Later this week, up on the red-clay banks of Caprock Canyons State Park about 240 miles northwest of Fort Worth, there will be an unusual celebration, where historians, naturalists, and hunters alike will gather to pay homage to the American Bison.
No one hunts these bison any longer; this herd belongs to the people of Texas. The bison, commonly called buffalo, are descendants of the massive Southern Herd that once spread from Colorado, through Kansas and down past the Texas Panhandle.
Their story of survival, first as the primary source of life for the Plains Indians, then a singular source of income for white hunters after the Civil War, is both heart-wrenching and amazing.
The three-day celebration begins Friday, and is intended to raise funds to continue the health and proliferation of this historic herd that was once nearly extinct.
These are offspring of animals saved from the hunters by Charles Goodnight, the pioneer plainsman who ran the huge JA Ranch on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon.
Goodnight started with two buffalo calves in the late 1870s. His herd grew to as many as 250 and roamed free on the JA Ranch for about 130 years, until 1997, when JA owners donated the herd to the state.
“Of all bison alive today, the JA Ranch bison are uniquely important, because they have been kept isolated at the site where they were caught in the 1870s and not crossbred with other bison,” said Andrew Sansom, who was then Texas Parks and Wildlife executive director. “They are a potent symbol of the American West, and their addition to the Texas State Park system means the heritage they represent will be preserved for future generations.”