Buffalo Music by Tracey E. Fern is a very lyrically written fictionalized account of the hunting of the buffalo in West Texas and the conservation efforts of a few of the ranchers. It is loosely based on Mary Ann “Molly” Goodnight, a pioneer who settled in the Palo Duro Canyon in 1876.
As the book opens, Molly is recounting how everything she does is accompanied by the noises of the animals around her and the most dominant sound is the sound of the wild buffalo. When the hunters come, the music changes to the boom and the blast of rifles and they ride past mountains of buffalo skulls as the canyon descends into silence. However, all it not lost! The next spring a cowhand brings her two orphaned buffalo calves to raise. She brings them into the house, wraps them in flannel blankets and hot water bottles and nurses them back to health. Within a few weeks, they’re well enough to go in a pen with the milking cows. Cowhands bring her all of the orphans they find and her herd quickly grows to over 100 bison. The sounds of buffalo music have returned to the canyon. One day, she learns that Yellowstone National Park was looking to rebuld its buffalo herd so she sends four of her buffalo to help. Her buffalo form one of the five foundation herds in the U.S.
In the 1700s, Buffalo populations in North America exceeded 60,000,000. By 1885, their numbers were down to under 1000 with most of those being protected by Texas ranchers. Due to the efforts of a handful of ranchers including Mary Ann Goodnight and her husband Charles, the buffalo were saved from extinction. The author’s note includes more details on the preservation of the buffalo and their history in the U.S.
A replica of the dugout where the Goodnights lived (and in the story where the buffalo were kept warm) has been built in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Mary Ann’s herd was eventually given to the state of Texas and the Buffalo have been resettled in Caprock Canyons State Park as the Texas State Herd. Mary Ann’s buffalo live on in Texas and Yellowstone National Park two of the few places where children can still hear the Buffalo Music for themselves.
Though the hunting of the buffalo is sad, the book itself isn’t and the stubbornness of Molly and efforts to preserve the buffalo make for an entertaining read.