Goodnight Loving Herd at Horsehead Crossing 1866

   Goodnight Loving Herd at Horsehead Crossing 1866


  Mike Capron

Charles Goodnight partnered with Oliver Loving in1866 to take a herd of hardy longhorns over a trail that was to be known as the Goodnight Loving Trail.

After the Civil War making money and settling the west were big priorities. The Indians were starting to settle on the Reservations and the Government had to feed them. The cattle numbers had expanded greatly in Texas because of abundant grass and no men folk on the Texas ranches to take care of them. But after the civil war and all the men returning from the war, what was left of the men folk, found work gathering the cattle and delivering to different markets for food consumption. The Government had need to feed the Indians on the reservations and the cattle were mobil and similar to the buffalo that the Indians knew how to utilizes. At the same time markets were developing with the migration west in the north. Cattle were a great food source so the Texas cattle started the trails north.  But with the northern markets came problems of delivery.   Going thru the Indian Territory and the encroachment on the civilization north of Indian Territory was a bigger and bigger problem. Goodnight came up with the idea to go west of the Indian Territory and skirt around the problems of the civilized farmers in Kansas.  The only concern with that route was to cross the southern end of the Staked Plains and the lack of sufficient water to trail the big herds.  Goodnight met Oliver Loving while he was putting his first herd together twenty five miles southwest of Belknap Texas.  Oliver Loving was putting his first herd together also and they decided to combine resources and herds for the sake of success and take advantage of different personal experiences in the past. Mr. Loving was a business man and knew the cattle markets, Charles Goodnight had the experience of being a Texas Ranger and knew the ways of men on the frontier. He was younger and very hardy. Even though Mr. Loving was nearly twice as old, he also was a very hardy individual with definite personal convictions. They combined resources and on the 6th day of June ,1866, they left with two thousand head total and an outfit of 18 men fairly well armed.  Charley’s new chuckwagon and his new acquaintances “One Arm” Bill Wilson and his brother Charley were also included in the outfit.  Mr. Goodnight convinced Mr. Loving to take charge of the herd while he scouted the countryside for dangers, waterholes and campsites. They followed the Butterfield Trail as it was going the direction they wanted to go and it was well marked and followed the waterholes west. From Belknap to Camp Cooper and old Fort Phantom Hill west to the Middle Fork of the Concho River. This was the last water large enough to water two thousand steers. They rested and filled the cattle with all the water and feed they could hold, because the next water was around ninety miles of dry rollin, all the way to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River. This stretch of the drive was hard on cattle, horses and men. They tried several different ways to handle the cattle because the cattle didn’t feel like being left to bed on an empty belly with no water. They paced all night looking for water. Mr. Goodnight told Mr. Loving that they might as well keep moving because the cattle were moving all night anyway. Mr. Loving said yes he agreed but he wanted Mr. Goodnight to take charge of the herd, which he did.  The crew rode all night keeping the cattle moving in the direction of Horsehead. Three hundred head died in this dry stretch from the Middle Concho to Horsehead Crossing. The men rode all night with a few coffee stops along the way. The chuckwagon would jump from place to place and the cook would make a pot of coffee that the crew could stop for a quick cup of coffee. Saved the crews life I am sure.  As they came through Castle Canyon the lead cattle smelled water from a salt lake and they became very hard to handle , but with more efforts they managed to get them pointed to Horsehead Crossing still several miles away, by this time the herd was scattered several miles long. As the cattle smelled water they became crazed for water and were unmanageable. The Pecos River was full of quicksand, high banks on the riverside and deep fast water. It took them three days to water the herd and keep them together while they recuperated.  They lost another one hundred head from quicksand to drowning.  

Finally after three days they left with the remainder of the herd on the east side of the Pecos headed for Ft. Sumner, where they planned to sell the steers.  

They reached Ft. Sumner and sold the steers for a great profit all except two hundred head of cattle that the buyers cut back. It was decided that Mr. Loving stay with  these cattle and sell them later when possible and let Mr. Goodnight return to get another herd put together, branded and ready for the next trip north.  This was the beginning of a long successful partnership. Many stories these men created in this business venture.  I will continue to use their stories in future writings and paintings. Too be Continued …….!!!!!


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