John R. Garrett and the Official Bison Herd of Texas


Our time at Caprock Canyon State Park had come an end. On our way out of the park we stopped at the Visitor’s Center to hand in the Jr. Ranger packets, but our dismay, it was closed for lunch. The kids had worked hard on their packets and we didn’t want to deprive them of their badge, so we decided to circle back and go for some lunch of our own. At the edge of the park there was a BBQ stand that was only open on Fridays and Saturdays. Yay! It was Friday! 

As we were walking in, we struck up a friendly conversation with a man about the storms we experienced last night. He was staying in the Ranger’s lodge and said he saw smoke from two of the neighboring ranches and he suspected that they had fires from the lightning. When he mentioned the lightning I had to show him the picture I took which captured a bolt in action. He smiled and said, he has always enjoyed watching the storms roll in. Curious, I asked him if he comes here often. That’s when he told me that he was the first park ranger here! 

We were gifted with our own personal history lesson and first hand account of the beginnings of Palo Duro State Park. Below is synopsis of the STORIES he shared with us.


John R. Garbutt

The First Park Ranger at Caprock Canyon State Park in Texas.

The Ranger’s name is John. R. Garbutt. His educational training is in archeology, but his skills and experience far exceeded what he learned in school.  In 1975, he was hired as the first Ranger with another gentleman to survey and explore the land before it became open to the public. The two men explored almost every inch of the canyon and discovered many of the creatures, plants and sites that make this canyon so beautiful. They helped to establish trails and performed archeological surveys. 

Ranger Garbutt was in town for the weekend to celebrate Quanah Parker Day. He was speaking in town the following day about who Quanah Parker was and how the second Saturday in September became an official Texas State holiday honoring him. The ranger was elated that a native american was finally officially recognized in this way for the role they played in Texas History. Briefly, Quanah Parker was the Chief of the Comanche tribe during the time when his people’s existence was threatened by the Manifest Destiny Policy issued in the US and of the simultaneous “Great American Bison Slaughter” by hunters. The bison were the Comanche’s main source of food and a significant part of their spirituality. They respected the bison and when they killed them, they used every part of the animal, being careful not to waste anything. Quanah was instrumental in helping his nomadic tribe, learn to settle and live on a reservation. “Leading by persuasion and example, Quanah Parker helped his people come to terms with their new existence. He promoted the creation of a ranching industry by working closely with Anglo ranchers, and as part of that effort, he negotiated a famous deal with the Legendary Texas cattleman, Charles Goodnight in 1878, permitting the JA Ranch to expand while providing beef for the Comanche. A herd of surviving Bison were allowed to continue to roam the ranch.” (Quanah Parker Day, bookmark authored by John R. Garbutt in conjunction with the Star Day Foundation)— (see picture below for more info on Quanah Parker written by John R. Burkett).


It was in 1997 that Caprock Canyon State Park had been gifted the remaining herd that are now known as, ‘The Official State Bison Herd of Texas’.  At the time, there were only 36 bison left.  Ranger Garbutt reported that these bison have a specific genetic marker that is unique to this herd alone and connects them to the bison that once roamed these plains by the thousands and were used by the Comanche People for survival. The park actually spans part of the original JA Ranch land, so the buffalo have, in a sense, returned to their home to be protected and preserved. (You can read more about how the bison are cared for, studied and bred in order to grow and preserve this living part of Texas history by going to or ). Thanks to the conservation efforts of many like Ranger Garbutt, there are 200 bison now!

Ranger Garbutt, spoke of his desire (and those that he works with in the Texas Bison Student Study Group division of the STAR DAY Foundation) to give back some of what was taken from the Comanche people. They plan to create an endowment fund that essentially would allow for continued breeding and study of the Buffalo. As the numbers in the herd increase beyond an established threshold, they will be given to the Comanche to establish their own herd again. He knows that this is nothing in comparison to what was taken from them, however he knows that the bison are foundational to the Comanche tribe and Ancestry. The endowment has not been established yet, however, Ranger Garbutt asked that those interested in contributing to the fund keep watch on their website for an upcoming link for financial donations and information.

Here at Prodigal Overland, we are so grateful for the time Ranger Garbutt took out of his day to share with us all the cool history of the area, as well as the current efforts to preserve and restore native culture. Below are some resources to learn about the area, history and people of the Palo Duro Canyon Area. **The above information is merely anecdotal from a personal interaction with Ranger John R. Garbutt, and is shared merely to tell part of his story of discovering, protecting and preserving a land that he loves.