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The Story of James H. Cook

James Henry Cook was in his early teens when he ran away from his foster home to seek his fortune. James H. Cook was born on August 26, 1857, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His mother died two years later. His father sea captain Henry Cook,* could not care for his two sons and placed each in a foster home. James H. Cook lived with the Titus family in Kalamazoo and ended his public education at age twelve. After working two years in a Comstock machine shop, he set off to pursue a life at sea. Two years as a sailor on the Great Lakes only whetted his appetite for adventure; he left the Great Lakes to see the interior of the continent on his way to the Gulf of Mexico.

*Until the past fifteen years, the Cook family of Agate, Nebraska, claimed to be descendants of Captain James Cook (1728-1779), the "Great Navigator" who circumnavigated the globe, explored the New Zealand and Australian coasts, and discovered the Hawaiian Islands and Samoa. Recent genealogical research proved this to be in error and the family subsequently dropped the claim.

On his journey, Cook met some Midwestern cattlemen who persuaded him to abandon the sea for the lucrative cattle business. Enamored by the rough, independent lifestyle of the frontier cowboy, young Cook agreed and accompanied the cattlemen to southwest Texas. For five years, James H. Cook worked on a ranch under the guidance of Mexican vaqueros learning to herd wild cattle out of the brush, break horses, hunt, shoot, and track. In the early 1870s, he participated in the first cattle drives to Kansas and Nebraska helping establish the Ogalala, White Swan Agency, Plum Creek, and Red Cloud trails.

In 1874 and 1875, Cook first rode through western Nebraska to Wyoming before returning to Texas. He visited Fort Laramie and the Red Cloud Agency as well as other important frontier settlements. At the Red Cloud Agency, Cook stayed with Baptiste "Little Bat" Garnier who introduced Cook to Red Cloud, American Horse, Little Wound, and Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses—all of whom became lifelong friends and later visited the Cook ranch at Agate, Nebraska. It was during one of these trips that Cook first met one of the pioneer paleontologists of that era, Dr. O. C. Marsh of Yale University, at Fort Robinson. James H. Cook's fascination with fossils grew as a result of his lengthy conversations with Dr. Marsh who became a close friend.

Cook was also an expert scout. He assisted the Texas Rangers pursue renegades. In 1876, at age nineteen, he scouted for the Fourth and Fifth U.S. Cavalry. His services were in especially great demand following the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Cook had been hunting near the Little Big Horn River and served as a trail scout for the Army troops following the massacre of Lt. Col. George A. Custer's command.

Cook returned to Texas for the great cattle drives of 1877 and 1878, at which time he decided he wanted to be a hunter and trapper. In Cheyenne, Wyoming, James H. Cook formed a partnership with "Wild Horse Charley" to provide wild game for the booming town. Cook outfitted, managed, and guided many big game hunting excursions as well as expeditions of scientists and explorers. In 1877, James H. Cook explained to Chief Red Cloud that his friend O. C. Marsh was actually searching for bones and not for gold as so many other white men were doing. Red Cloud gave Marsh, dubbed "Man-That-Picks-Up-Bones," permission to hunt for fossils in the Badlands of South Dakota. Cook learned from these early paleontologists an appreciation of their discipline and the significance of fossil discoveries to science.

In the fall of 1882, James H. Cook went to New Mexico with two British big game clients to establish a ranch. Cook assisted in buying land and cattle for the new W S Ranch in Alma, New Mexico, a venture in which Cook himself invested. The W S grew to about 60,000 cattle. Cook organized the first stockgrowers' association in New Mexico and directed the first general cattle roundup in the region. A leader for law and order, Cook served in the campaign against Geronimo's terrorizing band of Apaches. Although never enlisting, he was chief scout for the Eighth U.S. Cavalry under Major S. S. Sumner in 1885. Since that time he used the honorary title of "Captain." [1]

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Last Updated: 12-Feb-2003