When cowboy traits are discussed -- loyalty, resourcefulness, bravery, and independent nature -- the real-life person those traits describe are those of one, Charles Goodnight, who provided the inspiration for the movies and western literature, to the present day. Goodnight was a rancher/cowman, "the father of the Texas Panhandle cattle industry." Historian. Frank Dobie said, "Goodnight approached greatness more than any cowman in history."
Charlie Goodnight was born in Illinois, just east of Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1836, but at the age of 10 he accompanied his parents to the new "nation" of Texas, which was also just 10 years old. At the age of 20, in 1856 he joined the Texas Militia, and a year later became a Texas Ranger, protecting Texas citizens against raids by the Comanche Indians. With the start of the Civil War, in 1861, Goodnight offered his services to the Confederate States, and spent the war with a Frontier Regiment in Texas, guarding settlers from attacks by the Indians.
When peace was declared in 1865, Goodnight joined in the popular movement of rounding up unbranded cattle and driving them to railroads, where they could be shipped to northern markets. Early on most of these cattle drives had been in the eastern part of Texas, going either south to New Orleans, or north to St. Louis, and hence to Chicago.
In 1866 Goodnight acted upon a tip that there might be a more lucrative market for his cattle in the west, in New Mexico, and to Colorado and Wyoming, in the west. Goodnight was in the process of assembling his herd when he visited the Oliver Loving Ranch. Loving was 24 years Goodnight's senior, a well-respected cattleman in the area. The two men decided pool their herds, making the cattle drive together, over a new trail to the west and north.
Oliver Loving was born in Kentucky, in 1812. He was an early settler in the Texas territory, and by 1866 he had amassed a ranch of some 1,000 acres, on which he grazed a sizeable herd of longhorn cattle. Over a number of years he had initiated numerous cattle drives to the Chicago and New Orleans markets.
This time Goodnight and Loving were going to drive their combined herd to Fort Sumner, in New Mexico, where the government had detained some 8,000 Comanche Indians on the nearby reservation and was in need of a lot of cattle to feed its charges.
In early June, 1866 Goodnight and Loving left Texas with a herd of 2,000 mixed cattle. The trail they chose spanned over 2,000 miles, from Young County Texas to Wyoming. The trail was unusual, in that, to lessen the likelihood of Indians, they drove their cattle south, to the Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River, then northward to Fort Sumner in New Mexico, to Denver and ultimately, to Wyoming. The trek was almost twice as long as a direct route, but safer. It took almost five months to complete.
At Fort Sumner Goodnight and Loving sold cattle to the Army for $12,000 Gold. In New Mexico the two men entered into a partnership with John Chisholm (for whom the Chisum Trail was named), to supply beef to the Army on a continuing basis. Then Oliver Loving continued north with the remainder of the herd while Goodnight returned to Texas to organize a second herd for delivery over the same route.
In 1867, the second year of the Goodnight/Loving partnership, the Goodnight/Loving herd was delayed on the trail by heavy rains, so Oliver Loving, with just one trusted Scout, proceeded ahead to negotiated contracts for their stock. Though he had promised Goodnight that he would travel only at night, to lessen the likelihood of contact with the Indians, Loving got impatient and pushed ahead during daylight hours. He was waylaid by a band of Comanche warriors, and in the skirmish he was badly wounded. Though Loving and his aide were able to reach Fort Sumner, his wounds were critical. Goodnight managed to reach his friend at the Fort, and sat at his bedside for the two weeks that it took Loving to die. Loving made Goodnight promise that he would return his body to Weatherford in Texas for burial.
Goodnight temporarily interred Loving's remains in New Mexico, while he drove the remainder of their herd to its Colorado destination. On his return to New Mexico Goodnight had his hands flatten out all the old oil cans they could find and solder them into a tin casket. Then they disinterred Loving's body, placed it in a wooden coffin inside the tin casket. Powdered charcoal was packed between the wood and the tin. The casket was sealed, crated and placed on a wagon for its return to Texas, where it was buried, as promised, in the Weatherford Cemetery.
Goodnight was an innovator. In the early cattle drives cowhands carried their own food, and each night cooked what they had. Goodnight converted an old Studebaker wagon into what was known as a "Chuck Wagon" (after Chuck Goodnight). Not only did it prove more efficient on the trail, it allowed Goodnight to attract better quality cowhands for his drives.
Goodnight fashioned a sidesaddle for his first wife, Molly, making it far easier for Molly to get around. Goodnight was not a religious man, yet he and Molly established a Methodist Church in Goodnight, Texas. Though Goodnight, himself, could barely read and write, they also established the Goodnight Academy, for the further education of ranch and town children,
After Goodnight had established his ranch in the Texas Panhandle, rustlers became a problem for him and his fellow ranchers. His call for help from the Texas Rangers fell on deaf ears. When he had had enough, Goodnight announced to the Rangers that if they would not act, the ranchers themselves would take care of the problem. Thereupon, Goodnight led the organization of the "Panhandle Stockmen's Association," and with vigilante justice, quickly squelched the problem of rustling in the Panhandle.
Over the years Goodnight partnered with a number of men in Texas ranch operations. He crossed the scrawny Texas Longhorns with imported Herefords, and came up with a cross that was both hardy and much more palatable. He also crossed his beeves with buffalo, to produce a cattalo, and introduced this cross to his friend, Buffalo Jones, formerly from McCook.
Goodnight, despite his lack of education, worked at times (in addition to his ranching operation) as a newspaperman, a banker, and a pioneer film maker. He and Molly established the Goodnight College in Armstrong County, Texas.
Goodnight's investments, outside ranching and cattle, were less than windfalls. Some were downright disasters. But Goodnight never did lose his interest in life. After his first wife, Molly died he began a correspondence with a nurse/telegraph operator, Corinne Goodnight, who had struck up a correspondence with Charles because of their common last names. At age 91, Goodnight and Corinne, age 26 were married. It was said to have been a happy union. Ever after, she was known as "Corinne Goodnight Goodnight."
It was Corinne who persuaded Charles to switch from smoking as many as 50 cigars a day to the more conservative pipe. Smoking did not seem to have much adverse effect on his health, as he lived to the age of 93, passing away at his winter home near Phoenix. He is buried next to his first wife in the Goodnight Community Cemetery.
Goodnight is remembered fondly in western literature. The story of Goodnight/Loving's third cattle drive is related in Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer winning novel, Lonesome Dove. A number of other western novels have been based, loosely, on Goodnight's experiences. Andy Wilkinson, who has been featured at past Buffalo Commons Story Telling Festivals here in McCook, wrote the popular, "Charles Goodnight: His Life in Poetry and Song."
It is probable that his story will be told and retold for ages to come.
Source: Texas Almanac/ CattleDrives/Goodnight/Loving