Pueblo County, Colorado
Charles Goodnight

Contributed by Jean Griesan.

Charles Goodnight

When Texas cattle baron Charles Goodnight settled in the Pueblo area in the late 1860s, Civil War scars still were fresh.

Construction of railroads spanning the nation was under way and the United States recently had nullified its treaties with American Indians, redefining them as wards of the state.

It was a time of great change.

The West, like a corralled wild horse, finally was running out of fight.

Improvements - many of them - were under way.

By today's standards, the progress was double-edged.

Land was taken from former Mexican citizens, whose ancestors had tended it for centuries.

Indians were marched to barren reservations.

Bison were killed, nearly to extinction.

The tall-grass landscape of the prairies soon would be replaced by cattle, fences, railroads, drylands and more and more people.

A new age had dawned.

Goodnight, by then, already had lived a larger-than-life existence.

At 9, he'd moved from his Illinois farm birthplace to a new family ranch in Milam County, Texas.

Two years later, he was working as a hired hand for neighboring ranches.

At 15, he left home for a horse-jockey's job in Port Sullivan, Texas, but soon returned home to help his widowed mother and siblings by working at nearby farms and plantations.

His mother's remarriage created family ties that helped him get into ranching. Around 1855, he and his step-brother/partner, John Wesley Sheek, began running 400 head of cattle along the Brazos River.

As conflicts with the Indians increased in northwest Texas, Goodnight and his neighbors joined with the Texas Rangers to subdue the Indians. In December 1860, Goodnight served as a scout and guide for an attack on Indians camped near the Pease River.

With the Civil War's start, Goodnight helped the Rangers chase marauding Indians and Mexicans in the area of the Canadian, Colorado and Brazos headwaters before returning to Palo County in 1864 for more ranching.

In 1866, Goodnight was a seasoned 30-year-old rancher who could turn a setback into an advantage, an entrepreneur who was working to recoup his cattle losses from the chaos left by the Civil War and run-ins with Indians.

That spring, Goodnight and fellow cattleman Oliver Loving began running cattle to New Mexico, where 8-cents-a-pound beef was in demand to feed the Army posts holding Indians.

Goodnight, Loving and 18 cowhands created what some historians say was the first chuckwagon, on the drive from Fort Belknap, Texas, to Fort Sumner, N.M., where they sold their cows. The partners headed up more cattle drives into Colorado and Wyoming.

But their joint interests ended with Loving's death in 1867, the result of wounds he received while warring with Indians. Goodnight made sure his partner's body was returned home for burial.

But Goodnight kept on, driving more of his own herds and others belonging to John S. Chisum and other Texas cowmen further north to Colorado and Wyoming. He sold them them to such ranchers as John Wesley Iliff and the Thatcher brothers for the purpose of stocking northern ranges. He also shipped them east by rail.

In 1868, Goodnight established his Rock Canon Ranch on the Arkansas River, a couple miles west of Pueblo, registering a cattle brand and creating the northern headquarters for the Goodnight cattle trail, from Texas to Wyoming, Colorado and California.

Goodnight's ranch already had played a part in history.

The land was part of a 364,000-acre tract granted by the Mexican government in 1843 to Gervacio Nolan, a native of France and a naturalized Mexican citizen. This land grant was part of what today is Southern Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, California and Texas, joined in 1848 to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, between the United States and Mexico.

About 1870, Goodnight built a barn with 2-foot-thick walls, hand-hewn rafters, beams and hinges. It still stands, 130 years later.

The big barn was designed to hold several carriages and buggies, as well as numerous horse stalls and two huge lofts.

Unfortunately, the cabin to which Goodnight brought his longtime sweetheart and bride, Molly Dyer, burned down long ago.

For about five years, Goodnight used the ranch as a base for more cattle drives. He planted an apple orchard there and invested in area farmlands and lots in the city of Pueblo.

Goodnight helped found the Stock Growers Bank of Pueblo and was part owner of the opera house, a Las Animas meatpacking plant and other area businesses. He, along with other ranchers, including the Thatchers and Henry W. Cresswell, formed Colorado's first stock-raisers' association in 1871.

Goodnight's business continued to grow and, in 1875, he laid out the Goodnight Trail from Alamogordo Creek, N.M., to Granada, Colo.

Goodnight might have stayed in Pueblo, except for overstocked ranges and a financial panic two years earlier that weakened his financial position. Around 1875, he gathered his remaining 1,600 head of longhorns to winter pasture in New Mexico. He soon moved on to ranch in the Texas panhandle, but continued to maintain business ties with the Thatchers for years.

