Charles Goodnight – 3rd Installment

In my soon to be published book, I tell the complete story of the incredible life of Charlie Goodnight.  Here is the Third of several continuing posts relating that life.   If any of it is not readable, or you want to see more stories like it, please go to my website and read it there…….

Charles Goodnight – 3rd Installment

As stated in the 1st Instalment, 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 is 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”.

Continuing from 2nd Installment:

On June 6, 1866 they headed out, full of optimism and spirit.

They headed to the west and a little south in order to skirt the Indians.  They passed what is now Abilene and then on to about 20 miles above where San Angelo was later built.  On each side of the front of the heard they put an experienced point man.   Along the sides of the heard the other men were strung out to keep a straight line and in the rear were the drags.  The men along the sides and rear alternated each day because of the dust.  Charlie rode about 10 to 15 miles ahead of the heard to scout for the best route and for the best place to graze and bed the heard each night.

On and on they traveled until they finally reached the head waters of the Middle Concho River .

Here they rested and watered the heard before heading to the Horse Head Crossing of the Pecos river.  From this resting place they knew they had to cross 80 miles of alkali dusty country without a drop of water.

After two days and nights the cattle and men were in terrible shape.  On later trips Charlie learned to keep the heard moving most of that whole distance even through the nights.  On the third night they just kept moving and on through most of the next day.

In the afternoon, Charlie decided to take the stronger two-thirds of the cattle on to the river. 

Horsehead Crossing of the Pecos

He then had Loving hold the weaker ones back as best as possible.

However when the cattle smelled that water, there was no holding them back.  They plunged straight on into the river.  There were some alkali ponds along the way to the river, and Charlie was able to keep the heard headed away from them, except for 6 head who were determined to drink there.  Three died before they even left the water, and the three others died only a short distance from it.

Charlie hurried back to help Loving with the weaker group.  By now about three hundred head who could not go any further were left for dead along the trail.  About this time the wind shifted and the remaining 500 head or so smelled the water and just went crazy and stampeded for the river somewhat just above the Horse Head Crossing.  They went straight off the steep bluff into the river.  Some drowned, others became stuck in the quicksand and none could climb the steep bluffs on each side of the river.  After two days, the hands were about dead also, so Charlie had them all ride off pushing the cattle that they saved ahead, and leaving over 100 head alive, bogged in the quicksand and stuck under the bluffs.

All his life, Goodnight hated that river.  With its brine and alkali and steep banks he had a term for it that he used frequently and said with savage feeling:  “The Pecos……the graveyard of the cowman’s hopes!!!

Steep Bluffs on the Pecos just above Househead Crssing

On this first drive they were very lucky not to have encountered any Indians.  That crossing was on the Indian’s main trail from the Palo Duro to Chihuahua in Mexico where the Comanche’s regularly raided before returning to Texas .

The outfit then trailed up the east side of the river until they got to a place called Pope’s Crossing where they went over to the west side.  Charlie said that in all his travels over his life that was the most desolate area he had ever encountered.  There was no game, no wildlife at all.  On his second trip there he said that he did finally see one wolf who was about starved, and that he killed it out of pity.

However, there were rattlesnakes.  Hundreds of them.  Charlie limited the cowhands from shooting to conserve ammunition, but one cowboy had brought a large supply of his own bullets.  And he hated rattlesnakes.   Before they left the Pecos he had collected 72 rattles to take back home.

Finally, they reached Bosque Redondo and Fort Sumner in New Mexico .  And here they found a most interesting situation.  With the help of Kit Carson the US Government had collected the Indians from the west of that area.  They had the Navajos from Arizona and the Mescalero Apaches from the New Mexico-Mexican border.  They were trying to make this a reservation for them, even though the land was too poor for adequate farming and these two groups of Indians were bitter enemies of each other.  They had about eighty-five hundred Indians who were about to starve. 

