When Buffalo hunters turned conservationists

Caprock Chronicles are edited by Jack Becker, Librarian Emeritus, Texas Tech University Libraries. He can be reached at jack.becker@ttu.edu Today’s article is by frequent contributor, Sherry Robinson, a newspaper woman based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Buffalo hunters were not sentimental about the business they were in – they often bragged how many thousand they’d killed – but when the southern plains grew silent, two men had second thoughts. Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones and John C. Jacobs spent the rest of their lives as conservationists. Jones is the best known. Born in Illinois in 1844, he spent his first 17 years on the family farm but was drawn west to Troy, Kansas, in 1866. There he married Martha J. Walton.

Buffalo hunting was flourishing in the 1870s. Jones moved his growing family to a homestead in Osborne County, Kansas, and began farming and buffalo hunting. Often, he was away on long hunting trips, but in 1879 he co-founded Garden City, Kansas, became the town’s first mayor, and started a ranch. The buffalo range moved south in 1874 and was largely depleted by 1878. Jones understood that the buffalo would become extinct.“I had killed buffalo by the thousands for their skins,” he wrote, “and had vowed someday to capture and domesticate enough to atone for my cussedness.”After the blizzards of 1885-1886, which killed thousands of cattle, Jones came to appreciate the resilience of American bison. He began capturing buffalo calves in the Texas Panhandle and raising them on his ranch. In a few years he had more than 150. He also tried to crossbreed them with cattle to produce “catalo.”


In 1890 he started a second ranch near McCook, Nebraska. The following year, Jones traveled to England with 10 adult buffalo and delivered them to the London Zoological Gardens. He also presented the Prince of Wales with a buffalo robe. He was the talk of Europe, but financially stretched, he lost everything. After that, Jones acquired land in the Cherokee Strip run in Oklahoma. He traveled to the Arctic Circle to capture musk oxen and prospect for gold.Neither panned out, and he returned to his family in 1898. In 1899 he published his autobiography, Buffalo Jones: Forty Years of Adventure.In July 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him the game warden of Yellowstone National Park. For the next three years he restored the park’s buffalo herd, beginning the long struggle to stave off their extinction. He failed again, but it was here he befriended an ailing dentist from New York City, Zane Grey, who wrote his first book, Last of the Plainsmen, with Jones as the hero. “Buffalo Jones was great in all those remarkable qualities common to the men who opened up the West,” Gray said. “Courage, endurance, determination, hardship, were developed in him to the highest degree. No doubt something of Buffalo Jones crept unconsciously into all the great fictional characters I have created.”In 1910 Jones raised buffalo on a ranch in Las Vegas, New Mexico. He made two trips to Africa to rope and capture wild animals. On his second trip he ran out of money and became seriously ill. He died of a heart attack in 1919. Buffalo hunter John C. Jacobs, a Kentuckian, came to Texas in 1874 at 19, and at 20 was sheriff of Shackleford County. He moved to Southwest Texas after the buffalo became scarce. From 1893 to 1904 he collected tropical birds, animals, and museum and zoo specimens in southern Mexico and the Yucatán. Then I moved to San Antonio and established a ranch called Deer Park Hermitage. Jacobs picked up ponies all over Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, trained them at Deer Park and sold them to Meadowbrook and other eastern polo clubs. His ponies of him were some of the most valuable in the country, and he was considered an authority. He was also a stockman with another ranch at Devine.

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