The Buffaloes of Goodnight Ranch

Showing the Only Herd in the World Owned by a Woman

By E.J. Davison

Taken from The Ladies’ Home Journal February, 1901


Charles Goodnight

The herds of buffaloes and elks owned by Mrs. Mary A. Goodnight, of Goodnight, Texas, besides being one of the most interesting sights to later-day tourists in the Southwest, is the only herd in the world owned wholly by a woman. The animals have the run of "the park," a tract containing two square miles of land, which offers abundant pasture, except in the winter season when the herds assemble at a common feeding-place where fodder is supplied them.

Mary Ann Goodnight

The buffalo herd, now numbering about one hundred head - several animals have been sold to owners of private parks and to zoological gardens - had its origin in June, 1879, when Colonel Charles Goodnight, "The Father of the Panhandle of Texas," "roped" two buffalo calves and gave them to his wife. She was much interested in the little waif of the plain, was greatly delighted at the lacrity with which they learned to drink milk, and surprised at their appetites, which seemed to be insatiable, one of her pets taking as much as three gallons daily. Under such care they grew rapidly, but the one with the voracious thirst for milk acquired the knack of breaking down fences with great dexterity and committing other and similar depredations, and he was turned into beef - nearly a ton of it. But there were two or three calves left, and visitors to Goodnight Ranch shared their owner’s admiration for the pretty, odd-looking baby bisons, and as it was becoming apparent that the buffalo would soon become extinct unless steps were taken to prevent the herd and protect them from the hunter.

Two years later a neighboring ranchman captured two full-grown buffaloes and presented them to Mrs. Goodnight. Three calve were also added to her little group - the present of a brother. From that time on the herd has grown and multiplied. Of the one hundred head more than half are pure bred, the remainder being "cataloes," as a cross between a buffalo and a Galloway cow is called. The cataloes have the same hump as the buffaloes, and shaggy hair, but their color varies from jet black to light brown, and they are most readily distinguished from the pure bred by their horns, which are longer. The cataloes are also much more tractable, and can soon be taught to eat out of one’s hand. One brindle catalo, which was named "Sister" was found with a herd of cows, and is very gentle. But the full-blood buffaloes - of the Goodnight herd, at least - never repose full confidence in man. Big and powerful as they are they are timid and run away at the slightest alarm, although they have taken food from their owner’s hand from the opposite side of a fence; nor will they attack unless wounded or driven into close quarters. Even with this reputation for timidity Mrs. Goodnight does not regard the pure-bred buffaloes as trustworthy, and does not consider it safe to go among them on foot.

"We have about fifteen elks," Mrs. Goodnight explains in talking of the herds, of which she naturally is quite proud, "and have had them about ten years. We started with one, and in a year bought three more. We have deer and antelopes, and did have wolves, taming the latter with the idea that we might employ them to decoy wild brethren within gunshot; but the domesticated ones became such a nuisance that we killed them. Like the elks, the deer do not thrive well, and the antelopes generally die before they are a year old. Captivity is fatal to them. I have never known one to be domesticated."

In the great park each animal herds with his kind. Even the pure-blood buffalo looks with a royal contempt upon his plebeian half-brother, the catalo, and the two keep wide apart in separate and distinct groups.

To see the herd of buffaloes assembling at their accustomed drinking-place in the morning is to have an experience that is met with in very few places in this country. From every section they come, the old bulls walking along like so many elephants, stopping now and again to paw up the earth and wallow, or to bellow defiance at some rival in the herd. Such a sight arouses much interest on the part of the "tenderfoot," but to the old settler it only feebly suggests the past, when buffaloes literally swarmed over the plains - by tens and tens of thousands.


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