Charles Goodnight

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Charles Goodnight

The American cattleman Charles Goodnight (1836-1929) opened a series of cattle trails from Texas to New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Kansas.

Charles Goodnight was born in Macoupin County, Ill. His father soon died, his mother remarried, and the family moved to Milam County, Tex. At the age of 16 Goodnight was hauling freight with oxteams; at 20 he entered the cattle business with a partner and moved to the frontier in northwestern Texas. In an attempt to protect the range from Indian raids, he joined a group known as the Minute Men of Texas. When the Civil War broke out, this body became the Frontier Regiment of the Texas Rangers. Goodnight participated in many Indian fights and earned a distinctive reputation as a guide and scout.

In 1866 Goodnight located a ranch in New Mexico and with a partner, Oliver Loving, established the Goodnight-Loving Trail, driving a cattle herd from Texas to New Mexico. In subsequent years Goodnight blazed other trails into Wyoming and Colorado. In 1868 he established the Apishapa Ranch in Colorado and in 1870 moved to a property north of Pueblo.

Goodnight went to Kentucky and married Mary Ann Dyer, and they developed their Colorado land. With others Goodnight established the Stock Growers Bank in Pueblo. During the panic of 1873, in an attempt to market cattle for needed funds, he opened the New Goodnight Trail to Granada, Colo.

In 1876 Goodnight drove 1,600 head from the overstocked New Mexico ranges to the Texas Panhandle. To obtain capital, he formed a partnership with John George Adair, establishing the JA Ranch, which eventually included nearly 1 million acres of land and 100,000 head of cattle. In 1877 Goodnight opened a trail from this ranch to the railhead at Dodge City, Kans. He also developed a fine herd by introducing Shorthorn and Hereford stock for breeding. He preserved the buffalo of the range and produced a new breed of stock, the cattalo, by crossing buffalo with Polled Angus cattle.

Goodnight stood for law and order and regulating Native American activities. Between 1868 and 1871 he organized Colorado stockraisers into an association, and in 1880 he prompted the establishment of the Panhandle Stock Association to check organized lawlessness. He provided beeves for the hungry Kiowas and Comanches and mediated between these tribes and the U.S. Army.

Goodnight was interested in education and, with his wife, founded Goodnight College in Texas. At his death he was considered "an almost perfect illustration of the cattleman."

Further Reading

J. Evetts Haley, Charles Goodnight, Cowman and Plainsman (1949), is a sympathetic biography. Harley True Burton wrote a useful History of the JA Ranch (1928). Goodnight's career is discussed in most histories of the cattle industry; Lewis E. Atherton, The Cattle Kings (1961), contains a penetrating analysis. See also Mari Sandoz, The Cattlemen (1958). □

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