Throughout the frontier It brought great acclaim to the owner. News of it appeared in practically all Texas newspapers and spread throughout the national press. Exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, it captured the imagination of millions. Teddy Roosevelt offered to purchase it for $5,000. The original owner and two generations of his family saw to the preservation and care of it for well over a century. This historic artifact – the hide of a white buffalo, killed by buffalo hunter J. Wright Mooar on October 7, 1876 – is once again on exhibit and can be seen at Frontier Texas!
Born in Vermont in 1851, Josiah Wright Mooar became a buffalo hunter, freighter and rancher. As a young man, he moved westward to Illinois and then to Fort Hays and Dodge City, Kansas, where he learned to hunt buffalo, providing meat for soldiers and railroad crews. When he had a surplus of 57 buffalo hides he contacted his brother John W. Mooar, working as an accountant in New York City, to see if he could sell them. John sold the hides to a tannery and got an order for 2,000 more hides, so he moved west to join his brother. This sparked the beginning of the buffalo hide industry in America.
The brothers hunted buffalo in Kansas and the Texas Panhandle before moving south to Fort Griffin. In the fall of 1876, J. Wright Mooar moved his hunting crew from Fort Griffin south to continue hunting the great herd. He followed the old Butterfield Stage route to Fort Phantom Hill, an abandoned outpost, then headed west, eventually into the newly designated but empty Scurry County. On October 7, they set up camp along Deep Creek and scouted the area for buffalo. Upon returning to camp in the evening, Mooar later recalled,
“I saw a herd of buffalo not far from the wagons, and the sun flashed quickly on a white object in the midst of the herd, which I quickly saw was a white buffalo. We slipped down the creek on foot, keeping under the high bank for six or seven hundred yards, and then crept out on the prairie through the grass near the white buffalo. It was a four-year-old cow, her white coat a freak of nature. I then took aim and pulled the trigger. At the crack of the big rifle the cow fell, and as the herd rushed together, we narrowly escaped being trampled; in fact, I shot three bulls down to prevent being run over. This was the first animal killed by me in Scurry County, of which Snyder is now the county seat. It was the only white buffalo killed by hunters in Texas.”
It is said that J. Wright Mooar killed 20,000 buffalo during his career. When the buffalo were finally decimated, the Mooars stayed in Scurry and Mitchell counties as freighters. J. Wright established a ranch ten miles northwest of Snyder and spent his remaining years there. He married Julia Swartz and adopted a son, Tommy McDonnell. Mooar’s recollections were published in five numbers of Holland’s Magazine in 1933; his amazingly accurate and detailed recall of events of the early hunting days has been a valuable source of information for Plains historians.
Upon J. Wright Mooar’s passing on May 1, 1940, his son Tommy and granddaughter Julia “Judy” Hays became the caretakers of the ranch and the white buffalo hide. Judy built a display case for the hide in the family ranch house where it was preserved for over 60 years. Her son Randy Hays planned for the hide to be loaned to Frontier Texas after his mother’s death; however, Randy passed away only two years after his mother. His wife Jessie and son Shawn fulfilled those plans.
As visitors to Frontier Texas learn, buffalo were vital to the survival and well-being of Native Americans; every part of the buffalo was used for food, clothing, shelter, tools, jewelry or in ceremonies. The American buffalo or bison is considered by many Native American peoples to be a symbol of life and abundance.
True white buffalo are extremely rare with just one out of every 10 million buffalo born with albinism, according to the National Bison Association. Of the millions of buffalo that once roamed the plains, there might have been only 8-12 white buffalo among them. Many Native American tribes consider white buffalo to be sacred as a sign of hope and a foretelling of good times. Crossbreeding bison with Charolais cattle in more recent years has made white buffalo more common.
The famous white buffalo hide is on a long-term loan from the family of Randy Hays to Frontier Texas for public display to ensure its preservation for generations to come. The hide is in a Smithsonian-quality display case built by Exhibit Concepts of Ohio. This project received support from the Community Foundation of Abilene, the Hays Family and from private funds raised by Frontier Texas in 2021 and 2022.
Frontier Texas extended a special invitation through the Snyder schools, so that among the first to view the new exhibit prior to its formal opening were school-aged children and their parents from Snyder. The formal opening of the exhibit occurred on Thursday, December 7, 2023.
The indigenous tribes of the North American Plains were primarily nomadic hunters. They followed the migratory routes of various animals, among those the buffalo. And among the buffalo, the greatest prize was a white buffalo – believed to have healing powers and to bring great fortune to a tribe who could take one down and have its chief wearing that hide as a robe.