This Day In History: Charles Goodnight, The Great Cattle Baron Is Born (1929)

Charles Goodnight was a legend in the old west. He was the man who helped to develop the cattle industry in Texas and he also pioneered several important cattle trails.  He was born in 1836 in the State of Illinois and he moved to Texas when he was still a boy. He loved the frontier life and soon he became a skilled cowboy and frontiersman. Goodnight served as a scout and guide for the Union during the Civil War. During the Civil War, he entered the cattle business and set up a ranch in Palo Pinto County. At this time most ranchers drove their cattle to Kansas where they were shipped to the big cities in the East or north to Chicago. Goodnight was a shrewd businessman and knew that there were markets further west in New Mexico and Colorado.

Goodnight Trail marker

He decided to establish a drive to the southwest and he formed a partnership with Oliver Loving. Together they established a trail in 1866 from Texas to New Mexico. The trail became known as the Goodnight-Loving trail. They later added another trail to Colorado. The Goodnight-Loving trail became one of the best known in the Old West.  It was a dangerous trail and those who traveled it, were often attacked by Indians. Goodnight’s partner, Loving was killed by a band of Indians on only the third trip on the trail. Goodnight despite the dangers continued to use the trail and in a three-year period made a small fortune.  However, this was not enough for Goodnight, he was an ambitious man and believed that there were more opportunities to be had.

In 1875, Goodnight blazed another cattle trail, this time from New Mexico to Colorado, even though the area was still not pacified by the US army and Native American tribes regularly attacked white settlers and cowboys. After establishing a new trail  Goodnight turned his attention to a new project. In the late 1970’s he increasingly focused his efforts on his new Colorado ranch. When the Colorado ranch failed, because of a drought and an economic downturn, that led to a collapse in the price of beef, Goodnight transferred  his herd of cattle to the Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. He was not the type of man to give up and he moved to the Panhandle to make a fresh start.  He persuaded an investor to help him to build up a new ranch. Soon his ranch was one of the biggest in Texas and at one time Goodnight had tens of thousands of head of cattle. In later years Goodnight became fabulously wealthy. He died at the age of 93.