Monday, March 04, 2013

Charles Goodnight

Son of Illinois … “joined” Texas
Charles Goodnight
Making the Gather
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            One morning in 1860, a young man climbed off a spent horse in front of a frontier Texas home. He was sorely in need of a cup of coffee and he knew the frontiersman, Isaac Lynn, would have one.
Lynn barely acknowledged young Charles Goodnight’s arrival.
            What drew Goodnight’s attention wasn’t the subtlety of the greeting. It was what Lynn was roasting over the fire. On the end of a dogwood stick, Isaac was roasting a human scalp.
            “As he turned it carefully over the fire,” Goodnight remembered, “the grease oozed out of it.”
            Goodnight, then a 24 year old Texas Ranger, had been sent on a long circle by Captain Jack Cureton to warn settlers of the Indian raid at Stagg’s Prairie in eastern Parker County. It was there that Ezra Sherman’s pregnant wife, Martha, was raped, stabbed, shot with arrows, scalped and left for dead by a war party.
            Lynn was no stranger to such violence. He had started collecting scalps after his daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Tom Mason and their baby, had been killed by Indians two years before.
            Texas was wild.
            Son of Illinois becomes a Texan
            The cowman’s cowman, Charles Goodnight, was not native to Texas. He was born in Illinois in 1836 to Charles and Charlotte Goodnight. He arrived in Texas the year of its statehood, 1845. He reminded folks that when Texas joined the Union he “joined” Texas.
            He arrived on a blazed face mare he, in fact, called “Blaze”. His father had died and his mother remarried a neighboring farmer.
            By age 11, he was working on farms. He had only six months of formal education.
            In 1851, he was a jockey in Port Sullivan. When his mother became a widow again he returned home. He continued working on farms and even supervised a black slave crew.
            Two years later his mother remarried. The man was a preacher by the name of Adam Sheen. It was with Sheen’s son, John Wesley, with whom Goodnight got into the cow business. They became partners on 400 head of Texas cattle.
            A year later they trailed cattle into Palo Pinto County. It was there young Goodnight met the man who would influence his future. Oliver Loving had arrived two years earlier.
            Mr. Loving was 24 years older than Goodnight, but their partnership would become legend. A decade later they were trailing cattle out of Texas in a big way. Before that time, though, Charles would ride across west Texas and glimpse his future on the Llano (Estacado), the Staked Plains.
            Indian trouble offered the first step of that adventure. Goodnight joined the Texas Rangers in 1860.    He knew enough to serve as scout and guide.
    That year he guided the Cureton and Sul Ross lead Rangers to Peta Nocona’s Comanche Indian encampment where Cynthia Ann Parker was found.
            As the raid unfolded, Ross had his finger on the trigger of his pistol aiming at a running Indian wrapped in a buffalo robe. He was about to shoot when the Indian stopped running and whirled around exposing her breasts and holding a small baby out for him to see.
     “Americano, Americano, Americano,” she screamed. 
    She would verify who she was when she was questioned by Isaac Parker. When he spoke of Cynthia Ann she responded, “Me Cincee Ann …”  
The Big Gather
    In 1864, Goodnight’s Ranger enlistment expired and he returned to Palo Pinto County. It was then Texas started putting the cattle herds back together that had been neglected from war on both fronts … the frontier and the War Between the States.             
    What became known as the Big Gather commenced. Across Texas cattle were rounded up. For two years, the work continued, and, by the end of the Civil War, Texas was cattle rich, and … broke.
In 1866, Charles was in Throckmorton County. He joined forces with Loving and they struck west into New Mexico and on to Colorado for markets.
    Several things stand out in reviewing their first trip ‘up the Trail’. The trip with its horrendous walk west to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos was itself an achievement. Other things, though, are also significant.
In addition to Goodnight and Loving, the 18 cowboys on the trip included the black cowboy Bose Ikard, Robert Clay Allison, and “One Arm” Bill Wilson. Who the ‘cocinero’ was is lost in time, but he was driving an iconic western invention, the chuck wagon.
    Goodnight took a military Studebaker wagon and designed an arrangement now known as a chuck box. In that box he built compartments that contained all the essential equipment to cook on the open range. The hinged door of the box could be lowered to serve as a work table for the cook. There was a water barrel intended to provide two full days of water, a canvas ‘catch’ slung under the wagon to serve as a wood or cow chip storage, and, or course, a mounted coffee grinder. The cowboy’s beds were thrown in the wagon forward of the chuck box.
    It provided a huge improvement in the lives of those drovers. It was a place of refuge. It was home.   
The partnership collected $12,000 from the Army at Ft. Sumner. Goodnight returned home for another herd and Loving drove cattle on to Colorado. They reunited on the Pecos at Bosque Grande for the winter.
