Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Charles Goodnight: Texas Ranger, Indian Fighter, Pioneer Cattle Rancher


"In the 1860s, Goodnight and partner Oliver Loving established the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail, which curled northwest from Texas into New Mexico and Colorado. Their friendship and adventures formed the basis of Larry McMurtry’s epic novel Lonesome Dove."

Charles Goodnight, was a Texas Ranger, noted scout and Indian fighter. He was later a pioneer in cattle ranching in New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas. Founded the Goodnight-Loving trail with Oliver Loving. His grave can be found in Goodnight Cemetery just north of the community of Goodnight, Texas which is just east of Amarillo, Texas on U.S. Highway 287. The GPS coordinates for the grave are 35.04677, -101.17467

The following is contributed by Lynda Duncan Miles.

Goodnight was born in Macoupin County, Illinois, east of St. Louis, Missouri, the fourth child of Charles Goodnight and the former Charlotte Collier. (Goodnight's father's grave is located in a pasture south of Bunker Hill, Illinois.)

Goodnight moved to Texas in 1846 with his mother and stepfather, Hiram Daugherty. In 1856, he became a cowboy and served with the local militia, fighting against Comanche raiders. A year later, in 1857, Goodnight joined the Texas Rangers. Goodnight is also known for rousing and leading a posse against the Comanche in 1860 that located the Indian camp where Cynthia Ann Parker was living with her husband, Peta Nocona, then guiding Texas Rangers to the camp, leading to Cynthia Ann's recapture. He later made a treaty with her son, Quanah Parker.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined the Confederate States Army. Most of his time was spent as part of a frontier regiment guarding against raids by Indians.

Goodnight described what it took to become a scout, "First, he must be a born a natural woodsmen and have the faculty of never needing a compass except in snow storms or darkness."


Following the war, he became involved in the herding of feral Texas Longhorn cattle northward from West Texas to railroads. This "making the gather" was a near state-wide round-up of cattle that had roamed free during the four long years of war. In 1866, he and Oliver Loving drove their first herd of cattle northward along what would become known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Early in the partnership with Loving, they pastured cattle at such sites as Capulin Mountain in northeastern New Mexico. Goodnight invented the chuckwagon, which was first used on the initial cattle drive. Upon arriving in New Mexico, they formed a partnership with New Mexico cattleman John Chisum for future contracts to supply the United States Army with cattle. After Loving's death, Goodnight and Chisum extended the trail from New Mexico to Colorado, and eventually to Wyoming. The Goodnight-Loving trail extended from Belknap, Texas, to Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Goodnight and Loving were close friends. Goodnight sat by Loving's bed during the two weeks it took the latter to die, and reportedly kept a photograph of Loving in his pocket long after his death, and later put a photograph on his desk. As requested by the dying Loving, Goodnight carried the body from New Mexico to Weatherford, the seat of Parker County, Texas, for burial.

In order to take advantage of available grass, timber, water, and game, he founded in 1876 what was to become the first Texas Panhandle ranch, the JA Ranch, in the Palo Duro Canyon[4] of the south Texas Panhandle. He partnered with the Irish businessman John George Adair to create the JA, which stands for "John Adair". In 1880, Goodnight was a founder of the Panhandle Stockman's Association. The organization sought to improve cattle-breeding methods and to reduce the threat of rustlers and outlaws. After Adair's death in 1885, Goodnight worked in partnership for a time with Adair's widow Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair.

He also developed an acquaintanceship with W. D. Twichell, who lived in Amarillo from 1890 to 1918 and surveyed 165 of the 254 Texas counties.

After Goodnight had already left the JA, Tom Blasingame came to the ranch in 1918. Blasingame worked there most of the next seventy-three years, having, at the time of his death in 1989, become the oldest cowboy in the history of the American West.

In addition to raising cattle in 1876, the Goodnights preserved a herd of native plains bison that year, which is said to survive to this day in Caprock Canyons State Park. The herd in Caprock Canyons was actually donated by JA Ranch and there is no documentation demonstrating that this was the herd preserved by the Goodnights. Bison of this herd were introduced into the Yellowstone National Park in 1902 and into the larger zoos and ranches throughout the nation. He also crossbred the bison with domestic cattle, which he called cattalo. Charles "Buffalo" Jones, a co-founder of Garden City, Kansas, after meeting with Goodnight in Texas, also bred cattalo, or beefalo, on a ranch near Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona.

On July 26, 1870, Goodnight married Mary Ann "Molly" Dyer, a teacher from Weatherford, located west of Fort Worth. Goodnight developed a practical sidesaddle for Molly. Though he was not of his wife's denomination, Goodnight donated money to build a Methodist Church in Goodnight. He and Molly also established the Goodnight Academy to offer post-elementary education to hundreds of children of ranchers. For several years after their marriage the Goodnights resided in Pueblo, Colorado, where Goodnight had considerable financial success, having invested in real estate, buying town lots, and even becoming part owner of the opera house. The barn from Charles home west of the town of Pueblo on the Arkansas river is still standing and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Much of his money was invested in the Stock Growers Bank in Pueblo; locals there began referring to him by the title "Colonel".

After Molly died in April 1926, Goodnight became ill himself. He was nourished back to health by a distant cousin, 26-year-old nurse and telegraph operator from Butte, Montana, named Corinne Goodnight, with whom Charles had been corresponding because of their shared surname.

On March 5, 1927, his ninety-first birthday, Goodnight married Corinne, whose name became Corinne Goodnight Goodnight. He joined her Two by Twos church and was baptized a few months before his death in Goodnight, Texas. Evetts Haley had described Goodnight as "deeply religious and reverential by nature."

In his younger years, Goodnight smoked some fifty cigars per day but switched to a pipe in his mature years. He never learned to read or write but had his wives write letters for him to various individuals, including Quanah Parker. During his last illness, he gave his gold Hampton pocket watch to his pastor, Ralph Blackburn.

After he mastered ranching, Goodnight was involved in other activities, including the establishment of his Goodnight College in Armstrong County and working as a newspaperman and a banker. He lost his life's savings when the Mexican silver mine he invested in was nationalized by the Mexican government. He was forced to sell his ranch in 1919 to an oilman friend, W. J. McAlister, with the provision that Goodnight and his then first wife could stay in the home until they both died.


Charles Goodnight is buried next to his first wife, Mary Ann Goodnight, in Goodnight Cemetery near Amarillo, Texas.
(Find a Grave)