Where the Buffalo Roam
Fundraising festival aids historic bison herd.
By Stephanie Salinas
How do you save a bison herd? It takes a visionary rancher, commitment from the State of Texas and runners wearing bison hats.
By 1878, bison that roamed the plains by the millions had been pushed almost to extinction after commercial buffalo hunters wiped out the great Texas herds. Charles Goodnight, one of Texas’ first Panhandle ranchers, saved a few buffalo calves for his wife, Mary Ann. She became determined to save a few of the bison when she heard the bleats of the orphaned calves after their mothers were killed.
Bison at Caprock Canyons.
After roping his first calves and acquiring a few others, Goodnight had a herd of five to seven animals that grew to 13 animals by 1887 and peaked in the 1920s, when the herd included more than 200 bison.
After Goodnight’s death in 1929, his herd changed ownership. It was donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1997 and moved to Caprock Canyons, a 15,000-acre state park near Quitaque.
Through blood testing, researchers discovered the bison in Goodnight’s herd were not only pure bison, but their DNA was different from other bison in North America. Goodnight’s herd represents the last remaining example of southern plains bison.
The bison conservation efforts of the Goodnights are still very present in the thinking of the current staff of Caprock Canyons State Park.
September festivities celebrated Texas’ state bison herd at Caprock Canyons State Park. Activities included a run, art sale and concert to benefit the historic herd.
The buffalo undergo annual checkups and vaccinations to keep the herd healthy. Caprock Canyons also hosts an annual fundraiser that dedicates all proceeds toward bison herd restoration.
In September, the park celebrated the third annual Bison Festival in Quitaque, beginning with the Buffalo Stampede color run in the morning. More than 60 runners woke up early, put on their bison hats and ran a 5K, starting at the park visitors center. Participants were painted with reddish-brown paint before running by Lake Theo against the backdrop of canyons that glittered in the early morning light.
The festivities continued at the local cotton gin, where artisans sold homemade salsas, kettle corn, antiques, rings, necklaces, earrings and bolo neckties with stones on silver settings.
In early afternoon, a six-band concert began with Caleb Allemand and the 9 Volt Band and continued throughout the afternoon with No Dry County, Brandon Adams and the Sad Bastards, Zac Wilkerson, Casey Berry and the Live Texas Mosquitos, ending with Texas’ own nine-time Grammy Award-winning Asleep at the Wheel playing well-known tunes such as Choo Choo Ch’Boogie, Hot Rod Lincoln and Route 66 as well as songs by Ray Charles, Cindy Walker and local favorite Bob Wills.
When the festivities came to a close at the end of the night, a barbecue grill and bison hide were raffled off to two lucky winners.
Today, roughly 80 bison make up the official state of Texas bison herd at the park. The animals roam 700 new acres of grassland in addition to the 300 acres they already had, allowing visitors to view the buffalo in their native habitat.
The long-term goal is to allow the bison to roam an additional 10,000 acres of the park.