Later, the Navahos were allowed to go back to their native mountains and the Apaches just left, but at this moment, the soldiers considered this huge heard of cattle a “Godsend”. 

Charlie and Loving were able to sell their steers to the government agents for 8 cents per pound on the hoof. 

Loving took the remaining 700 or 800 cows on up through the Vega, past the old Capulin Mountain volcano, over the Raton Pass and sold them near Denver to the old cowman, John Wesley Iliff.

Charlie went back for another heard along the same trail they had come out on.  They would lay up in the shade in the daytime and then take the trail at dusk and travel all night to avoid Indians.  Their main problem was that soon after starting out, they encountered a major storm with heavy rain and lightning.  As a result their pack animals panicked and bolted away into the night.  They eventually found them, but all their provisions were gone.  It was a bleak trip back.  

When they got almost across the 80 miles of flat, open country without water, he and his three cowboys saw a big object off in the distance.  The cowhands were sure it was a group of Indians, but Charlie wasn’t sure.  However, since Goodnight had never had anywhere near $60,000 in gold in his whole life, he surely did not intend to lose it now.

The object looked like a group of about 20 Indians.  It was useless to try to turn back in that flat, open spot.

Charlie told the group that he would blast a way through the Indians with his six-shooters and for them to follow without firing.  He was sure that with their good horses they could outrun the Indians.

What they found instead of Indians was an amazing site way out there in that wild spot.   It was a huge wagon filled to the top with big, cold watermelons.  Old man Rich Coffee from their settlements who they knew well said he was on his way to trade in New Mexico and was taking the melons along to sell.  Charlie told him that he doubted that he would ever reach the settlements in New Mexico , but that he for sure had a ready market for a bunch of the melons right there.  They feasted on those cold melons.

On the seventeenth day after leaving Sumner they were back in Weatherford getting supplies for another drive.  Cattle were plentiful and a group of about 25 men helped him round up his own cattle and others that he bought.  He got together 1,200 big steers and these guys helped him road-brand them with the brand he and Loving used on the animals they were to drive.

After their work the whole group camped out for the night there on the Brazos. 

Charlie waked up in the middle of the night with the premonition that there were Indians there.  He waked the group of guys and told them, but they made fun if him for being “Indian bit”.  However, he and his men took their horses a good distance off and hid them in a thicket and went back to sleep. 

Sure enough, during the night the Indians took off all the horses of that other group of men.

Charlie hired a group of new hands, got his provisions and outfit together and headed that big group of steers to the west.

These steers were very skittish and prone to stampede.  First thing they encountered was the southern herd of buffalo heading south for the winter.  They had already separated into sexes as was their custom to do in the Fall.  What Charlie had run into was the male heard that was over 4 miles long.  He spooked their leaders back and thought he could trail his heard past them.  However, they suddenly bolted into a dead run and cut his heard in half.  Those scruffy steers just went crazy when those big black beasts burst upon them.  One group headed west with their tails curled and going full speed.  The other group headed pell-mell back toward the Brazos bottoms.  

It took almost an hour for all those buffalo bulls to pass.  They seemed to shake the earth and fill the air with the roar of their pounding hoofs.

With Charlie’s hard riding and due to the high quality of the hands he had hired and their good horses, all of those steers were finally stopped, rounded-up and put back together with no losses.

However, they were most of the way back to northern  New Mexico  before those skittish steers were broken to the trail.  Each night when they camped, two night riders were assigned to continuously circle the heard at a walk.  Every few hours they were spelled by a new couple of night riders.

Sometimes the heard would smell Indians.  Sometimes it would be the lightning from a sudden thunderstorm.  Sometimes you did not know what it was that would cause the heard to just bolt up and dash off into the night in a wild stampede.  Everyone had to get saddled as quickly as possible and try to turn the heard to where it would circle.  Riding full speed off into the night with those clashing horns was dangerous business.  You never knew if your horse would step into a prairie dog hole and throw you under the hoofs of the heard to certain death.

