A buffalo by any other name would still … not get the ink of Bill Cody.
C.J. Jones knew that firsthand. He was a hunter and scout; he even rode with Cody after the Civil War. And both men took on the handle “Buffalo” for their shooting skills. Bill went on to a glorious roller coaster of a career as a showman, to international and everlasting fame. Jones took a far different route, one with a lot less press but perhaps a more important impact.
He helped found the town of Garden City, Kansas, and ensured its future by luring the railroad in 1879. He got worried when the bison herds began disappearing, so he set up a herd on his ranch, safe from the hunters and predators of the wild. He even tried breeding a mix of cattle and buffalo—he called the calves “cattalo,” a name and animal that’s still around but never hit the big time (yeah, “cattalo” just doesn’t have that “oomph” to it). His work saved the buffalo from total extinction and provided a blueprint for countless others who have tried to keep various species from going the way of the dodo bird.
When Jones got into money trouble in the 1890s, he toured a bit with his old buddy Cody in his Wild West extravaganza. And another of his pals—Theodore Roosevelt—later appointed him as the first game warden of Yellowstone National Park. Jones’ sense of adventure eventually took him to Africa, twice, where he roped and caught and photographed various wild species including lions (think about it…). And by the time he died in 1919 at the age of 75, ol’ Buffalo Jones was considered among the world’s greatest animal preservationists.
It didn’t hurt that Zane Grey wrote a mostly fictional book about Buffalo Jones, The Last of the Plainsmen. The spirit of the book and the main character were pure Jones—flamboyant, boisterous, with a strange attachment to the shaggy beasts of the plains.
Today, there are plenty of buffalo herds across the West. You can see them and sometimes touch them. You can go to restaurants for a bison burger, or you can shop for luggage made of buffalo. And that’s not counting all the art items depicting this symbol of the frontier.
For that—and for the other items shown in the coming pages—give a tip of the cowboy hat to Buffalo Jones. Maybe he was no Cody, but that’s a good thing.