Monday, April 21, 2008

And to All A Goodnight - My Town Monday

Unlike some of my fellow My Town Monday-ers I don't have centuries of history to draw upon when writing about Amarillo. Really only about 150 or so since the area was settled. I could and probably will at some point talk about the Native American tribes that called the area home long before, even the Spanish explorers such as Francisco de Coronado, but today I'm going to regale a tale of friendship that involves a man sometimes referred to as the father of the Texas Panhandle.

I never had a compass in my life. I was never lost. ~Charles Goodnight

Charles Goodnight was a cattleman and by all accounts a tough, take no nonsense kind of guy. I could write a ten thousand word post on his life if I were so inclined but I'm only going to hit the high-points and then get to the friendship aspect of this post about one of my area founding fathers.

Charles came to Texas from Illinois at the age of nine. He rode the entire way bareback and by the age of eleven was in charge of taking care of his widowed mother. he got his start in the cattle business by working and caring for a neighbors cattle once he got to Texas. His pay - he got to keep every fourth calf born for his won herd. By the time the Civil War broke out Goodnight had 180 head of his own, but he left the cattle behind and joined the famed Texas Rangers where his primary duties were to protect the western frontier.

At the end of the war her returned home to find not only his cattle ranch in ruins but that the entire industry was suffering due to ravished market in the war torn South. So gathering up the scattered herds he began to eye to West and it's booming, railroad and mining operations as a place to sell his beef.

He partnered up with a man named Oliver Loving and the two of them successfully forged a new trail across the water deprived, Indian occupied areas of the west that many other ranchers claimed couldn't be crossed with a herd. When the two man made their journey and cashed in handily for doing so, the route became widely known as the Goodnight-Loving trail.

At this time Goodnight and Loving were based in east Texas, and the two fast became hard bound friends thanks to the bonds forged on the dusty trail.

After their success others ranchers rushed to duplicate their feat. Goodnight and Loving wanted to preserve their god fortune and capitalize while they could. At stake was a lot of money in Government contracts so during that second trip Loving rushed ahead of the herd to secure the contracts while Goodnight stayed with the herd.

But Comanches caught Loving out in the plains and shot him in the wrist and hip. Loving used a riverbank to dig in and hold off his attackers for several days, before finally escaping under the cover of darkness. A passing wagon picked him up an took him to an Army hospital but his wounds were too severe for Loving to be saved.

On his deathbed, Loving sent for his partner and friend Charles Goodnight. Loving told his friend that his one regret was that he would have to be buried in a foreign land as opposed to his native Texas at which point Goodnight pledged to take Loving body back to Texas for a proper burial site.

Goodnight and his trail-hands built a tin coffin around Lovings wooden one using smashed tin cans and then sealing it with charcoal they turned the entire herd around and headed back to Texas as their competitors forged ahead.

All to keep a promise to his friend.

If the story sounds somewhat familiar to you it may be because author Larry McMurtry used the event and Goodnight and Loving's relationship the basis for his two main characters. Gus McCrae and Woodrow McCall and in the novel Lonesome Dove. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones played the roles in the mini-series.

Goodnight went on to even greater success as a cattlemen having large spread in both Colorado and the Texas Panhandle. He is said to have invented the chuckwagon as a means to feed his men on long trail drives and there is a small town that bears his name just to the East of Amarillo on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon which along with a, Englishman named John G. Adair is where Goodnight founded the massive JA Ranch. A superior cattle breeder, Goodnight is known for crossbreeding the native Texas Longhorn with the beefier Hereford breed and for mixing cattle with buffaloes to form what he called Cattalo.

Charles Goodnight lived in this area until his death in 1929 at the age of 93. He is buried next to his longtime wife Mary in the town that bears his name. Both the JA Ranch and descendants of Mr. Goodnight's original buffalo herd are surviving to this day, though nowadays the buffalo are part of the official state herd of Texas and are located at Caprock Canyons State Park.

Check below for more My Town Monday posts and feel free to join in, just drop me a comment to let me know you've done so and I will link to your site as well.

***And don't forget May 12th is the day to post a review of a book set in your town.***

The Anti-Wife -- Mt. Vernon, Washington

Josephine Damian -- New Rochelle, New York

Patti Abbott -- Detroit, Michigan

Debra -- Village of Peninsula, Ohio

LyzzyDee -- Welwyn Garden City, England

WordVixen -- Lancaster, Pennsylvania

JenKneeBee -- Twin Cities, Minnesota

Barrie Summy -- Julian, California

Samantha Winston -- Montchauvet, France

DebbieLou -- Bishops Stortford, England

Sex Scenes at Starbucks -- Superior, Colorado

Clair Dickson --Livingston County, Michigan

Merry Monteleone -- Chicago, Illinois

Alex Keto -- Acre, Israel

Britta Coleman -- Fort Worth, Texas

Clare2E (Women of Mystery) -- New York City, New York

Cicily Janus -- Colorado Springs, Colorado


Josephine Damian said...

As I read RAGTIME for My Town Book Club day, more and more I see history's potential for story material, as did McMurtry.... I did not know LONESOME drew so much of it's story line from fact.

Since my current town is barely 50 years old, I'd be hard pressed to find much history here.

alex keto said...

Out of curiosity, in Lonesome Dove, did the writer stick close the facts in terms of names and dates or use the history as a springboard to a more fictional account.

Travis Erwin said...

Alex, it has been so long since I read Lonesome Dove I'd have to go back and read, but I'd say the timeline has to be fairly close.

debra said...

Thanks for an interesting look at Amarillo. This week's look at Peninsula, Ohio is posted.

virtual nexus said...

