AMARILLO, Texas(KVII) — The Texas Panhandle as we know it today comes from the vision and drive of a long list of pioneers, but few had as wide and long-lasting impact as a man named Mathew “Bones” Hooks.
The image of a cowboy on a marker at Amarillo’s Bones Hooks Park gives a hint into how he first made his mark—as one of the best bronc-busters people had ever seen.
“He was well known by various ranches, ranch owners, ranch herders, cattlemen in this area for his skills and his horsemanship,” said Claudia Stuart, co-author of “African Americans of Amarillo”.
Stuart has written extensively about Hooks, and how he broke barriers in the late 1800’s from Mobeetie to Clarendon and more as the first African-American ranch hand to work alongside all-white crews.
“He is a real trailblazer, but also a pathfinder, because he had to find his way literally, when he was traveling up in this area. There were no roads or trails, just the cattle trails,” said Stuart.
In Clarendon, he established a church and school before coming to Amarillo in 1900 and doing the same, leading a group of about 60, they got land from the city to create the black community, known as North Heights.
“He was always pursuing more knowledge, more skills, and he always wanted to give back, and that’s why he wanted to foster his communities because he always wanted to give back so that his people could have something to be proud of,” Stuart said.
His civic leadership included the creation of the Dogie Club to guide young boys—of which the late Charles Warford was a member.
“He saw a real need to help the boys in the community who were really struggling with mentors and were underprivileged, so he wanted to teach them ways to survive in society,” Stuart said.
In 1932, the city showed its appreciation with the dedication of Bones Hooks Park on North Hughes. His generous spirit left him penniless when he died in 1951, but Stuart says Hooks saw his life as a success, and appreciated the foundation he’d laid for generations to follow.
“His life wasn’t easy, and he eked out his existence by working with others, and I think part of his legacy is when you’re working with people, no matter what they may think of you, you do the right things, and the right time will come for you, and he really believed that, and it really panned out in his life.”
Stuart said Hooks' nickname, "Bones", came from his skinny, wiry build as a young man.
Hooks also was known for giving white flowers to families of deceased pioneers, and those with notable achievements. He said he gave out more than 500, including one each to President Franklin Roosevelt, and first lady Eleanor.