Texas History: Buffalo Bones
Reading the history of 19th Century Christian churches in the Panhandle of Texas, you will discover that many of the early pioneers were quite devout in their faith. There was a hunger for corporate worship and they literally risked their lives in order to have “church.”
At first, small groups would meet under a tree, or in sod houses, school houses, or brush arbors. But, like King David of the Old Testament (2 Samuel 7), there was an intense desire to build a permanent “house of worship.”
There is an interesting history regarding the Missionary Baptist Church in Plainview. It was organized on November 23, 1890, by two ministers from Amarillo. Dr. I.B. Kimbrough served as the first pastor of the church. To raise funds to build the church, he traveled among other churches presenting the vision.
As he traveled and preached, Pastor Kimbrough would ask individuals to give one dollar toward the building of the new church. That one dollar would equal about $30 in today’s currency. On one trip alone he received over $2,700 which was a nice beginning for the church.
However, church members did their part, also. One of the most unique fundraisers was collecting dried buffalo bones and selling them in Amarillo. Buffalo bones became big business when scientists discovered that they could be pulverized and used in bone china, fertilizer, paint, buttons, and glue. The market rate at that time was about $20 per ton for the decaying bones.
For many years, the Native Americans and the white American hunters had killed the buffalo for food, sport, and profit. They took the meat and hide but usually left the bones to decompose. It is said that in some areas, the drying bones resembled snow on the ground because there were so many.
The church people, young and old, would drive onto the prairie and load up their wagons with the bones. Then, they would caravan to Amarillo and sell their treasure to bone dealers, who then sold them to fertilizer plants and sugar refineries.
With the money they made from the bones, the church members bought pews and other interior church furnishings. They even had enough to purchase a large church bell that was made to their specifications by a welder in Cincinnati, Ohio. As late as 1937, that church bell was still in use in the church, now named First Baptist Plainview.
In the Old Testament, the people needed a place of worship just like we do today. Solomon built the first temple (1 Kings 8), and Zerubbabel laid the foundation for the second temple (Zechariah 4:9-14). In the New Testament, Jesus established the Church for His Believers (Matthew 16:18).
May the example of our forefathers in the Texas Panhandle cause us to support and love our own local church. As Hebrews 10:25 NASV states, “Not forsaking our own assembling together,…..as you see the Day approaching.”