Bones Hooks…Famous Black Cowboy And Civic Leader

Matthew Hooks, born November 3, 1867, in Robertson County , Texas , was the first of eight children born to a freed slave couple, Alex and Annie Hooks. Matthew was a scrawny boy and became known by his nickname “Bones.”

Photo of Eloise Lane

Eloise Lane

When Bones was seven he had his first job driving a meat wagon for a butcher. The next year he learned to ride a horse at his home in Henrietta , Texas . At the age of nine, he drove a camp wagon pulled by two old steers, Buck and Berry , to D. Steve McDonald’s DSD ranch in Denton County .

When J.R. Morris, a cattleman from the JRE ranch on the Pecos , visited the DSD, he was intrigued to see that Bones worked harder than most of the grown men on the ranch. Norris said to the barefoot youth, “I’ll buy you a pair of boots and make a real cowboy out of you if you come to work at my place on the Pecos .”

Bones eagerly accepted Norris’ offer and began his career as a horse trainer on the isolated JRE ranch. He took part in many trail drives to Kansas before 1886 – his 19th year – when he helped to bring a herd to the young Texas town of Clarendon .

As the only black man in sight, Bones was very lonely in the Panhandle, but he loved the prairie country and the orderly community and was determined to remain there. He stayed in and near Clarendon for the next 23 years and made a name for himself as the top horse wrangler in that part of the country.

Religion was very important to Bones, and he was instrumental in founding and building at Clarendon the first black church in the Panhandle. Bones never used tobacco or alcohol although it was said that he bet on horses occasionally.

Bones associated with many of the early day Panhandle ranchers. J.S. Wynne, an expert horse trainer, helped Bones perfect his skill of managing horses. On the Bar CC ranch, located on Home Ranch Creek, Bones was befriended by Dave Lard who had many fights with new hands for teasing Bones. The black cowboy said that he was an “Angus” among “White Faces.”

When cattleman Tom Clayton 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.

Later Bones expanded this tradition to include living persons who he felt had accomplished something noteworthy. In addition to area citizens Bones sent white flowers to several United States presidents, world leaders and religious notables. Among these were President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Will Rogers and Sir Winston Churchill.

The written acknowledgements sent to Bones by hundreds of persons who had received his white flowers were kept together in a leather bag – his most prized possession.

In May, 1909, Bones left the range to work as a porter for the Santa Fe Railway. In the summer 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 owned by Moore Davidson of Pampa. It was said that nobody could ride that horse, but Bones broke in and told the men, “I can ride that horse.”

The men were amused when Bones told 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 the horse.

Bones had broken horses for J. Frank Meers when Meers was the foreman on the Masterson ranch. Meers was one of the men who brought “Old Bob,” the “unridable” black mustang from Davidson’s place south of Pampa to the place where a large crowd had gathered south of the depot. Lewis F. Meers, son of J. Frank, played “hooky” from school to watch the event.

The train arrived at the Pampa depot about 2 a.m. Bones, booted and spurred and minus his white porter’s jacket, descended from the train. He is reported to have said later, “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 pulled out seven minutes later.”

Bones moved to Amarillo about 1911 and remained there most of the rest of his life. He married Anna Crenshaw who died in the early 1920s. They had no children.

Bones retired from the railroad in April, 1930, and thereafter devoted his time to civic affairs. Soon he became recognized as a leader who worked unceasingly for the betterment of his people. He was the first black man to sit on the Potter County Grand Jury and the first of his race to be a member of the XIT Association, the Montana Cowpunchers Association, the Western Cowpunchers and the Pampa Old Settlers Association.

Bones helped start the North Heights addition in Amarillo , and in 1912 he created the Dogie Club for underprivileged boys. The last picture made of Bones was when he was with a group of these boys.

Bones kept mementos and newspaper clippings and could talk for hours about the Panhandle and its people without ever repeating himself. His scrapbook of mementos was displayed at the Texas Centennial in 1936. He represented Texas at the 75 Years of Negro Progress Exhibition at Detroit in 1939.

Shortly before his 83rd birthday, the old cowboy was stricken with an illness which brought to a close his long career of strong mental and physical activity. When his savings were exhausted after a lengthy stay at Wyatt Memorial Hospital, the Amarillo Globe-News collected funds to provide a housekeeper and a nurse for him.

On the evening of February 2, 195, Bones told his housekeeper, “Of course I’m going to die, but don’t you worry. I feel wonderful.” Shortly afterward he died very quietly.

At the funeral service for Bones, the Mount Zion Baptist Church was crowded with his friends, white and black. One by one, each person laid on his coffin a single white flower, his longtime symbol of respect. Those who loved him were returning white flowers to the black cowboy.

Bones Hooks Park , located at N.W. 20th and Hughes in Amarillo , was named for the black cowboy and civic leader. A pavilion over the Bones Hooks monument is located a few blocks away in Hines Memorial Park at N.W. 18th and Lipscomb.

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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