Monday, September 26, 2011

Goodnight Buffalo!

The soundtrack of today's daily life is composed largely of discordant tones, a cacophony of mechanized techno noise we've grown adept at tuning out with itunes, ipods, ipads, iphones, and other inert media we depend upon to re instill soothing sounds making existence more bearable.

While it's nice to imagine that during the proverbially simpler time of frontier America things were, by nature, a lot more peaceful, it's not necessarily true.  As pioneers settled the Palo Duro Canyon area of Texas, for instance, critters continually punctuated the days and nights with enough noise to keep those wide open spaces wide awake. (Anyone who's lived in the country can attest that animals aren't silent creatures by any means.).

But for one woman especially the sounds permeating life were a welcome treat. For Mary Ann Goodnight, nothing could be sweeter than the symphony she liked to describe as "buffalo music."

Freelance writer Tracey E. Fern's first children's picture book was inspired by Ms. Goodnight's  good works which helped to preserve America's buffalo herds. In her tale, beautifully illustrated by Laren Castillo, Molly (based on Ms. Goodnight) rescues orphaned buffalo babies who somehow escaped their breed's wholesale slaughter by  hunters. 

When i first settled here, hard on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon, I had no company but for the animals. I woke to the reveille of the roosters. I did chores to the choir of the crows. I dreamed to the chorus of the coyotes. Mostly, though, I lived to the music of the buffalo.
I stirred the fire to the huff-huff of buffalo breath clouding the chill dawn. I hoed the garden to the scritch-scritch of buffalo scratching themselves against the cottonwoods. I scrubbed the bedclothes to the slosh and splash of buffalo bulls wallowing in the mud hole. I swept the dugout to the thunder of buffalo as they drifted like a dark cloud across the prairie.
 One day different sounds filled the canyon--the boom and blast of rifles. "What are all them shots?" I asked Charlie. "Buffalo hunters, Molly," he said. "Fixin' to turn a profit on hides and hooves." 
Seemed like every man in Texas was afire to make a fortune in the buffalo business. Day after day, the hunters galloped into the heart of the herd. Shots echoed over the hills and through the hollows from sunup to sundown. And day after day, another hundred or more buffalo lay dead..."How many till they've killed enough?" I asked Charlie as we rode by a mountain of buffalo skulls, tall as ten men. "Guess they figure no matter how many they kill, there's enough to roam these plains forever," Charlie said. But forever came fast. Within six season, the hunters were gone. So was the buffalo music.

Along with her other chores Mary Ann aka Molly rescued orphaned critters. Given her reputation for these good deeds, two scrawny buffalo baby foundlings were brought to her for care for. These were the first of a captive herd which eventually reached one hundred head, some of which she donated to Yellowstone National Park.

The rest, as they say, is history., and gladly a story as engaging and inspiring as it is informative (those who fear history as necessarily dull and dry  will be most pleasantly surprised). Children as young as prekindergarten through second grade as well as those lucky enough to read Buffalo Music with or to them, will learn how one person (and a simple pioneer woman at that!) can truly make a difference in our world.

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