Charles "Buffalo" Jones

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Charles Jesse "Buffalo" Jones

Kansas State Representative
for Finney County
In office
Preceded by First state representative from Finney County
In office

Born Janyuary 31, 1844
Tazewell County, Illinois, USA
Died October 1, 1919 (aged 75)
Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas
Political party Independent-turned-Republican (1889)
Spouse(s) Martha Walton Jones
married 1869, predeceased her husband)
Children William Grant Jones (1870-1882)

Lulu Jones (1871-1876) Cora Jones (1876) Charles Edward Jones (1877-1887) Olive Walton Jones Brown (1881-1961) Jessie Irma Jones Phillips (1892-1942)
Nicholas and Jane Munden Jones

Alma mater Illinois Wesleyan University

Charles Jesse Jones, known as Charles "Buffalo" Jones (January 31, 1844 – October 1, 1919), was an American frontiersman, farmer, rancher, hunter, conservationist, businessman, and politician who was one of four co-fouders of Garden City in western Kansas. The National Archives categorized him as one of the "preservers of the American bison.".[1][2]


Jones was born near Pekin in Tazewell County, Illinois, to Noah Nicholas Jones and the former Jane Munden. His father was a farmer and election judge who once hired Abraham Lincoln as an attorney. The second oldest of twelve children, Jones was reared on a farm at Money Creek Township in McLean County, in central Illinois near Bloomington. Jones became involved at an early age with the capture of wild animals and kept several as pets. For two years, he attended Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, but withdrew after being stricken with typhoid fever. In 1866, at the age of 22, Jones came to Troy in Doniphan County in the northeastern corner of Kansas, to operate nursery of fruit trees.[3] In 1869, he wed the former Martha Walton, a descendant of English author and naturalist Izaak Walton (c. 1593–1683). The couple had six childrenb, only two of whom lived to an advanced age.[2]

Soon, Jones left the tree nursery and headed west to Osborne County in north central Kansas, where he built a sod house and began earning his livelihood by hunting bison and capturing wild horses. These lengthy hunting trips took Jones into West Texas, where he met the famed lawman Patrick Floyd Jarvis Garrett (1850-1908), who in 1881 killed the desperado, Billy the Kid) in Fort Sumner in, New Mexico Territory. Some accounts place Jones on March 18, 1877, at the Battle of Yellow House Canyon (also called the Battle of Thompson's Canyon) near the future Lubbock, Texas. His success at hunting earned him the sobriquet "Buffalo" Jones. In addition to hunting bison, he tamed buffalo calves and sold them at county fairs.[3]

Garden City

On April 8, 1879, Jones, along with John A. Stevens and the brothers William D. and James R. Fulton, founded Garden City, the seat of government for Finney County in southwestern Kansas. Each man homesteaded 160 acres. The Jones addition lies west of 8th Street.[1]

Jones was elected the first mayor of Garden City. In that capacity, he met such western figures as Wyatt Earp and William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody. He also became involved in real estate, and occasionally drove a team of buffalo calves through the streets of Garden City as a promotional stunt, a practice still followed twice daily with cattle at the Fort Worth Stockyards.[3] Jones promoted Garden City and donated land for the first courthouse. He built the Buffalo Jones block on Grant Street, the Herald Building, and the Lincoln and Grant buildings on 8th street, named for Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant. His home at 515 North 9th Street is still used as a residence.[1]

Jones was the first member from Finney County to the Kansas House of Representatives. He served two interrupted terms, first as an Independent from District 127 (1885-1886) and then as a Republican in District 122 (1889-1890).[4]

He organized four irrigation companies to take water one hundred miles from the Arkansas River to aid in the cultivation of 75,000 acres. Jones contracted with the former Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad to build a depot in Garden City. He encouraged the movement of thousands of settlers into the region.[5]

Preserving the buffalo

Meanwhile, Jones started several buffalo herds about Garden City that served as the foundation for both private and public herds in the region. He found only 37 bison in the area. His small herd provided ten animals for a private zoo at a cost of $1,000 each.[6]

In the spring of 1886, alarmed about the pending extinction of the bison, Jones set forth from Kendall in Hamilton County, Kansas, toward the Texas Panhandle to find remaining animals. He lassoed eighteen calves and took them safely back to Kansas. Such western authors as Emerson Hough (1857-1923) began to notice Jones's contributions. Jones met the pioneer Texas rancher Charles Goodnight, who was crossbreeding buffalo with cattle to produce beefalo, also called cattalo, an otherwise sturdy breed often born sterile. Jones himself later tried producing cattalo. From 1886 to 1889, Jones accumulated more than 50 head, including a buffalo herd he had purchased in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which required shipment to Garden City. From this herd, Jones sold animals to zoos, parks, or to other ranchers. He personally delivered ten buffalo to a purchaser in Liverpool, England, a task which earned him $10,000, then a large amount of money. Jones was a victim of the Panic of 1893. A second ranch he purchased in Nebraska failed, and he sold his remaining herd to ranchers in Montana and California.[3]

