Legend of buffalo hunter Causey lives on

By Ruth Burns: CNJ Correspondent

By Ruth Burns

Special to the CNJ

No story of the High Plains would be complete without mentioning T.L. “George” Causey, for whom Causey, New Mexico was named. Causey was a rancher, freighter, and most famously, a buffalo hunter. It was his heavy wagons and ox teams hauling hides to market that made the Portales Road more easily followed by travelers on the Llano Estacado.

In the 1860s, Causey hauled supplies to the army outposts in Kansas with a mule team. He soon formed a buffalo hunting outfit and began following the herds as they moved southward into Texas on their annual migration.

As the Civil War came to a close, the market for buffalo hides skyrocketed and hunters came increasingly to the plains of Texas.

Each camp had a heavy, two-wheeled cart pulled by six to eight mules or oxen, in addition to one or two lighter wagons pulled by horses that contained the provisions and camp outfit.

The camp outfit usually consisted of a couple of Dutch ovens, several large frying pans, two coffee pots, camp kettles, bread pans, a coffee grinder, and tin plates, cups, cutlery, and the all-important sour dough crock. Another wagon carried bedrolls, tools, grindstone, ammunition, and extra guns.

The grub box contained coffee beans, flour, salt, navy beans, and bacon. The hunter’s diet was mostly buffalo meat, occasionally supplemented by dried or canned fruit.

Every man carried an ammunition box holding a reloading outfit, consisting of bullet molds, primer extractor, tamper, patch-paper, and lubricator. The spent rifle shells would be collected and reloaded at night by melting bar lead and adding powder and primers.

After a buffalo was killed, a skinner would come in and skin the animal, stretch the hide, and peg it to the ground to dry. The hides would then be stacked and loaded into the wagons for hauling to a buyer. Some hunters would salt and smoke the hams for sale to the army, but the meat was usually left to the wolves.

In 1877, Causey bought the water rights at Yellow House near the present site of Littlefield, Texas, and established a permanent buffalo hunting camp there.

Causey had one of the biggest hunting camps on the plains, according to Buster DeGraftenreid, old-timer of Melrose. “He hunted and killed buffalo at Yellow House and in the spring of 1879 loaded his hides and meat, seven wagons with trailer wagons and seven to eight yokes of steers to a wagon.”

The most valuable possessions of the buffalo hunter were his horse and his rifle. The gun most often used was the Sharps Rifle developed especially for hunting buffalo. J. Wright Mooar says in his book, “Buffalo Days,” “..its impact and tearing quality would bring down the biggest bison, if properly aimed, and reached out to incredible distances for rifles of that period.”

“George Causey did most of the killing with a .45-90-caliber buffalo gun that was so heavy he had to use a rest stick to hold it up,” according the Causey’s nephew, V.H. Whitlock,

He also quotes Causey’s partner, Jeff Jefferson, as saying, “Causey killed more buffaloes in one winter on the Yellow Houses than Buffalo Bill Cody killed in his entire lifetime. But Causey didn’t have Ned Buntline for a publicity agent.”

The years of 1877 and 1882 were the height of the buffalo slaughter, with some 7,800 hides taken. After that, the herds were few and far between and most hunters left the country and went on to other occupations.

“Causey killed the last small herd on the Llano Estacado the winter of 1882. They were killed north and west of Midland in the sand hills near Cedar Lake, Gaines County, Texas,” said Frank Collison in an article in the Amarillo Globe News in March 2, 1941.

With buffalo hunting becoming a losing proposition, Causey turned to salting and drying the buffalo meat and collecting the innumerable buffalo bones that were in demand back east for fertilizer. He also was involved in the catching and breaking of wild mustangs.

Causey sold his rights at Yellow House to Jim Newman in 1882 and established a ranch at Ranger Lake, where he dug some of the first shallow wells on the High Plains. After selling this place, he moved on to a location between the present cities of Hobbs and Lovington, where he ran cattle under the JHB brand.

He and his brother R.L. “Bob” Causey secured a well-drilling outfit and traveled the country drilling water wells for the ranchers and the nesters who were pouring onto the plains.

At a mustang roundup in 1902, Causey was thrown by a horse and suffered a severe back injury. He spent the next year trying to find medical help and sold all his holdings to pay his doctor bills. He bought a small range near Kenna and ended his life there in 1903.

Buster DeGraftenreid has said of Causey, “George Causey was the first man I worked for in 1882 and he was fine in every way, and he sure knew the plains. He could and did travel from lake to lake at night more than in day time, as he said there was lots of stars to go by and nothing to mislead you. All the old-timers liked George Causey. He never had an enemy.”

Ruth Burns has taken her information from the research and interviews of her mother, Rose Powers “Mrs. Eddie” White and from the books mentioned. She may be contacted at