A daring idea and the determination to make it succeed helped Charles Goodnight become one of the most prosperous cattlemen in the American West.
Goodnight was born in 1836 in Macoupin County, Illinois, but moved to Texas at ten years of age with his mother and stepfather. Ten years later, he entered the cattle business on the northwest Texas frontier, where he also served with the local militia in their long-running battle against Comanche raiders. Goodnight joined the Texas Rangers in 1857 and fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
At the war's end, Goodnight returned to Texas and joined in "making the gather" -- a near state-wide round-up of cattle that had roamed free during the four long years of war. Having recovered his herd, however, Goodnight now faced the problem of bringing it to market somewhere outside the war-ravaged South. He decided to head west, toward New Mexico and Colorado, despite the fact that getting there would mean driving the herd across a waterless stretch of west Texas.
Goodnight's partner in this venture was an older rancher named Oliver Loving (1812-1867). Loving was born in Kentucky and in 1845 moved to eastern Texas, where he farmed, raised cattle and ran a small shipping business. During the Civil War he had prospered by selling Confederate forces his beef. Before the war, he had trailed cattle to Louisiana, Illinois and once even to Denver. Now he joined forces with Goodnight, and in 1866 they set out with two thousand head to blaze a trail from Belknap, Texas, to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, which became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Once in New Mexico, Loving headed north to Colorado, while Goodnight headed back to Texas for another herd. Between them they had made more than $12,000.
Loving's part in this financial success did not last long; he died after fighting off a band of Comanches who attacked him on the trail to New Mexico in 1867. Honoring his partner's dying request, Goodnight turned back from that cattle drive to bring Loving's body back to Texas. Over the following years, however, as the Goodnight-Loving Trail became one of the most heavily traveled in the Southwest, Goodnight extended his activities, blazing the Goodnight Trail from Alamogordo Creek, New Mexico, to Granada, Colorado.
In 1876, Goodnight consolidated his operations back in Texas, this time at a ranch near Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. The next year, he formed a partnership with an Irish investor, John G. Adair, and their ranch soon covered more than a million acres, with a herd of one hundred thousand head. A pioneer in cattle breeding, Goodnight crossed the tough but scrawny Texas longhorns with the more traditional Herefords to produce a longhorn breed that was both independent and commercially lucrative. He also crossed buffalo with cattle to produce the first "cattalo."
As a panhandle rancher, Goodnight played his part in applying vigilante justice to the area's outlaws and cattle thieves. But while he lived this and every other aspect of the cowboy myth to the fullest, Goodnight was at the same time a shrewd and immensely successful entrepreneur. After selling off his ranch, he spent his last years investing in Mexican mining operations, trying his luck as a movie producer, and enjoying the acclaim of his community at a small ranch near Goodnight, the panhandle town named for him, where he died in 1929.
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