You have read the book and you have seen the movie, but how many of you know the story behind the story? The story of two men who blazed a trail from Central Texas into New Mexico, then pushed up to Denver and then eventually all the way up into Wyoming?
One was an older man, experienced in cattle and the other was a younger man; a former Texas Ranger looking to make his fortune. The men I’m talking about are Oliver Loving and Charles (Charlie) Goodnight.
They had become good friends and decided to make a gather and drive the cattle from central Texas to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. They planned to sell the cattle to the government to feed the Indians on the reservations and maybe head to Denver to sell the beef there.
So, in the spring of 1866, the two men set out on a drive with around two thousand head of cattle and eighteen cowhands and started a drive on the route that would forever be known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Unwilling to take a direct route across the Llano Estacado, this being the Comancheria and almost suicidal to try and cross; they decided to swing south and then head west to skirt it. Though it was touch and go for a while they did make it to Fort Sumner and sold part of the herd to the army. While Loving took the rest of the herd to Denver, Goodnight returned to Texas to gather another herd.
In the spring of 1867 they set out on a second drive again to Fort Sumner and Denver. This time they were beset by delays and problems so much so that when they neared Fort Sumner, Loving decided to ride ahead and let them know they were close. It was decided the while Goodnight brought the herd; Loving and his scout, One-armed Wilson would ride ahead and Loving would begin negotiating the contract for the cattle.
While on the way to Fort Sumner, Loving and Wilson were attacked by a band of Comanches. They were able to take cover and hold them off. During the fight, Loving was wounded in the hand. Realizing the fix they were in, Loving sent Wilson back to the herd for help while he held off the Indians. Later, Loving was able to make good his escape and made his way on in to Fort Sumner.
By this time, the hand had become so badly infected, it was gangrenous and his arm had to be amputated in order to save his life. The operation was successful and Loving seemed to be getting better when complications set in and died from them. Goodnight was able to finish the drive to Denver and later returned to Fort Sumner to take his friend and partner’s body back to Texas and buried him where he lies today in Weatherford, Texas.
Goodnight went on to push the trail on up into Wyoming bringing the cattle industry to the western states. He then moved up into the Texas Panhandle and built a ranch there (the JA) where he spent the rest of his days till his death on 1929.
One final note here on Charlie Goodnight. He passed on a legacy that is still used today even on the most modern of ranches. It is none other than the venerable “chuck-wagon”.