Trail Dust - June 6
On this day in 1866, Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving headed northwest with 2,000 head of Texas cattle, opening a new era in the American West.
George Goodnight was a prominent rancher in the Texas panhandle, and a former Texas Ranger and Confederate soldier. Following the war, he joined fellow Texans rounding up feral Texas Longhorns
As early as 1860, Oliver Loving drove 1,500 cattle to Denver, selling them for $36 a head in gold, more than $700 in today's money. The trip back to Texas hit a snag with the start of the Civil War. Union officials refused to let Loving leave until the legendary frontiersman Kit Carson interceded for him.
Upon his return, Loving was quickly commissioned to supply cattle to Confederate troops along the Mississippi River.
It was largely the relocation of thousands of Native Americans at Fort Sumner Arizona's Bosque Redondo during the Navajo's Long Walk that prompted Loving to blaze a new trail. Combining his herd with that of friend and fellow rancher Goodnight, the pair initially followed the familiar Butterfield Overland Mail route. The mail route had operated as a stage line and U.S. postal service from 1857 to 1861, carrying both mail and passengers between Memphis and St. Louis to San Francisco.
Leaving the Overland, Goodnight and Loving followed the Pecos River Valley, crossing the river periodically to graze and water the cattle.
At Fort Sumner, the U.S. Army agreed to pay 8 cents a pound for the steers but refused to buy 800 stocker cattle (lightweight calves). Goodnight returned to Texas with the $12,500 they had earned and Loving continued to Denver with the remainder of the herd.
Goodnight and Loving didn't invent the cattle drive but the Goodnight-Loving Trail played a significant role in the cattle culture of Texas.
As early as 1836 Texas ranchers were driving longhorns to New Orleans on the "Beef Trail" and during the 1840s popular routes like the Shawnee led to Missouri railheads in Sedalia, Springfield and St. Louis. Drovers were dealt a blow in 1853, however, when Missouri farmers formed vigilante groups to bar Texas cattle, concerned the herds would spread tick borne Texas Fever. While the Longhorns were immune to the disease no doubt after decades of exposure, the disease was nearly always fatal to cattle in other regions.
For nearly five decades the drives were a fixture of the American West and was responsible for much of the iconic American cowboy culture.
The expansion of railroads eventually ended the era of the long drives but as late as 1940 Western and Midwestern ranchers continued to practice the time-honored tradition to deliver their cattle to market. Today, cattle drives are generally tourist attractions or part of traditional celebrations.
George Goodnight continued in the cattle business until 1919 when he lost his life savings with the nationalization of a Mexican silver mine. He lived another 10 years, and at age 91 married a 26-year-old Corrine Goodnight who shared the same surname prior to their marriage.
Oliver Loving was not so lucky. He was injured in an Comanche attack and died of gangrene at Fort Sumner September 25, 1867. He was buried in Texas by his friend George Goodnight.