On September 16, 1893, Jones used two horses to make the run for land into the Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma. In 1897 to 1898, he traveled to the Arctic Circle, where his party wintered in a cabin they had constructed near the Great Slave Lake. He captured five baby musk oxen, which were afterwards slaughtered by superstitious Indians.[1] Jones' exploits of how he and his party shot and fended off a hungry wolf pack near Great Slave Lake was verified in 1907 by Ernest Thompson Seton and Edward Alexander Preble, when they discovered the remains of the animals near the long abandoned cabin.[3] In 1899, Jones captured a bighorn sheep for the National Zoo in Washington D.C. That same year, with Colonel Henry Inman (1837-1899), he published an autobiography, Buffalo Jones' Forty Years of Adventure.[3]

Other endeavors

In 1902, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt appointed his friend Jones as the first game warden at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, where Jones also introduced a buffalo herd. A story at the time told how Jones had roped and spanked the behind of an unruly bear.[3] He successfully developed the Yellowstone bison herd with imports from Texas and Montana. Jones's strict rules against alcohol, smoking, and gambling led to dissension with the men working under his supervision, and he was discharged after four years as warden.[1]

In 1906, Jones began crossbreeding cattalo, these particular buffalo crossbred with Galloway cattle on a government ranch located along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park in the Kaibab Plateau area of northern Arizona.[6]

In 1907, Jones introduced the novelist Zane Grey (a former dentist), to the Southwest. Grey modeled several of his fictitious characters after Jones, including the central figure in the nonfiction The Last of the Plainsmen.[5] Grey's nonfiction Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon is also based on the author's experiences with Jones.[1]

Late in 1909, "Colonel" Jones, as he was then known, persuaded the Massachusetts industrialist Charles S. Bird to finance a game-catching expedition to Kenya. With two cowboys (Marshall Loveless and Ambrose Means),[3] a guide, and several porters, Jones traveled to Nairobi. In the Kenyan savanna grass and roped warthogs, a zebra, a rhinoceros, and a lioness, which lived at a zoo in New York until 1921. Jones also employed two filmographers who documented his activities. He then showed his films across the United States, including a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City, in which he narrated the highlights of his hunting trip.[5] He was awarded a medal by the British King Edward VII for his efforts to preserve animals.[1] In 1914, Jones organized a second, but unsuccessful, African hunting trip for a gorilla. The failure to capture a huge gorilla created a breach between Jones and his sponsors. While in the former Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), he contracted malaria, was placed on a stretcher, and evacuated on the last departing boat, just as World War I was declared in Europe.[5]

Death and legacy

Jones never fully recovered from the malaria. He spent his last years in New Mexico, San Antonio, Texas, and Denver, Colorado. He patented an irrigation device and sought backers for the project.[5] He also envisioned crossbreeding domestic sheep with Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.[7]

Jones became ill in 1917, and died two years later of a heart attack at the home of his younger daughter, Olive J. Whitmer, in the Kansas capital city of Topeka. His other daughter was Jessie J. Phillips of Chicago, Illinois. Jones was interred beside his wife and sons, all of whom predeceased him, at Valley View Cemetery in Garden City.[2]

In a long obituary published in The New York Times, Jones was described as having been "known throughout America as 'Buffalo Jones', famous cowboy and big game hunter and friend of the late former President Theodore Roosevelt. He and Roosevelt died less than ten months apart in 1919.[8] There is no mention in The Times that Jones was "the first, great, and highly original preserver-user of North America’s wildlife."[7]

In 1959, Jones was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. On July 4, 1979, a permanent exhibit in the Finney County Historical Museum in Garden City was dedicated to Jones' memory.[1] There is a statue of Jones at the Finney County Courthouse, and the Buffalo Jones Elementary School in Garden City bears his name.

The film Buffalo Rider fictionalizes his life, depicting him as a loner named Jake Jones who rides a tamed buffalo.

Jones's museum exhibits conclude, as follows: "He was a frontier entrepreneur willing to take risk to win rewards. Throughout his life, the capital which he never lost was energy, imagination, and willingness to take personal and financial risks."[5]

Works about Jones

Robert Easton and Donald Mackenzie Brown (1961). Lord of Beasts: The Saga of Buffalo Jones. ISBN 0-8165-0281-1. [9]

Ralph T. Kersey (1880–1972) (1958). Buffalo Jones: A True Biography. Garden City, Kansas: Elliott Printers. [10][11]

Guy H. Scull. Lassoing Wild Animals in Africa. [1][12]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 C. J. "Buffalo" Jones. Retrieved on September 3, 2010; no longer on-line.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Charles Jesse Jones. Retrieved on March 19, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Buffalo Jones. Retrieved on September 4, 2010; no longer on-line.
  4. Kansas Legislature: Past and Present. Retrieved on September 4, 2010; material no longer accessible on-line.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Charles Jesse "Buffalo" Jones exhibit, Finney County Historical Museum, Garden City, Kansas.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bison: the Amazing Animal, Section Saved from Extinction. Kansas State Historical Society. Retrieved on March 19, 2021.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Arctic Profiles: Charles Jesse Jones. Retrieved on March 19, 2021.
  8. The New York Times, October 2, 1919.
  9. Lord of Beasts: The Saga of Buffalo Jones. University of Arizona Press. Retrieved on March 19, 2021.
  10. (July 1959) Advertisement: Buffalo Jones. Boys' Life. Retrieved on March 19, 2021. 
  11. Ralph Kersey also wrote The History of Finney County, Kansas.
  12. Lassoing Wild Animals in Africa. National Geographic magazine, Vo. 22, Issue 5. Retrieved on March 19, 2021.