TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
 
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map

Columns
History/Opinion


Texas Towns
A - Z
Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Buffalo Bones

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Building a highway in 1879 was a little easier than it is these days.

A 21st century roadway involves engineering, public hearings, right of way acquisition, environmental surveys, archaeological work, financing and finally, construction.

In 1935, as Texas readied for the celebration of its centennial of independence from Mexico, the son of the man who laid out the first road across the South Plains told of an earlier road-building methodology. One a whole lot simpler than it is today.

Bog Smith recalled how his father, H.C. "Hank" Smith, along with Charlie Howse, got public transportation off to its start on the Llano Estacado. What they did was solve a problem by finding an innovative use for a commonly found material.

The problem was knowing the right way to proceed from point A to B.

On the plains, the difficulty faced was not a lack of suitable terrain for travel, but the very vastness of the land. Miles of waving grass on flat land was no less intractable than the open sea. A person could easily get lost, and many did. In times of extreme weather, this could prove fatal, and occasionally did.

When a hardy group of Quakers settled a community in Crosby County they called Estacado, Smith decided to lay off a road from his residence to the new town.

Recruiting Howse as his helper, the two men left the Smith place one morning in an ox-drawn wagon. They stopped periodically to fill the wagon with bleached buffalo bones, the legacy of the soon-to-be-completed slaughter of the bison. When they had a wagon full, they stopped and piled all the bones to make a road marker that could be seen for miles in either direction in good weather.

Then they traveled on, gathering more bones. Stopping after a mile, they made another big bone heap. The two men continued the process until they reached Estacado and West Texas had its first known marked roadway.

How long the buffalo bone mile markers lasted is not known, but most of the buffalo remnants on the plains vanished in the next wave of land exploitation-the collection of bones for shipment east to be ground into fertilizer. Those who made their living doing this were called bone pickers, and it was not a particularly complimentary title.

Buffalo bones quickly became big business. It started when a St. Louis company announced in May 1879 that it would begin buying bleached buffalo bones. The company was not trying to tidy up the Great Plains, however. Their scientists had discovered that buffalo bones could be pulverized and then mixed with potash, nitrates and ferrous compounds and turned into a crop-boosting fertilizer. In addition, buffalo horns and hooves could be used in the manufacture of paints and glues.

The company offered to pay $8 per ton-in cash-for buffalo bones and $14 per ton for hooves and horns. While 2,000 pounds of buffalo bones constituted a pretty big pile, back then, so did $8. And $14 was really big money.

During the great slaughter that produced all the now-valuable bones, a buffalo hunter's basic tools were a well-cared-for .50 caliber Sharps rifle and a good skinning knife. Buffalo bone hunters carried large ball-peen hammers to break up the bones to make it easier to heft the remnants into their wagon. Larger hammers were used to break knee, hip and shoulder joints. Vertebrae also had to be broken into easy-to-handle section.

A bone picking party might consist of as many as six mule-drawn wagons, five for bones, one or horns and hooves. Collecting them often was a family affair, from grandpa to father to children and their cousins.

Bone picking flourished in the Texas Panhandle and all across the Great Plains. Those who were making good money at it thought their supply would last forever. But just as the creatures who left the bones got hunted out, so did their skeletal remnants.

While it had the distinction of being the first town on the South Plains (Mobeetie and Tascosa both were on the North Plains, though that term has fallen out of usage), Estacado did not last a whole lot longer than the buffalo bones that assisted travelers in finding it.

When Crosby County was organized in 1886, Estacado became the county seat, but that status held only until 1891. A town called Emma became the new county capital, and Estacado pretty much went the way of the buffalo and its bones.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" January 30, 2019

Related Topic:
Buffalo
Columns

Mike Cox's "Texas Tales" :

  • Grand Rock Treasure 1-23-19
  • Boots on Fence Posts 1-17-18
  • New Preacher 1-9-19
  • A Coffin Just in Case 1-2-19
  • Fruitcake 12-19-18

    See more »
  • Mike Cox's "Texas Tales" :

  • Grand Rock Treasure 1-23-19
  • Boots on Fence Posts 1-17-18
  • New Preacher 1-9-19
  • A Coffin Just in Case 1-2-19
  • Fruitcake 12-19-18

    See more »



  •  

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
    TEXAS TOWNS & COUNTIES TEXAS LANDMARKS & IMAGES TEXAS HISTORY & CULTURE TEXAS OUTDOORS MORE
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    TEXAS REGIONS:
    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Courthouses
    Jails
    Churches
    Schoolhouses
    Bridges
    Theaters
    Depots
    Rooms with a Past
    Monuments
    Statues

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Museums
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins
    Lodges
    Stores
    Banks

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Cemeteries
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Signs
    Murals
    Gargoyles
    Pitted Dates
    Cornerstones
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    WWII
    Texas Centennial
    Ghosts
    People
    Animals
    Food
    Music
    Art

    Books
    Cotton
    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps
    USA
    MEXICO
    HOTELS

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Disclaimer
    Contributors
    Staff
    Contact Us

     
    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved