Charles Goodnight – 5th and final Installment

In my soon to be published book, I tell the complete story of the incredible life of Charlie Goodnight.  Here is the final of 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.…… Ron

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 4th Installment:

So now let me get back to the story of the famous Charles Goodnight.

He continued with his lucrative cattle drives but tended to purchase herds coming up from Texas when they got up to his camp at Bosque Grande.  He would then trail them up through the Capulin Vega, over Raton Pass and into Colorado and even up to Wyoming . 

An old fellow named “Uncle Dick” Wootton had built a trail over Raton Pass and down into Colorado .  He had put up a toll station at the top and was charging ten cents a head for any stock going over the pass, whether it was one milk cow or three thousand Texas steers. 

Goodnight thought that was way too high and though he paid it the first time, swore that if the toll was not reduced, he would find another way into Colorado .  But old Wootton just laughed in his face, since that was the only trail over the pass and through. 

However, sure enough, on his next drive north, Goodnight blazed a trail off to the east of the pass which others took and pretty much put old Wootton out of business.

On the way to Raton Pass and a little off to the north at the entrance of the Cimarron Canyon a fellow named Lucien Maxwell had a great hacienda.  He also owed a massive Spanish land grant that covered over a million acres.  It was nearly a hundred miles across and spanned the whole northeastern corner of New Mexico and part of southern Colorado . 

Maxwell set a magnificent table of food most every night, served complete with grand silver service.  Goodnight related how fantastic the food was at this formal feast.  Any travelers coming east to Raton Pass or west up the Cimarron Canyon to Eagle’s Nest and the gold fields that had been discovered on the other side of Mt. Baldy were welcome.

Later in modern times this enormous land grant was named Vermejo Park .  I have spent some of the most enjoyable weeks of my life hunting and fishing on its streams and in its multitude of beautiful lakes.  It is 35 miles from the gate west of the town of Raton to its headquarters.  It is 70 miles on west of there through wild county on ranch roads to its western boundary, the crest of the Sangre de Cristo mountains .  Only a few people ever go there.

I discovered that in late October, between the time the few summer fishermen are gone and before elk season starts was the very best time to catch the giant trout at Vermajo Park .  I would wait until a sleet storm was passing over and pelting the water with sleet.  There are a few little aluminum boats available on the larger lakes.  I found that if I tied on a huge hellgrammite fly and cast it to drop straight down through one of the holes in the floating weeds around the edge of the lake, one of those huge trout would grab it. 

If it were a bass, he would bury up in the weeds, but those trout would bolt to the surface, and skip across the weeds to get out to the deep water.  An eight-pound trout on a light fly rod is a real experience.  I had to use a strong leader because they would lead the boat around over the lake until they finally wore down.

On those occasions, my wife and I would be the only guests on that whole immense place.  You felt almost guilty when you realized that there were all those people camped side by side in the Cimarron Canyon and along the Red River , and here you were, the only ones in that immense wilderness, going 60 miles and more without seeing another soul.  Those giant bull elk would whistle and challenge each other and then put up a big fight right there beside the lakes.

Anyway, back when Maxwell owned that place, there was a tribe of Ute Indians who lived on it and considered it their home.  They continually told Maxwell that if he ever sold it, they would for sure kill him.

On one occasion when Goodnight sold a large herd, he took back a note that Maxwell had given out as payment on some other transaction.  Charlie considered Maxwell’s note to be almost as good as gold and probably better than paper money.

So, as he was passing through on one of his drives, he visited Maxwell’s place and asked for payment.  Maxwell’s son had gone up by Mt. Baldy and had purchased a gold mine that was paying off very handsomely.  Maxwell took Goodnight up to the mine where they were smelting the gold.  Goodnight said that he was paid off in gold that was smelted into objects that looked like goose eggs. 

He told Maxwell that he was worried about traveling in that outlaw infested country with all that gold.  Maxwell solved the problem.  He had that band of Ute Indians escort Goodnight all the way back down the Cimarron Canyon , across his land grant, and beyond.  Charlie said the Indians kept to their trails on the high ground so as not to encounter any other people.  He said that it was the strangest feeling to be guarded and escorted and protected by a bunch of wild Indians for a change as opposed to being shot at by them.

He didn’t have much experience with the gold trade, but when he got back to Texas and cashed it in, he found that he had way more value than the face of Maxwell’s note.

Goodnight eventually needed a fairly permanent place in Colorado for stationing herds for sale and keeping horses and men for his drives.   He chose a place with good grass on the Apishapa river east and about midway of the trail from Raton Pass to Denver.  Here he wintered herds and engaged in cattle trade.  However, he really needed a more permanent spot that was better protected from the weather.

He chose a beautiful valley close to where the Charles River intersected the Arkansas River just northwest of Pueblo .  It had very nutritious grass and steep canyon walls in both sides to protect from the north winds and also to hold cattle in, since they were not even close to the time when barbed wire fences were used.  He would keep good bands of horses here, purchase cattle as needed, and hold over his best men for future drives.

