The Goodnight Ranch

Goodnight is a name that calls to mind cattle drives from North Texas to Wyoming or Montana and also the start of ranching in the Panhandle.  Charles Foxwing Goodnight, Jr. was born in Illinois, not too far north of St. Louis, Missouri to farmers Charles and Charlotte Collier Goodnight in 1836.  His father died five years after this and his mother married Hiram Henry Daugherty, a farmer who lived nearby.  A few years later in 1845, the family headed for Texas, settling between what is now Milam County between College Station to the east and Austin to the west.  Charles did not receive much formal schooling and began working as a cowboy to help the family get by.  His first stepfather Daughterty also died not long after arriving in Texas.  His mother then married a minister by the name of Adam Sheek in 1853.  Goodnight and a step brother, John Wesley Sheek, began a ranching operation and around 1857 they relocated it further up the Brazos to what is now Palo Pinto County.  Once they got settled, they brought the family with them.

As was common in the frontier days of North Texas, Goodnight and other ranchers joined together in the mid 1850s to help defend their farms and ranches against the various native tribes who had previously ranged there.  One one occasion, Goodnight is said to have discovered the encampment and trail of Chief Peta Nocona in late 1860, leading to the skirmish known as the Battle of Pease River where Sul Ross and a combined group of soldiers and citizens fought the Comanche Chief and recaptured Cynthia Parker, who had been taken from her family at Fort Parker, near Groesbeck, in 1836.  Cynthia Parker, the mother of Quanah Parker, had lived with the Comanche for 24 years and was assimilated into the Comanche community.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Goodnight and other settlers banded together to form the Frontier Battalion to defend the area from the native tribes and bandits for the duration of the War.  Shortly afterward in 1866, he and a friend named Oliver Loving devised a plan to drive some cattle to market them to prospectors in the mining camps of Colorado.  They made one drive of 2,000 head of cattle and sold them at Fort Sumner in New Mexico where the government had established a reservation that housed as many as 8,000 Apache and Navajo.  Their cattle drive partnership was not to endure, as the following year on a later drive Loving, the elder of the two, was wounded in a battle with Indians on the Pecos River near Carlsbad, New Mexico.  Loving died some weeks later at Fort Sumner where he had been taken to be treated for his wounds.  Goodnight and his cowboy Bose Ikard brought Loving’s remains back to be buried near Loving’s home in Parker County, Texas.

Goodnight is said to have invented the chuck wagon.  Together with Loving, he had driven cattle over a trail that came to be known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail.  The route in Texas generally followed the old Butterfield Overland Mail route from around Fort Belknap west to the Pecos River.  From that point, they continued northward in the New Mexico Territory to the headwaters of the Pecos in northern New Mexico.  From there the trail generally followed the old Santa Fe Trail heading to the northeast before continuing on north to Raton Pass, on into Colorado and was eventually extended into Wyoming.

Goodnight ranched for a while in southern Colorado near Pueblo and also drove cattle for other ranchers to markets further north.  Around this time, Goodnight married the former Mary Ann “Molly” Dyer with whom he had become acquainted back in Texas.  Goodnight had employed some of her brothers while ranching in Colorado.  Their marriage lasted until her death.

Goodnight enjoyed success at first in Colorado but in the early 1870s there was an economic downturn that depressed the price of cattle.  This led him to liquidate his Colorado ranch and return to Texas.  Goodnight and an Irish born partner named John G. Adair founded the JA Ranch in the general area of Palo Duro Canyon in Texas in 1876.  At its peak, the ranch was around 1.3 million acres.  It began as an operation of Longhorn cattle but eventually they introduced Hereford cattle to the herd.  Goodnight experimented with cross breeding Longhorn as well as Hereford, bison and Angus.  The ranch carried as many as 100,000 head of cattle at its peak.  They made several cattle drives from Texas through the Oklahoma Territory and on into Kansas.  The Goodnight-Adair partnership continued until a few years after the death of Adair in 1885.  Around 1887, Goodnight traded his interest in the JA Ranch for another Adair property, the Lazy F Ranch, near Quitaque, Texas.  Charles continued to operate the Lazy F for only a few years before selling half to an investor from Missouri and purchasing 160 sections south of the Red River in Armstrong County near the fairly recently esablished Fort Worth and Denver City rail line.  The town of Goodnight, Texas was built around where the old Goodnight Ranch headquarters building was first constructed.

The ranch successfully operated as a cow and calf operation for several decades, run by Goodnight and his first wife, Molly.  Around 1919, Goodnight sold out to W. J. McAlister with a provision that he and Molly could remain in the ranch house as long as they lived.  Molly died in 1926 at the age of 86.  She had been Charles’ constant companion since their marriage in the 1870s.  On March 6, 1927, the Dallas Morning News carried a surprising one column article noting the marriage of the 91 year old Goodnight to 26 year old Corrine Goodnight formerly of Butte, Montana.  Not much is known about Corrine (thought to be a distant cousin) other than she had become acquainted with the old rancher through the exchange of letters.  Goodnight apparently could not write, but corresponding through one of his employees, he had invited her to come to Texas and serve as a caretaker.  Five months later, they were married.  She survived Goodnight who died in 1929, married at least once more, lived until 1971 and is buried in Michigan.

Charles and Molly had no children of their own.  They are both buried in the Goodnight Cemetery not far from the ranch house.  The former town of Goodnight is located between Clarendon and Claude, Texas on Highway 287 and the cemetery is a few miles east of the old town site.  A succession of future owners operated the ranch including J. R. Staley, and later Mattie Hedgecoke who expanded it.  Under Hedgecoke, the operation continued as a Hereford herd with Simmental bulls being later introduced.  Thereafter, the ranch was leased to a family named Cameron who also added the raising and training of work and rodeo horses to the operation.

The town of Goodnight is gone today, except for the former ranch headquarters.  The 2900 square foot ranch house in Goodnight was eventually acquired by an Amarillo businessman who donated it and 30 acres surrounding it to the Armstrong County Museum in 2005.  Built in the late 1880s, it was initially in poor condition when acquired.  However, the Museum renovated and restored it as memorial to Goodnight and the north Texas ranching history.  The ranch house opened for tours in 2012.

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