Bones Hooks Made History at Pampa in 1910

“Bones Hooks: Pioneer Negro Cowboy,” a new book by Bruce G. Todd of Amarillo. begins with an account of Bones Hooks~ historic ride on an outlaw horse. The event occurred south of the Santa Fe depot in Pampa on March 12, 1910.

Photo of Eloise Lane

Eloise Lane

Matthew “Bones” Hooks, born November 3, 1867 in Robertson County, Texas, was the first of the eight children bf Alex and Annie Hooks, a freed slave couple. Alex, a school teacher and a Baptist preacher, and Annie wanted their children to have academic and religious training, but money was scarce and there were many mouths to feed.

At the age of seven, Matthew got his first job driving a meat wagon for a butcher. The next year he learned to ride a horse probably on a farm where he worked. Matthew was nine years old when he began to work as a teamster on D. Steve Donald’s DSD ranch in Denton County. While there he proved that he could ride an outlaw horse and acquired the nickname that would follow him the rest of his life. Unaware that dice were called bones, he thought that one of the cowboys was calling him when he heard the cowboy say. “Hand me them bones!” Angrily he protested, “My name ain’t Bones!’ One by one, the fun-loving cowboys assured him that his name was Bones, and the name stuck.

When J. R. Norris, a cattleman from the JRE ranch on the Pecos, visited the DSD, he was very impressed with Bones and promised to make him a real cowboy if he would join the JRE outfit. Bones eagerly accepted Norris’ offer and began his career as a horse trainer on the isolated JRE ranch. He took part in many cattle drives to Kansas before 1886 his 19th year – when he helped to bring a herd to the young Texas town of Clarendon. For the next twenty-three years, with Clarendon as home base, Bones worked on many ranches in the Texas Panhandle and in other places as well. He knew many Of the area cattlemen, including Charles Goodnight and Alfred Rowe. J. S. “Jess” Wynne, an expert horse trainer, helped Bones improve his skill of training horses. It was said that Bones could take a wild colt and have it follow him like a dog in less than two hours.

On the Bar CC ranch Bones was befriended by Dave Lard who had fights with new hands for teasing Bones because he was black. Bones said that he was a black Angus in a herd of Hereford “White Faces,” At the Fourth of July picnics in Clarendon, Bones sold hot tamales to get money to enjoy the holiday and to save for the next celebration. Once a stranger set up a rival stand and when some of the cowboys started to buy from the stranger, they were reprimanded “What do you mean? That feller’ll be gone next week and Bones will be right here. Buy from Bones until he sells out.” When Tom Clayton (a white man) died in the early 1890s, Bones took a bunch of white wildflowers to the funeral. This was the beginning of a tradition with Bones who ever afterward sent a single white flower to the funeral of every pioneer he knew.

In May, 1909. Bones left the range to work as a porter for the Santa Fe Railway. In the spring of 1910, he was working in a day coach when he overheard four men talking about horses. Bones said later, “I sort of hung around, dusting the seats, because I don’t like to miss any horse talk.” The men were talking about Old Bob, a black mustang that nobody could ride. The horse’s owner was Moore Davidson who lived with the family of his widowed sister-in–law, Myrtle “Mert” Davidson. The Davidson place was south of Pampa in Section 64 where there was a huge running spring of water. Bones continued, “I broke in finally and said, `I can ride that horse.” The men were amused when Bones asked them to telegraph Davidson and ask him to have the horse at the depot when the train was scheduled to reach Pampa. This was arranged and it was agreed that Bones would receive $25 if he succeeded in riding Old Bob.

Bones had broken horses for 3. Frank Meers when Meers was the foreman on the Masterson ranch, and Meers was one of the men who brought Old Bob to the place where a large crowd had gathered south of the depot at Pampa. Lewis F. Meers, son of 3. Frank, played “hooky” from school to watch the event. It was about 2 p.m. when the train arrived at the depot. Bones, booted and spurred and minus his white porter’s jacket, descended from the train. It is reported later that he said, “I combed that bronc from his ears to his tail, rode him to a standstill, collected my money, and was back on the train when it pulld out seven minutes later.” Bones Hooks’ ride was widely publicized nationwide as well as locally. Hallie Case (Mrs. A. A. Tiemann) was a young girl attending the Catholic convent at Canadian when Bones was a porter on the Santa Fe.

It was customary for Bones to meet Hallie and her mother at the depot in Pampa and watch to see that she arrived safely at Canadian where a nun was waiting for her. Then Bones would meet Hallie at Canadian for the return trip to Pampa and watch until she was with her mother. In later years when Bones came to Pampa for rodeos or gatherings of old-timers, he always visited “my little Hallie.” Bones moved to Amarillo about 1911 and remained there for most of the rest of his life.

He retired from the railroad in April, 1930 and thereafter devoted his time to participating in civic affairs and working for the betterment of his people. At his funeral service in February, 1951, the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Amarillo was crowded with his friends, white and black. One by one, they laid on his coffin a single white flower, his longtime symbol of respect.

Over 200 Articles, written by Eloise Lane, were published in the Pampa News. These articles may be accessed by clicking on each section below. A list of articles will be revealed that are linked to a page containing the text of the article.

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