After building a nice home there, Charlie, though still very active in buying and trailing and selling cattle herds, decided that it was time to get married.  Way earlier a very prominent lawyer from Tennessee had moved to the Cross Timbers area of Texas .  He had several sons who all fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and one beautiful daughter named Mary Ann “Molly” Dyer.  She was born in Madison County Tennessee September 12, 1839, but later became known as the “Darling of the open plains and Mother of the panhandle country”.

She learned the tough ways of the west, and Charlie dated and courted her off an on, even during the Civil War.

She had now moved back east to Kentucky , but Charlie went there, found her and married her in Hickman , Kentucky on July 26, 1870. 

They promptly headed west, first by boat to St. Louis , and then by rail to Abilene , Kansas , one of the toughest towns in the country.  After a night in the Drover’s Hotel they went by stage all the way to Pueblo , Colorado .  Charlie made sure that she was introduced to the more civilized ladies of Pueblo while they stayed at the Drover’s Hotel there.  That seemed to help that she found that she was not being taken to a totally uncivilized country.

She moved in with Charlie into the nice home he had built in the beautiful canyon enclosed valley where he had located his cattle and horses and his best, most trusted men.

He continued to prosper there in Colorado .  He helped start a bank in Pueblo , mostly to give better credit to the cattlemen.  He also was part owner of the slaughter company that he started there too.  As he prospered he bought several valuable properties in Pueblo , also.

As he would bring herds north from purchases of cattle from Texas, all those herds had to still go hundreds of miles out of their way to skirt the vast Llano Escatado that the Comanches controlled. 

Out of nostalgia you can take the side of the Indians today as is so popular with the Hollywood Crowd.  You can sympathize with the Indians, that the “white eyes” were encroaching on their vast hunting grounds.  However, in those days if you had friends or relatives or even family who were killed and butchered and cut into pieces while still alive and raped before being butchered you had little sympathy.  Sure, the Comanches and Kiowa’s and Apaches had their own culture and Hollywood and certain authors have glamorized it.  However, on the whole they were a vicious, brutal, savage bunch.

It is part of history that those settlers, particularly those in Texas spent uncounted hours in prayer in their churches and on their knees for God to protect them and their children and their women particularly from the Comanches.  And it is my opinion that, still in the theme of this book, God answered those prayers.

Large numbers of federal troops were now stationed across this frontier.  General Ranald S. MacKenzie, Commander of the 4th U.S. Cavalry, was in charge of those troops.  In the late summer of 1874 he made the statement that:  “It looks like I can fight the Comanche until the end of time and never win.”   They were located in the center of that vast almost completely flat Llano Estacado that was bigger than the State of Indiana .

General Ranald S. MacKenzie   

Mackenzie knew that they were ensconced in the Palo Duro Canyon that gashed across it.   If he could ever get his troops to it, and then down into it, they might fire on the Comanche’s if they were lucky,  but those hundreds of Comanches had myriad ways of escape in that rugged canyon with its plethora of intersecting side canyons and secret trails.

Just before Fall of 1874 here is what I think God finally actually showed General MacKenzie.  If he could surprise them down in that canyon and get their supplies and strike them in their home territory and above all else……kill their horses, he might stand some chance of prevailing.  They were considered the greatest light cavalry in the world, but without their houses, they would be helpless.  Apparently, no one had ever thought of that before.

So, in the late Fall of 1874 General MacKenzie enlisted the aid of some friendly Indian scouts to show him one of the secret trails down into the Palo Duro.  After extensive scouting, those Indian scouts finally located where the main body of Comanches were camped.  MacKenzie massed his troops, and under cover of night slipped down into that canyon.  Just at daylight, they attacked.  The Comanche’s fired back at them, but quickly escaped as was expected.  However, they had to leave all their camp supplies and most significantly, their vast heard of horses.  Mackenzie did burn their camp and supplies, but his primary orders to his troops were to surround and trap those horses.

 The troops were ordered to kill most all of those horses.  Being cavalry men, most of them strenuously objected, but they followed orders.  There is no record of just how many, but it is estimated that they killed several thousand horses.  One report was that it took three days, and that the smell became so bad that they had to move their camp father away.

But that did it.  The Comanches and their great War Chief, Quanah Parker, the son of Cynthia Anne Parker and a Comanche brave, all finally agreed to leave their killing and raiding and move to a reservation in Oklahoma .  Some of them still went back to the plains to kill buffalo, but they stopped killing the “white eyes” at long last.

Some “uninformed” historians claim that the killing of the buffalo was what got the Comanche’s to Oklahoma , but in 1874 there were still thousands and thousands of buffalo.  It was General MacKenzie’s killing the Comanches’ great horse heard that did it. 

Goodnight, as was his custom continued to expand, not retreat.  He was greatly prospering by buying herds on credit and selling them up north for a quick profit.  He was also doing the same thing with real estate, mostly in the Pueblo area.  Then something happened that he was absolutely not prepared for and never expecting………..The Great Panic late in the year of 1873 hit.  It started in Europe, spread across the Atlantic to New York and New England , then across the whole US.

