffalo hunters play the role as
coarse, scruffy men ready to drink or kill anything. |
But as the story
of one time buffalo hunter John Cloud Jacobs demonstrates, reality is not
always that simple. “To see him saluting, bowing and smiling at the ladies you
would not think he ever shot anything larger than a cotton tail rabbit,” fellow
pioneer George W. Saunders later wrote.
Jacobs probably didn’t wear his
Sunday school clothes when he went out after buffalo, but in later years, Saunders
described him as “dignified and very modest.” He also could write complete sentences
and string them together into logical paragraphs.
Born and raised in Kentucky,
Jacobs got to Texas as soon as he could. Arriving
in the Lone Star state at 19, he soon drifted west. In 1874, voters elected him
sheriff of sparsely populated Shackelford County. He was only 20 years old. But
there was a lot of trouble and not much money in being sheriff. Jacobs turned
to cowboying, but soon went on to pioneer a new industry for Texas:
we started to the range for the winter hunt we bought one ton of ammunition –
1,600 pounds of lead and 400 pounds of powder – besides shells, paper caps, etc.,”
he wrote in The Pioneer, a long-defunct magazine then published in San
Antonio by Saunders.
Jacobs went on to describe how he and his colleagues
made their living shooting buffalo by the thousands. Each of the shaggy beasts
was a walking $1 bill, the value of one hide. But while the great buffalo herd
constituted a vast natural resource, it was not a renewable resource. In fact,
Anglo Texans understood that when the buffalo were gone, so would be the Indians.
“The buffalo hunters are often blamed for the slaughter of the buffalo,” he wrote.
“It is true that we averaged from four to six thousand hides a season … but it
had to be…. Now there is a cow where there used to be a buffalo, and the country
is dotted over with thrifty, happy homes.”
After the buffalo virtually
disappeared, in large measure thanks to him and his colleagues, Jacobs moved to
South Texas. Soon he took on another
novel job involving animals: Collecting tropical birds and other exotic species
in Mexico for sale to zoos
In 1904, he settled in San
Antonio and bought a ranch he named the Deer Park Polo Ranch. He raised and
trained polo ponies, bred cattle and sheep, maintained a tropical bird aviary
and kept a herd of deer on his place.
| He liked
to attend the annual meeting of the Old Trail Drivers at the Gunter
Hotel, where cattlemen, cowboys and other old timers gathered in October to
swap stories and “rattle their hocks” on the dance floor following a grand banquet.
Saunders was the driving force behind the organization, which probably explains
how Jacobs came to write his piece for the magazine the old trail driver put out.
In another article written when he was about 70, Jacobs marveled how
fast the world had changed.
“It seems now as though it was all in some
other world and under fairer skies,” he wrote.
Jacobs died in San
Antonio around 1930. The buffalo were long gone, and soon, so were the last
of the buffalo hunters.
© Mike Cox
November 29 , 2004 Column
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