I have personally experienced some of what they must have felt.  Down in  Kaufman County before my children were born, we would catch wild cattle down in the river bottoms.  My two “insane cowboys” and I would trailer our horses there on Sunday afternoons and meet up with other adventurous guys.  Riding through those bottom land woods at breakneck speed and jumping logs and creeks to flush out wild, wild cattle was an adrenalin drenching experience.  We did not have prairie dog holes, but we had many armadillo holes.

What was really spooky for Charlie’s men was the blue light that would play across their horse’s ears during the storms.  It also played across the cattle’s horns.  This electrical display was something the men never got used to.

They had now learned how to cross the cattle across that 80 miles with no water.  They crossed it with ease this time, especially with only mature steers.

They eventually got up to Bosque Grande south of  Ft.   Sumner  where Loving had made a rather permanent camp since there was good grazing and water there.  They sold most of this heard at a fairly good price and wintered there in dugouts under the cliffs at this camp before starting back to the  Texas  frontier.

By now, the Comanches had discovered their trail and had camped just below the Horse Head Crossing for the winter.  Also, the big money that Goodnight and Loving were making was not lost on the other cattlemen back near  Ft.   Belknap  and Weatherford.  Three new herds were started along Goodnight’s trail.

The first heard was intercepted by Indians at Horse Head Crossing where they burned the outfit’s wagon and stole the whole heard.

Goodnight and Loving encountered the other two herds on their way back.  Charlie made a point to ride along the edge of the first one, inquiring of the drovers for the owner.  When he found him, he warned him about the Indians and suggested that he bunch the heard for defense.  Whereupon the owner informed Charlie that he was not afraid of Indians and that he hoped that he found them so that they could kill a few.

He found them alright.  The Comanche’s stole both of those herds also and trailed them off to their home in the Palo Duro. 

Between the Concho and the  Texas  frontier area, Charlie ran into what he described as one of the most amazing sights in his whole life.  The whole southern herd of buffalo, literally hundreds of thousands of them had evidently grazed the land clean and did not move on to another area and just stayed.  They had all died.  Charlie said that the air was filled with clouds of flies as a result of all those carcasses.   He said the carcasses were just thick for three whole days of riding through them.

One of the most interesting groups in this whole era were the Comancheros.   They were a dirty bunch from  New Mexico  who knew the way into the Indians’ camps.   They came to trade with the Indians.  The height of the trade was from 1850 to 1870.  They would bring beads and paint and other things of little value to barter for buffalo hides and pelts and other Indian goods. 

As the Indians acquired more and more horses and cattle, the Comancheros traded for these with ammunition, lead, muskets, pistols, knives, manta or calico, wines, whiskey, and breads of various kinds.  The poorer Comancheros would bring a small amount of goods on burros and trade for a small group of 10 or 12 cattle.  However, the more prosperous ones carried their goods in carretas or wagons and would trade for whole herds of cattle and horses.

Comancheros Trading with Comanches

Few of the Comanches could speak Spanish and much trade was carried on in a little valley called Tongues where their negotiations called for the use of many languages and dialects.  The river there is called Las Lenguas even to this day.

Farther north in the region of the Quitaque and the  Canadian river  was another little valley where the raiding Indians would come together to separate and split up their captives among the different bands.  This was to lessen escape and to hasten assimilation.  Here the mothers and children from  Texas  and  Mexico  went off into the different tribal bands.  There was much trade with the Comancheros here also, but for some reason the Comancheros did not seem interested in ransoming the captives back.  This wild area was known as a spot of heartache, of grief, and tragedy, and the Mexicans referred to it as Valle de las Langrimas……the Valley of Tears.

And so down these trails from the old towns in New Mexico came the Comancheros to the edge of the plains to barter with the Indians, mostly the Comanches.  But it was dangerous business.  Sometimes the Indians would follow the Comancheros back and repossess their herds and require the Mexicans to buy them back again.

                                                                To Be Continued

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