The Panics in those days were different from what we may call a depression.  They hit fast, did not last all that long, but were very deep and severe.  Banks failed; the entire economy came to a halt.  Commerce of all kinds just ceased.  The stock market crash that hit on October 24, 1929 may be an analogy…….when guys were jumping out of the windows of tall buildings in Lower Manhattan .

In Pueblo , the new bank failed like so many others.  Charles Goodnight was almost wiped out.  There were no buyers for cattle that he had purchased on credit.  He had just bought a valuable half block in downtown Pueblo for $8,000.  He sold it for $2,000 which he happy to get, even thought a new company come to town a short time later and paid $25,000 for it.

With no where to dispose of the cattle, they were just being held.  Charlie could see that eventually the grass was going to be made scarce there.  He had heard the news that the Comanches had finally been moved up to Oklahoma .  Things were so depressing in southern Colorado that he just wanted to get out. 

That was when his mind wandered back to the Llano Estacado, that great expanse of flat country into which he had chased the Comanches.  It was hundreds of miles across and just unexplored.  A great plateau, it covered what is now called the panhandle of Texas and southern New Mexico .  At that time in history it was probably comparable to the Empty Quarter in north Africa, where people just did not go.  It was just a vast empty unknown and overlooked expanse.  In 1875 the Tesas Rural Register and Immigrant’s Handbook advised the world that “it was improbable that these Staked Plains could ever be adapted to the wants of man, adding that this was the only uninhabitable portion of Texas”.

But Goodnight had been out on it and he could remember its miles of unbroken buffalo turf, its rich grama grasses and its scattered watering places that he had discovered.  However, there was one small group who knew it well and how to navigate it:  the Comanchreos who had crossed it again and again to trade with the Comanches, but they were all gone now.

With the problems and result of the Panic, Goodnight had the urge to just “start over”.  He had a strong lust to once again find virgin range. 

So, in the spring of 1875 he gathered 1,600 head of his best cattle, took a good contingent of his best men and headed toward Texas .  They crossed the Cimarron and headed down along the fertile valley of the Canadian.  He did not hurry the herd. 

On the south bank of the Canadian, in a wild section of eastern New Mexico he set up winter camp.  When his cattle and men were well settled, he headed back to his wife in Colorado , but come Spring in 1876 he was back.  He headed his outfit out across that vast, almost unknown Llano Estacado .  He wanted a permanent ranch.  He remembered that Palo Duro of the Comanches that he had once looked down into, but now had no idea how to find it. 

As luck would have it, he stumbled onto the camp of old Nicolos Martinez one of the old Comanchero traders.  Goodnight paid him to guide him and try to find that big canyon.  Even though old Martinez knew that country intimately, he wandered around trying to find the Palo Duro canyon again.  Even though it was huge, it cut abruptly down into all that flat county, so one could not look off and just see it.  By now they had wandered over to the south side of it.  Then one day, they abruptly came up to the precipice of it, old Martinez clapped his hands over his head and said in Spanish: “at last, at last…… fin! al fin!”

Martinez now knew where he was.  He and Goodnight went back and he guided the heard along an old Indian trail past the springs northwest of present Amarillo , over the divide, across the headwaters of the Red River and then headed east.  They didn’t see the canyon until they were right on the brink of it.  Martinez showed them the old Indian trail that went right down into it.  

The cattle had to go single file along that trail.  They took the chuck wagon apart and tied the pieces of it and its provisions on the backs of its mules to get it down.  They were amazed at the beautiful, virgin grass in the bottom of that canyon.  As they proceeded down it, it became wider and wider.  There were also many buffalo scattered along the sides of it.  Before long they had 10,000 big, shaggy buffalo running in front of them.  They said the noise of all those running buffalo echoing off the walls of that canyon was deafening.

 When Goodnight came to just the perfect spot in the canyon where a lovely spring came down from the cap rock, he stopped and said:  “This is the place”.   He eventually built a lovely home there with all manner of corrals and outbuildings.  He later had other ranches over his long life, but always called this spot his Home Ranch.

When a Comanche brave was killed, it was the custom for his women to cut off their long braids.  Goodnight said that there were just piles of hair in that canyon.

So. in those days of open range and no fences, the walls of that canyon provided a perfect barrier to keep his cattle in.   And with its depth and steep walls, those cold Texas “northers” would just blow right over it.

He and his wife called that spot “home” for most all of the rest of their lives.

Over the years he imported better and better breeds of cattle and crossed them and became one of the best cattle breeders in all of west Texas .  Years later with the introduction of barbed wire he built many, many miles of fence, but this “home ranch” was always his favorite spot.  And one cannot escape the irony of how this ranger, plainsman, trail driving pioneer, after all those years of fighting Comanches, should wind-up with this great ranch as his home, deep in their Palo Duro Canyon.

                   End of the Story of the Incredible Charlie Goodnight

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