The Goodnight Loving Trail, Cabin #3
If you ever decide to create your own pioneer Hall of Fame, these two legends may very well need to be your first inductees. Arguably the best western epic ever made, Lonesome Dove is based on the adventures of these two giants.
Charles Goodnight came to central Texas as a 9-year-old boy in 1845 and by 1857 had moved northward to Black Springs (Oran) in Palo Pinto County to pursue the cattle business. He met Oliver Loving at about the same time and although Loving was 24 years his senior their common trade would bring them together nine years later to form one of the most famous partnerships in Texas history.
In between those years, Goodnight would become a member of the Texas Frontier Regiment, gaining legendary status as an Indian scout and fighter.
It seems as if any major historic event in the North Texas area from 1859 through 1864 involved Goodnight such as the J. R. Baylor skirmish with Brazos River Indian Reservation Indians at the Marlin Ranch and the Pease River raid of December 1860, the raid that recovered Cynthia Ann Parker. He not only was there, in fact, he was the first to recognize her.
How about the Elm Creek Raid of Oct. 13, 1864? Goodnight was in Jack County and killed an Indian a day later. He then headed to Young County to help after the raid and even joined a group that unsuccessfully trailed the Indians for two days.
During these years, Goodnight gained invaluable knowledge of the land and the pioneers’ most deadly enemy, the Plains Indians. This knowledge would serve him well as he blazed his namesake trail.
Loving in these same years was more involved with moving cattle to Louisiana and then Illinois. His knowledge of cattle, plus Goodnight’s desire to find a better market to the west, would put them together on their first trail drive in June 1866.
Gathering cattle from their ranches in Palo Pinto, Jack and Young counties, they began their famous trek to the south from Fort Belknap with 2000 head of cattle and 18 well-armed men. They traveled past Camp Cooper through old Fort Phantom Hill to Buffalo Gap, past Fort Chadbourne and across the North Concho River, where they finally made a stop on the Middle Concho River for extended rest and watering. There was a very good reason for this.
The next 80 miles from the Middle Concho River to the Pecos River would be by far the toughest segment of their trail drive. No water existed in this 80-mile “hell trip” across the staked plains. Cowboys and cattle were pushed to the limit. Finally through Cattle Gap, past the deadly stagnant alkaline pools of the Pecos, they arrived at Horsehead Crossing on the main Pecos River after more than three days. Some of the herd was lost as they drowned or were bogged down in quicksand.
With the remaining herd now watered and revived, they made their way up the Pecos to Fort Sumner, finding a starving Navajo reservation where the United States Government was willing to pay a premium for beef. Twelve thousand dollars in gold, an enormous sum in 1866, made Goodnight and Loving’s first trip a major success.
Loving continued on to Denver with 500 head from the herd, which the government did not want, and realized more profit. Goodnight headed back to Texas to gather another herd.
Goodnight drove another herd from North Texas to Bosque Grande and met Loving there to winter with the cattle, periodically selling 100 head at a time in Santa Fe. In the summer of 1867, Goodnight and Loving started on another trail drive from North Texas toward Fort Sumner.
From the very beginning of this drive, Indian problems would plague them, starting at Camp Cooper and continuing as they reached the Pecos. Due to these delays and increased competition prompted by their success, Goodnight and Loving became concerned their market at Santa Fe would not wait.
Loving agreed to go ahead of the main group to consummate the contract. He was accompanied by a loyal and longtime hand of Goodnight’s, one-armed Bill Wilson.
Because of the large number of Comanches roaming the Pecos River area, Goodnight warned Loving and Wilson to travel only by night. After two nights, Loving became impatient and on the third day traveled by light to make better time.
While crossing the plain between the Delaware, Black and Pecos rivers, Comanches spotted the two. Loving and Wilson quit the trail and took a direct course to the Pecos, taking refuge in an undercut ditch on the river. During the siege, Loving took a bullet through his wrist and into his side.
That night the wounded Loving convinced Wilson to go back for help. Shedding his boots and most of his clothes, the one-armed man amazingly swam the river and began his tortuous journey back to find Goodnight.
In the interim period, the wounded Loving, feverish and in pain, fought off the Indians for three days. Finally, on the third night, having been without food or sleep for three days, he entered the river and swam to a crossing some six miles upstream.
His ordeal wasn’t over as he laid there another two days before being picked up and escorted to Fort Sumner by three Mexicans and a German boy.
Wilson, having finally arrived at Goodnight’s camp, led him to the ambush site. Finding Loving had left, he proceeded to Fort Sumner.
Loving would die of gangrene from his wounds on Sept. 25, 1867, and was temporarily buried at Fort Sumner. Before his death Loving had asked Goodnight to bury him in Texas, so in February of 1868 Goodnight returned with Loving’s son Joe and carried the body back to be buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Weatherford.
Goodnight would live to be 93 years old, eventually moving to the Panhandle where he would start the famous JA Ranch. He would also be credited with the crossing of cattle and buffalo, called beefalo, and the invention of the chuck wagon.
One other loyal hand of Goodnight was Bose Ikard, an African American cowboy who along with Loving is buried in Greenwood Cemetery at Weatherford and recognized by a State Historical Marker. The character “Deets” in Lonesome Dove portrays Ikard.
The heroism and toughness of Goodnight, Loving, Wilson, Ikard and so many others who rode the trail with these four are truly what the pioneer and western spirit were all about.
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