Getting to Know Charlie Goodnight

I am getting to know Charlie Goodnight by his work, which is the truest way to know someone. As I drive through the Texas Panhandle, it is impossible not to. I saw the historical markers for his “drift fence” to keep the cattle from drifting south in winter. There is a reconstruction of his dugout house in Palo Duro Canyon, where he ran cattle.  The man is a real western hero. He was a Texas Ranger, fought the Comanche & later helped make a treaty with their last great war Chief Quanah Parker, pioneered cattle trails, the biggest, the Goodnight-Loving trail, went from Texas through Colorado and all the way to Wyoming, and built a ranch and an industry in Texas cattle. When he was all done with that, he helped save the Bison from extinction. The Bison in Yellowstone, on Ted Turner’s ranch and around the West are to some extent descended from the herd that Charlie Goodnight protected on his ranch.

I recognized Goodnight.  I knew him from western movies and my research showed that this was the case.  He was the inspiration for a raft of movie cowboys.   One of the ones l like the best is “Lonesome Dove.”  The character of Captain Woodrow Call, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is loosely based on Goodnight and the Gus character, played by Robert Duvall, is based on his friend Oliver Loving.   Loving and Goodnight ran cattle as in the book/movie.  Like Gus, Loving was fatally injured in an Indian attack (Comanche) and died of gangrene.  Like Woodrow Call, Charlie Goodnight brought his friend back to Texas to be buried. You can also see the Goodnight character in a movie like “Red River” with John Wayne.  In fact, Charlie Goodnight was one of the characters that I knew best, although I don’t recall actually hearing of him until recently.

There is so much to this man, I suggest you look him up and read more. Suffice to say that few men have had such an eventful and exciting life. His real life is like a fictional western, actually a series of them. We shall not soon see his like again.

The picture up top is a reconstruction of the dugout cabin where he lived while settling the area.  Below that is a nearby stream, typical with its cottonwood and willow, probably his water source, certainly a watering place for cattle.  Access to water was the key to success. They had an saying, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” The last picture is a feedlot. There are lots of lots around here. The old round up and cattle drive has changed a bit. BTW – Goodnight also helped improve the herds.  Among his other contributions was introducing Hereford bulls into the gene pool. The Longhorns were picturesque, but there is better beef.  Beef – it’s what’s for dinner, to some extent thanks to old Charlie.