True pioneers of our great Texas heritage

Charlie Goodnight

In recent weeks, I have written about a very famous Texan, Larry McMurtry of Archer City. I was privileged to visit the small Texas town, meet many of its residents, shop in its old stores in the downtown area, and eat several times in the local Dairy Queen, made ultra famous in The Last Picture Show. Posters from that movie literally cover the walls, and I was informed that the townspeople were not thrilled when the book and movie first came out considering how McMurtry portrayed them in his writing. He told it all Texas tough. Some of the characters were not polished and some of their deeds not Sunday school perfect, but they were real and they were Texas.

My visit to interview McMurtry was one of the highlights of my journalistic career, but what I learned sent me delving into the rich Texas history that had intrigued me since arriving in this great state over a decade and a half ago. I found that McMurtry had loosely patterned the famed Texas Rangers in Lonesome Dove, Augustus “Gus “McCrae and Woodrow Call, after Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, founders of the Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail. Bells began to ring and my heart beat faster and faster. I had been approached by Amarillo Living to do a lengthy spread on Goodnight, and the publishing company wanted only quality and diligence. They spared no expense and wanted me to visit Goodnight’s home in the beautiful Palo Duro Canyon, the new museum dedicated to his and Mary Ann’s life, and interview those connected to this famous Texan.

My late husband, Ted and I, had planned a long trip to the High Plains area of our state to encompass these tasks. I learned so much more than space allows me to share. Goodnight was quite a character and did so much more than what I ever knew. Everyone you meet in that part of the country has a Charlie Goodnight tale to share. The man was a legend in his own time and now, more than ever, with the new museum opening, and part of his life portrayed in Lonesome Dove, he is still bigger than life. Rumor has it that McMurtry is writing a new novel about “Boss Charlie.”

I had the joy of standing or stooping in the little wooden dugout that Charles first brought Mary Ann Goodnight to in the historic Palo Duro Canyon, touring the Panhandle – Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas, and later being invited to tour the Goodnight ranch home on the rim of the canyon. It has since been remodeled and renamed the Charles Goodnight Historical Center in Goodnight, Texas, and is a very popular tourist spot. Ted and I, on our own, found the tiny country cemetery across the tracks where both Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight are buried. Brightly colored bandanas tied on the fences are flapping in the wind on the top of the rise in their honor.

During these exciting trips and much research that followed, I learned that Charles Goodnight and his beautiful bride, Mary Ann, did so much more than I ever knew or realized. What an inspiration and what fodder for movies and books! The following things are attributed to Charles Goodnight, and they don’t even scratch the surface.

• Established the first cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle in 1876

• Noted expert on the breeding and raising of fine cattle and buffalo

• Loved and revered all nature, from insects to flowers

• Built the “Castle on the Prairie” for his beloved wife, Mary Ann, in 1887

• Along with Mary Ann, saved a remnant of the southern herd of the American bison or buffalo. A portion of their first herd is now in Caprock Canyon State Park

• Credited with inventing the chuck wagon

• Along with Mary Ann, founded the Goodnight College and helped build two churches in the area

• Served as a Texas Ranger, Indian scout, soldier, banker and mine owner

• Blazed the Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail