Charles Goodnight

In my soon to be published book, I tell the complete story of the incredible life of Charlie Goodnight.  Here is the first of several continuing posts relating that life… …. Ron  

Charlie Goodnight

You don’t hear much about him in the history books, but Charlie Goodnight was one of the most influential men in developing early Texas and the Western US. The Bible says that God in interested and involved in the founding and development of nations. It is my opinion that He used Charlie Goodnight over and over again in the development of the Western US and particularly the Southwestern part. He was one of the original men that protected the settlements along the frontier from the Indians. These men were called “Rangers” and they predated what were later officially established as the “Texas Rangers”.

He father was born in Kentucky, grew up in Kentucky and married a girl named Charlotte Collier when he as age 20 and she was 15. They moved to southern Illinois just west of St. Louis and then soon moved a little north to Madison, County to escape the malaria in their area.

The elder Charles Goodnight worked so hard on their farm from dawn to dark. Young Charlie was born on March 5, 1836, only three days after Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico. Charlie had a brother, Elijah, who was born 4 years prior.

Young Charlie started to school at age 7. He managed to finish only two annual semesters, but all his life he remembered and revered his teacher, Jane Hagerman. She instilled in him a life-long desire to learn which he was still doing even into his 90’s.

Since the elder Goodnight gave little thought his health, and did not take care of himself, he died of pneumonia from exposure to the elements in 1841.

Those were not days of economic independence for women. His mother soon married a neighboring farmer named Hiram Daugherty.

Young Charlie spent long periods out in the woods, particularly studying the animals and birds.

All his life he was very contemplative and dreamed of big exploits and goals. Even at age 93 he still dreamed of great ranching enterprises he would yet direct.

All over that part of the country there was so much talk of Texas and the magnificent opportunities and freedoms there. Finally, Hiram Daugherty loaded the family’s possessions onto two covered wagons and they set out for Texas. Young Charlie rode his little horse, Blaze, bareback all the way without saddle or even a saddle blanket.

They drove to Springfield Missouri, then to Little Rock, ferried across the Arkansas River and then the Red River into Texas. They passed Paris, the little trading post of Dallas where they crossed the Trinity and proceeded down the west side of it. That was where young Charlie saw his first buffalo. Some men, as was the custom, had rounded up a big group of them with huge, vicious, cur dogs and were leisurely shooting them down to collect their hides.

They eventually left the Trinity and traveled west. After leaving the Trinity they saw no settlers as they crossed the prairie until they got to the Robinson Plantation on the Little Brazos. They then crossed the Little Brazos to the town of Nashville on the main Brazos. The settlers there were “forted up” as protection from the Indians. They would fort up each night and then go out each day and work their farms.

Daugherty and family really liked the country there, though there were only a few settlers at Nashville.

They settled on a farm just below the junction of the Little Brazos and the main Brazos.

The only settler beyond them was a man from Georgia that was called Major, though he had never been in the army. He lived out to the west and beyond everyone else since he had two wives that he kept in the same house. Thus, he was not able to live near the other settlers with such unconventional circumstances. Charlie said the Major fussed that the two women could not get along and that he could not ever understand why, since no one else lived within 15 miles of them.

Soon after they settled there Charlie’s mother left Daugherty (Charlie always said with “good cause”). Now she was like a widow again out on that frontier with only Elijah, age 15, and Charlie, age 11. However, they “got by” with both boys doing the farming and working at odd jobs.

At about this time Elijah caught a baby wild mustang horse on the prairie. Charlie nursed that mustang on milk until it was old enough to eat on its own. Charlie loved that horse, but it never lost its wildness from its mustang blood. Charlie said that it must have bucked him off over a hundred times. He said it would not run away after bucking him off, but just stand there and wait for him to get back on and then buck again.

The family kept moving north, and eventually settled on a homestead 15 miles west of Waco between the Bosque River and the main Brazos River. Charlie had all manner of odd jobs, but still found time to hunt and fish out in that wild country.

He was particularly intrigued with the innate sense of direction that animals had. He watched how the mother alligators would go way out and scrape up a big mound of dirt and leaves and twigs and lay their eggs. The warmth of the decaying mass would hatch the eggs and the mother would later come all the way back to the same spot and lead the babies to the closest slough.

He also observed how that soft-shell turtles did the same thing. And one time one of their big sows broke out and went way off and made a thick bed of grass under a bluff and had nine little white piglets. Charlie gathered them up in a basket and took them back to the farm. He then got the mother back into her pen. However, he had no sooner gotten her back than those new-born piglets had make their way all the way back through the tall grass to their original bed.

He was so intrigued at this innate sense of direction that these animals had.

Very few humans ever have or develop this sense, but Charlie discovered that he had this same sense. It saved not only his life many times, but the lives of many other men that he was responsible for. He could travel with no compass even on the darkest night long distances directly to his destination.

At age 16 Charlie turned to freighting and hauling in Waco where he worked for two years.

In 1853 his mother married a preacher named Adam Sheek. Charlie described him as “a very devout Christian man, extremely kind, and in my estimation as nearly faultless as it is possible for a man to be.”

In 1856 Charlie formed a partnership with his stepbrother, J. Wes Sheek, who was three years his senior. Charlie said that between them they had three good horses, splendid firearms, a large wagon, and six yokes of cattle. These two set out to find their “fortune” in the world.

They first headed southwest to the San Saba country. They found a few settlers there along the San Saba river but decided there was no money to be made there, although they almost lost their horses to Indians while camped there.