With the financing of Colorado partner John G. Adair, Goodnight started to rebuild his fortune as an employee of the JA Ranch.

By this time, he was a Texas legend for such coups as making peace with destitute Indians in 1878 by promising them two head of cattle every other day, in return for not attacking the JA herd.

He also was known for helping organize and serving as the first president of the Panhandle Stock Association in 1880. A couple of years later, he reportedly became the first rancher to use barbed wire.

By 1885, the JA ranch had reached the maximum allowable size of 1.325 million acres on which 100,000 head of Goodnight's carefully bred cattle grazed.

Goodnight, who believed in improving cattle through breeding, was involved in perfecting Herefords, starting a domestic buffalo herd by crossing bison with Angus cattle to create a "catalo" and invented the first practical side-saddle with an additional horn to rest the left knee, for his wife.

Changes in the cattle business and an economic downturn were the main reason for Goodnight selling out his JA interest in 1887. He relocated his buffalo herd of 250 head to Goodnight, Texas, opening the Goodnight College with his wife in 1898. Six years later, he was among the cowmen compensated for the losses of cattle to American Indians in the 1860s.

Around 1900, he again downsized his ranching operations, but continued his experiments with buffalo. He kept fowl, elk, antelope and other animals in zoo-like cages on the Goodnight Ranch, which with its restaurant featuring bison meat, became a major Panhandle tourist attraction.

The Goodnight Ranch shipped bison to zoos in Europe, several U.S. eastern cities, as well as Yellowstone National Park.

Goodnight was recognized by naturalists for his wildlife-preservation efforts, occasionally staging buffalo hunts for former braves. He also became an advocate for American Indians, exchanging visits with New Mexico Pueblo tribes, endorsing their causes in Congress and giving one tribe a foundation herd.

The Goodnights had no children of their own, but raised the son of a housekeeper and often boarded college students whom they hired.

Mrs. Goodnight died in 1926.

In 1927, Goodnight celebrated his 91st birthday by marrying 26-year-old Corrine Goodnight, a young nurse and telephone operator from Butte, Mont., with whom he began corresponding over the interest of their shared surnames.

Goodnight, who often was interviewed by Western authors and journalists, spent his last winters in Phoenix. He died there at 93, but was buried next to his first wife in the Goodnight community cemetery.

Though he had helped found churches in Goodnight years earlier, he officially joined a church only in July 1929, just five months before his death.

The principal source for this article was The Handbook of Texas Online, a joint project of the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association.

Extracted from the Pueblo Chieftain, March 8, 2001


Contributed by Jean Griesan.

Cattle Trail Blazer, 93, Writing Memoirs With Young Wife's Aid

Amarillo, Tex. Charles Goodnight, the last of the three men who blazed the first trail over which cattle were driven northward from Texas after the Civil war, is writing his memoirs.

In this literary effort, the 93-year-old ranchman and former Indian fighter is assisted by his 30-year-old wife. The book, which they hope to complete soon, is to tell of the early days in the southwest.

Colonel Goodnight the title has no military significance has been interested for many years in the preservation of historical data and relics. He is closely identified with the activities of the Panhandle-Plains Historical society. He and J. Eyetts Haley, field secretary of the society, have collected much material of historical value.

Mrs. Goodnight her maiden name was Goodnight, too was a nurse before her marriage two years ago. Since she ceased to be Miss Goodnight she became enthusiastic about preserving historical information and urged her husband to carry on his research at home by exploring his own memory.

Colonel Goodnight was the first white settler in the Texas Panhandle. He and his wife live on a large ranch southeast of Amarillo and the town where they get their mail is named Goodnight, too.

Goodnight was a scout under General McKenzie when he came to Texas and he participated in the last battle between Indians and white men in Texas. That was in the Palo Duro canon in 1874. Incidentally, he is the discoverer of that canon.

Four years later the scout turned cowboy, and helped the Adairs of New York and England establish the famous JA ranch of 400,000 acres in the Palo Duro country. Later he established his own ranch and attracted attention as a livestock breeder because of his attempt to develop a new strain of cattle by crossing buffaloes and Herefords.

Goodnight, John Chisholm and Oliver Loving drove the first cattle over the dry plains to the railroads in Texas, and thereby created the Chisholm trail.

As they rounded up a great herd of longhorns and started them toward Indian territory, many men shook their heads and said the perilous scheme would fail. But the three trail blazers succeeded, and by opening a market for cattle they saved Texas from the financial blight which afflicted other states which had seceded from the union in the Civil war.

Loving, a relative of Goodnight, was slain by Indians on one of the cattle drives.

Extracted from the Colorado Springs Gazette, March 3, 1929



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