Mathew (Bones) Hooks, cowboy and horsebreaker, was born on November 3, 1867, to former slave parents in Robertson County, Texas. At age seven he began work as the driver of a butcher's meat wagon, and at nine he began driving a chuck wagon for Steve Donald, who used the DSD brand. Hooks became one of the first black cowboys to work alongside Whites as a ranchhand. He remained with Donald until adulthood and then joined J. R. Norris's ranch on the Pecos River. With Norris he made many trail drives from the Pecos country, raised horses in partnership with a White man, and became a top horsebreaker. Hooks later recounted that cowboys in the Pecos River country kept bringing him wild horses as a challenge, until they finally realized there was none he could not ride.
Hooks lived at Mobeetie for a time before moving to Clarendon as a ranchhand in 1886. He later operated a grocery store near Texarkana but after eighteen months returned to Clarendon. While continuing to work as a cowboy, he established one of the first black churches in West Texas. He imported a preacher from Fort Worth and supposedly a congregation as well. He worked as a cowboy at Clarendon until 1900, when he became a porter at an Amarillo hotel. In 1910 he took a job as a porter on the Santa Fe Railroad, where he worked for the next twenty years. It is said that when Hooks was forty-three years old, during the short time of a train's service break, he broke a horse that no one had been able to ride.
He retired from the railroad in 1930 and became a civic worker in Amarillo, where he made his home. He had a particular concern for juvenile delinquency and aided in its prevention by serving as "Range Boss" for the Dogie Club, an organization established for underprivileged black male youths in the city. Hooks also became the first black person to serve on a Potter County grand jury. He gained additional popularity for his presentation of white flowers to the families of recently deceased pioneers and to others with worthwhile accomplishments. He sent out over 500 single flowers in his lifetime, including one each to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, one to each of the forty-eight nations present at the 1945 UN conference in San Francisco, and a number to both a unit of WAACs and a unit of WAVEs based in Texas. The white flower also appeared at the dedications of new buildings and churches in Amarillo.
Hooks participated in several pioneer and cowboy associations across the country in his later years, including the Old Settlers associations of Amarillo and Pampa, the Western Cowpunchers Association, the Montana Cowpunchers Association, and the XIT Ranch organization. He was also a charter member of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society. Hooks attended many pioneer gatherings and gave a number of interviews recounting his memories of the old West. His generosity toward needy friends left him penniless near the end of his life, but when word that he was ill became publicized, friends established a fund for his care. Bones Hooks died in Amarillo on February 2, 1951, at the age of eighty-three.
The Afro-American Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1975). Jean Ehly, "Bones Hooks of the Panhandle," Frontier Times, June–July 1963.
Ranching and Cowboys
Cowboys and Cowgirls
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