I enjoyed this a lot - spent a month in Colo and New Mexico in times back, and have a favourite art book on cowboys and cattle called Traildust - The Art of James Reynolds. Thanks for a great post.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Fascinating post. I'd heard of the Goodnight-Loving Trail before when doing some research for a book set in Texas, alas never finished.

A couple of years ago I was in San Antonio for a conference and several of us went to the museum at the Institute for Texas Culture. They had a great display on the cattle drive era, complete with chuckwagon. Great museum.

I'm hoping to do MTM post tomorrow.


Lyzzydee said...

I had never heard of any of this, a true cowboy tale!!
Its amazing the things that you can learn from these posts!!

I have posted mine.

Thanks Travis.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love the name and loved Lonesome Dove.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating tale. Thank you for sharing it!

Charles Goodnight sounds like he was a fine man, and I love his quote about never being lost. :)

WordVixen said...

Yo! My MTM post is up:

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Very cool! I love westerns so this was right up my alley! Sorry to be missing another Monday post but gotta finish off the contest first!

j said...

A very cool story. I can't imagine what it must have been like to live in a truly wild west setting.

My MTM post is up at:

Barrie said...

As usual, very interestng! And...I loved Lonesome Dove.

My Monday Post: Observer's Inn, Julian CA for nighttime sky gazing!

Thanks, again, Travis

Sam said...

What a terrific post!
I LOVED 'Lonesome Dove' - it's one of my all-time favorite books.
I posted about old stones, lol.
Happy Monday!

Mary Ann said...

I loved this story. It will make me click on Lonesome Dove again the next time it's on cable.

Debbielou said...

What a fantastic story - Thank you!
My post is up today

Mary Witzl said...

I've heard of Goodnight and Loving before too -- names like that stick with you. Our family traveled through the States about eight years ago and I had to be dragged away from all the historical markers I could not get enough of.

I love Larry McMurty's writing and will be reading Lonesome Dove again. It is a shame that once history becomes history, so many people tend to lose interest. The West was a time of some fantastic stories and events, and they deserve to be celebrated and remembered.

Part of me feels a little sorry for Charles Goodnight, living until 1929. How sad to see the West tamed; to live long enough to see the buffalo herds slaughtered and pristine country turned into cities.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks for the history on this character. I remmeber seeing his name in various western novels I've read over the years, particularly in some L'Amour novels. Didn't know the details although I'd picked up some stuff second hand.

Michele said...

Even though your town doesn't have centuries of history, like some of the other MTM contributers, there are still so many fascinating stories for the area! Thanks so much for sharing them.

ssas said...

Wow. That's a good friend.

I'm playing, too. Superior, Colorado this time.

March2theSea said...

way off subject..your Stars won! Congrats.

Travis Erwin said...

March -- I stayed up too late listening to the game, but I did get a bit of writing done and they did win so I feel good. Take that Grace.

Unknown said...

Fascinating! I LOVE the movie Lonesome Dove. It may be one of my favorites!

Great story. Thanks for sharing this.

Clair D. said...

Cool story, Travis. Though, I'm not sure which would be odder-- a person named "Goodnight" or a town.

I have a My Town Monday up, myself.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Travis, I just wanted to drop you a line to let you know I finally participated this week - Haunted Chicago

I'll drop back over to read everyone's a little later tonight.

Patti said...

el the same way about texas...every place else is "out of country"...

Rocketstar said...

The old west, even though it had it's perils, I think that would have been a very interesting and romantic time to live.

alex keto said...

I'm up with a bit about Acre

Mr. Shife said...

Cool story. And it did sound familiar. Now I have a cool factoid I can drop on my father-in-law when we watch Lonesome Dove again. Thanks.

Merry Monteleone said...

I finally went back and read it, that's such a great story, Travis, not many friends would risk their own fortunes just to see to their friends' burial... than again, last requests used to be sacred, but it's still a doozy of a last request.

Thanks for posting, and coming up with the my town idea, I learn something new every week - it's awesome.

Andrea Frazer said...

That is amazing. From the sounds of Loving Goodnight I seriously thought you were going to say it was the basis for Brokeback Mountain. Anyway, totally fascinating. I will have to find out more about my home town too. Right now it's the capital of porn in L.A.. Sad, but true.

Britta Coleman said...

As I was reading your post I thought...wait a minute, this is Lonesome Dove! Interesting to know the roots of one of my favorite books, ever. Another great western about friendship (and horses) is Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses.

My post is up...on Tornadoes, Tunes and Margaritas in Fort Worth.

Clare2e said...

If it's better late than never, my MTM post is up at Women of Mystery about the latest NY Comic Con.

P.S. I am Loving the Goodnight stories!

Lana Gramlich said...

Wow! Very interesting. The Goodnight-Loving Trail sounds a little dirty, though. *LOL* I was hoping to post a video from one of the concerts this past weekend for MTM, but I had nothing but problems uploading it, so I gave up. Maybe next week...

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, Travis. I love historical anecdotes!

Bubblewench said...

That is really cool. Thanks for linking Lonesome Dove, my brain bell was ringing and I couldn't figure out why...

Plainsman said...

My grandfather worked for Col. Goodnight, and a couple of my uncles worked on the JA. I was very fortunate to spend many hours at the different cow camps of the JA, from the Brice area, to the Palo Duro area.

Even though Col. Goodnight died almost two decades before I was born, I was able to absorb all the wonderful and tragic history of that time in Texas.

Larry McMurtry's lovely cousins grew up with me, and one will forever remain the love of my life.

Lonesome Dove was a very accurate representation of the Goodnight, Loving friendship.

I was actually born in the Adair Memorial Hospital. My wife, 20 years younger and infinitely more beautiful, still finds it amusing that the hospital I was born in is now a museum.