Catch ‘Em Alive Jack

One of my fellow librarians at The Texas Collection tells me that if I get through a day without learning something new, I’m not doing my job. Well, yesterday I learned about a larger-than-life Texas cowboy: John “Catch-Em Alive Jack” Abernathy.

I was cataloging some items from the Adams-Blakley Collection–a fabulous group of books assembled by Ramon F. Adams, the Western bibliographer, lexicographer, and author, for William A. Blakley, a U.S. Senator from Texas.   In that collection I came upon A Son of the Frontier by John Abernathy, and I saw a picture of Abernathy, a wolf, and Theodore Roosevelt. I had to find out more, and here’s the story.

Jack Abernathy was born in 1876, in Bosque County, Texas not too far from Waco. He worked as a cowboy, a farmer, and a piano and organ salesman, but became famous for catching over a thousand wolves alive with his bare hands.  It seems that Abernathy once accidentally discovered that by thrusting his hand into an attacking wolf’s mouth and holding the lower jaw to keep it from closing, he could capture the animal without losing the hand. Teddy Roosevelt heard about his unique skill, and arranged to join Abernathy in Oklahoma for six days of wolf-coursing. They say that the president wanted to try Abernathy’s technique himself, but the Secret Service talked him out of it.  A wise decision, for in his book Abernathy notes,

“Men whom I have tried to teach the art of wolf catching have failed to accomplish the feat. I have tried to teach a large number, but when the savage animal would clamp down on the hand, the student would become frightened and quit. Consequently, the wolf would ruin the hand.” (p.20)

Roosevelt was quite taken with “Catch “˜Em Alive Jack” and appointed him the youngest U.S. Marshal in history. As U.S. Marshal for Oklahoma, Abernathy “captured hundreds of outlaws single-handed and alone, and placed seven hundred and eighty-two men in the penitentiary.” (p.1)

One final note: Abernathy’s sons Louie (Bud) and Temple became famous in their own right. In 1910, at the age of 10 and 6, they rode alone on horseback from their home in Frederick, Oklahoma to New York City to greet President Roosevelt upon his return from a trip to Europe and Africa. Several years later they set out for further adventures on an Indian motorcycle. Temple tells about their journeys in Bud and Me: the True Adventures of the Abernathy Boys.

Jack Abernathy’s story is only one of the many great titles that make up the Adams-Blakley Collection.  There are outlaws and lawmen, pioneers and entrepreneurs. Someday, we’ll have to sit a spell and I’ll tell you more.

Abernathy kids  (LOC)


  • Charles Stokes

    March 19, 2012 at 10:08 am Reply

    I have been working on a web site Part of the site has information on the Abernathy Kids. My web site has a page on Log books that I found in the Texas Collection at Baylor. My web site has a page “Meeting Roosevelt” with a copy of the book in PDF. I find the Abernathy family and Kids very interesting.

    • Amanda Norman

      March 20, 2012 at 7:58 am Reply

      What a great resource you’ve put together about the Brush Runabout. Thanks for sharing more about the adventures of the Abernathy kids. They have a great story! Glad your research at The Texas Collection has been beneficial to your project.

  • Paul Abernathy

    June 29, 2015 at 4:55 pm Reply

    My Dad Harry E Abernathy used to tell the story of his cousins in OK, and TX. There was a cousin named Ralph Abernathy, Not the civil rights Ralph but, the Ralph that was directly related to the John “Catch em Alive Jack” Abernathy. There were some pretty amazing stories of Abernathy clans but, this story was always the best.

  • Carla Conway

    August 3, 2017 at 3:29 pm Reply

    Where can I get a copy of this photo?

    • Brian M. Simmons

      August 8, 2017 at 2:47 pm Reply

      The photograph used in this post belongs to the Library of Congress. You can click the photo and the Flickr link will provide more information about how to obtain a copy. Thanks for reading our blog!

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