Matthew Hooks was born to former slaves, Alexander and Annie Clark Hooks in November of 1867 in Robertson County, Texas. He was the oldest of their eight children. His nickname “Bones” came from the skinny build he had as a child. He became a well respected horseman and one of Amarillo’s revered residents during his lifetime.
As a youth, Bones was said to have worked driving a meat wagon for a butcher at age seven and done some work on a ranch when he was nine. He ran away from home to begin working on ranches when he was an older teenager. At age nineteen, in 1886, he helped to bring a herd of cattle from near Pecos, Texas from the JRE Ranch to the Clarendon, Texas area. Clarendon is due east of Palo Duro Canyon and a little less than one hour’s drive to the southeast of Amarillo.
Bones is said to have quickly grown to love the area and lived in or near Clarendon for the next twenty-three years. Clarendon has a museum called the Saint’s Roost Museum. Its name comes from a nickname given to Clarendon. According to the museum’s website, Clarendon began as a “sobriety settlement.” It was founded by a Methodist minister named L. H. Carhart, who named it after his wife Clara. Local cowboys gave it the unusual nickname of Saint’s Roost due to the early tradition of its residents not using alcohol. Bones would have been comfortable there as he is believed to have neither used tobacco or alcohol during his long life.
Religion was important to Bones and he helped found the first Black church in the Panhandle. While living there in the Clarendon area, Bones is said to have established his reputation as a horseman. He worked on various ranches over the years and is also said to have personally known cattlemen such as Charles Goodnight.
Bones began a tradition of sending white flowers to commemorate the lives of pioneer cowboys after they died. According to several accounts, this practice began with the death of a White cowboy friend named Tommy Clayton. In 1894, Bones was running horses with Tommy Clayton near Toyah, Texas along the Pecos Riuver when Tommy’s horse fell, crushing him with the saddle between the ground and the body of his horse. Badly injured by the saddle horn having rammed into his side, Tommy lost consciousness. Tommy’s family was loading him onto a light wagon to take him to town to get medical treatment just as Bones rode up with a handful of white wildflowers. He gave them to the family in hopes that his friend would be encouraged and think of the plains as he recovered. However, Tommy never regained consciousness and died a few hours later. His mother placed the flowers on his grave. Of Clayton, Bones is quoted in a November 10, 1940 edition of the Paris News (Paris, Texas) as saying “Tommy Clayton taught me what a real white man is like, and we worked together on the range with him showing me every consideration.” Such a friendship does not seem to have been unique in any way in the post Civil War west and is a testament to cowboys and the cowboy lifestyle.
After the death of his friend, Bones began sending white flowers to commemorate the deaths of cowboys and others. No one likely knows how many times he did this, but a 1944 newspaper article in the Amarillo Globe offered a number of 359 as of that time for occasions where Bones had left or sent white flowers.
Bones developed a strong reputation due to his ability to ride and break horses. There are many colorful anecdotes about Bones. A former employer named Joe Williams said of him, “I’ve seen Bones take a wild young colt, and in two hours have it following him down the street like a dog.” Another quote is attributed to “Booger Red,” possibly a reference to a bronc rider by the name of Samuel T. Privett, related “Bones Hooks can ride anything bareback that I can ride with a saddle.”
After Bones retired as a cowboy, he worked as a porter in a hotel and later as a train porter on the Santa Fe Railroad. The image below appeared in the Amarillo Daily News on August 4, 1948. It was done by a New York artist named Paul Laune who was visiting Williams in Collingsworth County, Texas. Williams told Laune a Bones Hooks story, prompting Laune to sketch the event as he imagined it. Along with other Laune sketches, the image was featured in the souvenir program for the musical drama “Texas” for its 1971 season.
According to the article, written when Bones was well into his senior years, it described an incident in 1910. Bones had retired as a working cowboy and was serving as a porter on the Santa Fe Railroad. One summer day in 1910, Bones was passing through a rail car when he heard some men discussing a horse that could not be ridden that was owned by a Pampa rancher. Bones listened until he could not stand it any longer and told the man that he could ride that horse. More discussion occurred and an agreement was made to have the horse available at the Pampa depot in two days. If Bones was successful, he would win $25. On the appointed day, the rancher brought the horse to Pampa and was waiting when the train arrived. A crowd had gathered to watch the event. Bones changed into his cowboy clothes, got off the train and quickly rode the bronc to a standstill. He collected his cash, got back on the train, changed back into his porter’s uniform and went on his way.
Earlier in 1948, a testimonial dinner was held to honor Bones and raise funds for a neighborhood community center which Bones had helped build. The goal was to raise the final $900 of a $3,000 budget. Bones was also associated with an organization known as the Dogie Club. There were already organizations that had been recently formed for White youths and the Dogie Club was organized in 1932 to serve underprivileged Black youths. Bones served for a time as director. The group took boys on camp outs, helped them participate in sports and supervised them as they did other activities.
At some time between 1910 and 1920, Bones was married to the former Anna Crenshaw. The couple resided in Amarillo until Anna’s untimely death in January of 1920. As far as we can tell, the couple had no children prior to her passing. Anna was buried in Llano Cemetery in Amarillo.
Bones passed away in 1951 at the age of eighty-three after an illness of several months. In his obituary, he was called “one of the Panhandle’s most beloved, most fabulous sons.” He was buried alongside Anna in Llano Cemetery. In north Amarillo, Bones is honored with a park in his name.
“I know all about this country. I know all of its bad points and all of its good points and there’s no other country that’s better than this. Not even another country as good.” – Bones Hooks, Amarillo Daily News, Saturday February 3, 1951.
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