Until the turn of the 19th century, the most hazardous undertaking in Texas was driving cattle. This entailed rounding up wild Longhorn cattle, driving them on horseback for hundreds of miles, and corralling them at a railhead or army fort. Indian attacks, stampeding cattle, rattlesnakes, cougars, bears, wolves, cattle rustlers, and an unpredictable weather pattern added to the trail herder's woes. Death often meant an impromptu burial out in the middle of nowhere, far beyond the reach of any loved ones. Life was indeed short for a Texas cowboy.
The most noted of all the great cattle drivers and indispensable sources for countless movie and TV scripts were Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. Known as the "King of the Texas Panhandle," Charles Goodnight pioneered the use of cattle drives before the railroads made them obsolete. Born in 1836, in Macoupin County, Illinois, Goodnight later moved with his family to Milam County, Texas. He worked as a jockey, a freighter and performed various plantation jobs, including the supervision of slave crews. He became a scout for the Texas Rangers and discovered the Comanche camp where famed white captive, Cynthia Parker, was camping out with her Comanche husband, Peta Nocona. During the Civil War, Goodnight served in a Confederate frontier regiment to help ward off Comanche raids.
Goodnight's first big cattle drive originated from Palo Pinto County and headed southwest toward an Indian reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The Bosque Redondo Reservation was the brainchild of General James Carleton, who wanted to convert marauding Mescalero Apaches and Navajos into peaceful farmers. This laughable experiment in forced cultural change was a disaster from the start. Fights broke out between the Mescaleros and Navajos; longtime bitter rivals now forced to live on the same reservation. There was no firewood to cook with and the water from the nearby Pecos River was full of alkaline - totally unsuitable to drink. Unscrupulous army officers and contractors only made matters worse. Bosque Redondo was later closed after being in operation for only five years. Goodnight's beef was probably the only thing that kept the Native Americans from starving to death.
Goodnight developed tactics for driving his immense herds to distant markets. Because of the loud noise emitted from the cattle drive, Goodnight's trail hands used hand signals to communicate with each other during the drive. He also invented the chuck wagon to feed his hungry crew and rouse them in the morning with hot coffee. Despite all the innovations, success was only assured by his best friend, Oliver Loving.
Like Goodnight, Loving sought opportunity in Texas. Born on December 12, 1812, in Hopkins County, Kentucky, he moved to the Republic of Texas with his wife and nine children. As part of the Peter's Colony, he received 640 acres in three Texas counties. In 1857, he had a thousand acre ranch in Palo Pinto County along with a general store. With the help of his son, Loving drove his cattle from Texas all the way to Illinois on the Shawnee Trail. If that wasn't impressive enough, he drove a herd of 1,500 head to a mining camp in Denver, Colorado. During the Civil War, he drove cattle for the Confederacy; a job for which he was still owed money after the war.
After teaming up with Loving, Goodnight established the Goodnight-Loving Trail that started from Young County, Texas, headed southwest to the Pecos River, then north to Fort Sumner, Sante Fe and Denver. Their main obstacles were the Comanches and their business partners, the Comancheros. As the cattle business increased in New Mexico, so did the business of rustling them. The Comancheros, native New Mexican's with little regard for Anglo Texans, became the middlemen for the Comanches and illicit cattle contractors in New Mexico and Arizona.
Leaving the cattle drive, without the support off fellow trail hands, was hazardous to say the least. During an 1868 cattle drive to Fort Sumner, Loving decided to leave the drive to bid for contracts in Santa Fe. He promised Goodnight that he would only travel at night to avoid any Comanche war parties. Accompanied by Bill Wilson, better known as "One-Armed" Bill, they set out in the evening darkness. Anxious not miss the bidding, Loving made the fatal decision to press on during daylight hours.
Near the Guadalupe Mountains, a party of several hundred Comanches spotted them and gave chase. After discarding their horses, they set up a defensive perimeter in a ditch near the Pecos River. Armed with four six guns, a revolving six shot rifle, and a repeating Henry rifle, Loving and Wilson held off the approaching Comanches for hours. Undeterred, the Comanches shot arrows into the air to rain them down on the surrounded pair. Both of them hugged the side of the ditch to avoid being hit. The arrows missed their mark, but not the bullets; Loving was wounded in the wrist and side. Knowing full well the torture and death that awaited them, Loving decided to stay behind while Wilson attempted to escape the Comanche encirclement and reach Goodnight. Wilson stripped down to his hat and long underwear, then slipped into the Pecos River at night. With only one arm, he managed to swim past a Comanche warrior undetected. Plagued by heat, thirst, malnourishment and bleeding feet, Wilson hiked back to Goodnight's cattle drive.
For two days, Loving waited for Goodnight. By now, the Comanches had probably ambushed Goodnight's herd and killed all of the trail hands; he decided to make his own escape. After getting past the Comanches, he headed toward Fort Sumner. An oxcart, driven by three Mexicans and an Anglo boy, found him semiconscious by the trail; he was half-dead from fever and loss of blood. Loving was placed in the cart and taken to the army post at Fort Sumner.
Goodnight found a crazed "One-Armed" Wilson emerging from a cave. After discerning Loving’s predicament from Wilson’s senseless babbling, he went after his friend along with six of his crew. Not finding him, Goodnight rode on to Fort Sumner where he learned of his survival. Loving's side wound was healing nicely but his arm had developed gangrene. Loving's arm was amputated, but the gangrene had spread. For several days, Goodnight sat beside Loving's bed until he died. Loving's dying wish was to be buried back in Texas. Goodnight's crew constructed a crude metal casket of empty oil cans for the journey. Loving's corpse was exhumed from a temporary grave and placed inside. True to his legendary determination, Goodnight brought him back to Texas for burial at a Weatherford, Texas cemetery.
On July 26, 1870, Goodnight married Molly Dyer, his longtime sweetheart, who taught in a Weatherford schoolhouse. He continued to drive cattle into New Mexico and Colorado. In addition, he invested heavily in the development of Pueblo, Colorado and formed Colorado's first stock raisers' association in November, 1871. Now referred to as Colonel Goodnight, he built a ranch near the Palo Duro Canyon where hostile Comanches once resided. Affectionately dubbed Home Ranch, his first ranch house was a dugout, using abandoned Comanche lodge poles as rafters. In 1878, he made his famous treaty with the legendary Comanche chief, Quanah Parker. He would provide Parker with two beeves each day if the Comanches would leave his herds alone. With his wife's encouragement, he also started a domestic buffalo herd. Sired by a bull named Old Sikes, he developed the "cattalo" by crossing bison with polled Angus cattle. Buffalo raised on Goodnight’s land would later be used to stock wildlife parks such as Yellowstone National Park. To educate his ranch hands, he established Goodnight College in 1898. Goodnight died in Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 93. He was buried at the Goodnight Community Cemetery near his ranch.
The two best films concerning Texas cattle drives are “Red River” and the TV miniseries “Lonesome Dove.” John Wayne’s character, Thomas Dunson, in “Red River” is similar in appearance to Oliver Loving. The mini-series “Lonesome Dove” features two characters based on Charles Goodnight and Oliver loving: Woodrow Call, played by Tommy Lee Jones, and Augustus “Gus” McCrae, played by Robert Duval. In my opinion, it really doesn’t get any better than this. During the series, Gus McCrae dies from gangrene after an Indian arrow wounds him in the leg. In dramatic fashion, Call takes his body back to Texas for burial. It is doubtful Loving’s burial was as arduous a task.