For years they had heard about California. They figured there must be wealth to be had there and lost no time in starting for California. They headed straight north to intersect the Brazos and intersected it at old Fort Graham. From there they followed a military road to Fort Belknap. From there the immigrant road led straight toward California.

About this time they met up with Charlie’s brother-in-law, Alfred Lane. He talked them out of going to California and instead buying a large valley of land south of Weatherford, agreeing to finance their part of the deal. However, they discovered that they could not get good title to it, and so had to scrap that project.

They then met up with Sheek’s brother-in-law, Claiborn Varner. He proposed that Wes and Charlie take his heard of four hundred and thirty head of mostly mother cows and keep them for ten years wherever they pleased, taking every fourth calf as pay. They went down into Somervell County and received the heard which Varner delivered with the help of his negro slaves.

They wintered the cattle in a big bend of the Brazos about 15 miles from where Glen Rose is now located while they stayed in a log cabin near there. When Spring came in 1857 and new grass started up, they moved the heard northwest to wild, open country to a place called Black Springs in the Keechi Valley in the Western Cross Timbers.

At that time in Texas, except for deep east Texas, the whole country was all prairie except for two strips of post oak timber that went down from the Red River to an east-west line at about Ft. Worth. These two long, narrow strips of timber were on outcropping sandy strips that averaged between one-half a mile to ten miles in width. With all those hundreds and hundreds of miles of prairie on both sides and way south, these cross timbers were very prominent landmarks. If you were to start from Texarkana for the long trip to El Paso, those were about the only trees you saw, the whole way. Every thing else was prairie.

At the bottom terminus of the eastern cross timbers was a huge spring. That was where Sam Houston met with the Indians and brokered a peace with them that lasted until the Comanches came down from Colorado into Texas.

In 1857 the edge of the frontier lay about 100 miles west of the villages of Dallas and Waxahachie in spite of Indian troubles.

Since there was no market for calves and steers were not marketable until they were four or five years old, Wes and Charlie knew that though they were now “in business”, it would be a long time before they would be seeing any money payback. Charlie went to freighting or “whacking bulls” as they called it. He started with 6 yokes of oxen, but soon graduated to twelve yokes, with 24 head pulling one great wagon.

Their cattle soon settled-in along the grassy slopes of the Keechi and Charlie and Wes cut logs and built a nice cabin there. There were not only deer an turkey, but many fat bear for food. As soon as the cabin was finished, Charlie moved his mother and the preacher Sheek up there.

Meanwhile, Charlie kept freighting back and forth from that frontier to Houston and back for three years. On his last trip he hauled 13,000 pounds of salt on one load. Their one fourth of the calf crop was so meager that Wes, who had now gotten married, wanted to quit the contract. However, Charlie was so stubborn and principled that he was determined to keep on with it.

There had not been too much Indian trouble along that part of the frontier, but in the later part of 1858, their raids started becoming frequent. Near Charlie’s log house, a few miles up the cross timbers a young couple named Mason built a place in what they called Lost Valley. It was one of those double log houses with a habitation on both sides of what was called a dog trot in between. A couple named Cameron lived on the other side.

Mrs. Mason’s father was an interesting old fellow named Lynn. He raised fine horses, but he never rode them. He just walked everywhere he went no matter how far. On this one occasion he decided to go over to see his daughter. He walked the twenty miles from his ranch to the Mason’s Lost Valley place.

When he got there he found that the Indians had raided the day before. Mr. Mason was dead and his wife had gotten out to the cow lot where she had been shot down with a little baby in her arms. The little baby was still nursing its dead mother. However, their other child, about two or three years old was still alive in the house. Lynn found that the Cameron’s were both dead, too. The Cameron’s had a bright young ten year old boy who was taken off by the Indians, as was their custom with young boys; but he was later found alive where the Indians had shoved him off their horse when they were later pursued.

The men along the frontier began to organize into groups that were called “rangers”. One of the most formidable organizers was a fellow named John R. Baylor. He was over six feet tall and straight as an arrow. No one remembers his military background, but he was called, “General”.

Anytime one of those ranger groups went after Indians, they always wanted Charlie Goodnight with them. Charlie, even at that young age was just a natural scout and frontier’s man.

Charlie remembers that shortly after the killing of the Masons’ and the Camerons’ General Baylor took a group of rangers up north to hunt Indians. He had a passion for wanting them dead. Up in the north part of their western cross timbers they ran onto a large group of Comanches, who started firing at them from the timber. Charlie, always with a fine horse rode straight at them and flushed a small group out of the timber. He followed them until he closed on the last one. Charlie shot him between the shoulders with his pistol, but the Indian rode back into another stand of timber holding onto his saddle horn with both hands.

About then the much larger group of Indians began firing at the group of rangers from the timber. They killed one man and injured another. Baylor formed the men into a battle line and backed off a fairly safe distance. Right along the front of the timber this really brave Indian with a big eagle feather head-dress was riding back and forth yelling loudly and occasionally firing at them.

Charlie had loaned his good rifle to another fellow, and only had a shotgun. He noticed that there was a low line of brush between them and that Indian. He figured that he could crawl up into that brush and get close enough to kill him with the shotgun. As he was crawling up there, here came Baylor crawling behind him. He told Charlie that he could much better get the Indian with his rifle, to let him get the Indian.

As the Indian started slowly riding east, Baylor took a long time carefully sighting his rifle. When he finally shot, a big puff of eagle feathers blew-up over the Indian’s head. Charlie said Baylor thought for at least a minute and finally said: “Well, if I can’t kill him, at least I can pick him!”

To be continued

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