    By the time of the third drive in 1867, the trail was known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail.
From the onset, the third trip was fateful. Bogged down by rain and mud, Loving went ahead to seek buyers while Goodnight brought the herd.
    Goodnight demanded that Loving travel only at night while in Indian country.  “One-Arm’ went with Loving, and, impatient to make better time, Loving pressed ahead in daylight. As feared, they encountered Indians and Loving was wounded in a fight. He paid for the error with his life.
    Sending Wilson for help, Loving was helped by some Mexicans and reached Ft. Sumner. He died there of gangrene.
     Devastated, Goodnight finished the drive and returned to Ft. Sumner, exhumed the body, and took his partner home to Texas for burial. That noble excursion was recaptured in a classic western.
Lonesome Dove
    Captain Call, Gus McRae, Deets and the boys were the characters immortalized in Larry McMurtry’s made-for-TV movie, Lonesome Dove. They were, of course, patterned after the real life cowboys in that fateful Goodnight-Loving trip.
    The solo mission by Captain Call hauling Gus’ body wasn’t what transpired although it made a great screen story. The body was returned to Texas by the crew.
    Deets was Bose Ikard. He likely carried the money from the sale of that herd. Mr. Ikard was highly regarded and often carried the proceeds from Goodnight cattle sales in a money belt. No one suspected a black cowboy to have money.
Palo Duro
    Over the next several years, Goodnight continued trailing cattle into New Mexico and on to Colorado. They were sold to the military, into mining camps, and for stocking ranges. As a result, not all herds were mature steers. Cows and calves were also trailed.
    At Pueblo, Mr. Goodnight established a ranch and demonstrated the character of a blossoming community leader. He started a cattlemen’s association, commenced irrigated farming, invested in a meat packing business, and bought land within the town of Pueblo. He extended a trail of his own name to Granada, Colorado.
    He also married. His bride was a ‘school marm’ he had known by the name of Mary Ann Dyer. He and “Molly” were married for 56 years, had no children, and were separated upon her death in 1926.
In 1873, the bottom fell out of the market. Hurt economically, Charles sent his bride to her family in California and made plans to return to Texas.
    Trailing 1600 head of mixed cattle he encamped on the upper Canadian at a place called Rincon de las Piedras. From there a cowboy called Panchito accompanied him into Texas to look at the Panhandle. The two decided Palo Duro Canyon would be the destination of that herd.
    Charles then went looking for financing.
    In a Goodnight inspired buffalo hunt in Colorado, a man by the name of John George Adair shot his horse out from under himself and was injured. The incident apparently didn’t turn him against his host and Adair became the major partner and financier in what became the famous JA Ranch.
    After the construction of the ‘home ranch’, Goodnight, Adair, and four cowboys arrived in the canyon with 100 Durham bulls and supplies. It was the start of a relatively short but famous relationship between the men.
    By 1885, the two had put together 2070 sections of country and were running 100,000 head of cattle.
Their market was Dodge City, Kansas and its railroad connections.
    During those years, Goodnight expanded Hereford influence into the herd, secured a remnant buffalo herd for posterity, and contributed to the legend of Panhandle ranching.
    In 1888, he withdrew from the partnership. Adair had died, but that death probably didn’t trigger the departure. His history of adventure was the likely cause. Goodnight was becoming interested in other matters including Mexican gold mining. He went charging off in a new direction. The decision was not good.
    In 1898, he and his wife did start their Goodnight College, but by 1900 he was limiting his ranching endeavors to a ranch immediately around home. Age was a factor.
After Molly died, he did two things important to his story. He joined a church and he got remarried.
The church relationship was likely something he felt compelled to accomplish. He was fairly high brow. He disliked drinking and carousing amongst his cowboys. Like many men, he probably sought spiritual wholeness through that church commitment.
    His marriage was a bit more controversial. By 1927, he was corresponding with a young lady with his sir name. She became his nurse, and they were married. Corinne Goodnight was 26, and Charles was … 91!
The Cattleman’s Cattleman, Charles Goodnight died in 1929. His last breath was taken in Phoenix.    Panhandle winters were colder than those of his youth.

            Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “It is inconceivable there will ever be another Texas or New Mexico of Goodnight’s prime. Can any of us imagine the capability of a society where the strength of character and grit of Goodnight partnered with the technology of today? Only then would we conceive of man being bold enough to go again to places he has never been.”  

A longer version of this article can be found in the most recent Range Magazine, a publication to which every reader of The Westerner should subscribe.

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