In 1876, when Charles Goodnight established the “JA Ranch” in the Texas Panhandle, it began with a modest earthen structure where he and his wife, Mary Ann (who he affectionately called “Molly”) lived until he could build a proper home. Eventually the ranch would encompass some 1,335,000 acres and over 100,00 head of cattle.
At the time an estimated 10 million buffalo roamed the plains of Texas and the southwestern United States. However, by 1890 the systematic slaughter of these herds had reduced that number to less than 500. Goodnight unsuccessfully experimented with cross-breeding his cattle with buffalo, but it would be his wife Molly that would be credited with saving the species. Molly appreciated the buffalo’s linkage to the history of the plains and requested her husband round up calves orphaned by hunters who killed the cows for their hides, but left them to starve by the dead carcasses of their mothers. Charles Goodnight was skeptical but promised to bring them in.
Charles Goodnight was as good as his word, bringing in stray calves to the ranch for his wife to raise. Many resisted the effort to domesticate them and died, but Molly Goodnight hand fed the remaining buffalo calves and began maturation of what would be the descendants of the plains buffalo. – excerpt from Palo Duro.
Read my novel to learn about the importance of the buffalo to the Southern Plains Indians and their near extinction as the result of over hunting and the deliberate policy of the U.S. government to defeat and subjugate the various tribes. Visit the Goodnight Historical Center in Goodnight, Texas to gain more insight into the buffalo’s rescue at the hands of this courageous and visionary pioneer woman.