The Tale of the Goodnight-Loving Trail: Branded in the Mind’s Eye

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For those who were fans of the world-renowned mini-series “Lonesome Dove” which stemmed from Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1985 novel of the same name, many believe it would be an amazing adventure to do a modern-day trail ride (in period costume, with period food…the whole nine yards) on the same path that was blazed by Woodrow Call and Gus McRae. For a select few that choose this as a pass time, the opportunity is real in group rides that are coordinated by special interest groups – historical and otherwise. But for others, the simple process of retracing the trails of olden days are far more difficult considering private land ownership, interstate highways, and the like. That’s why we have historical accounts, and western novels are still considered best-sellers, and western movies are a genre that continues to make a comeback. Infamous passes such as the Goodnight-Loving Trail have left their mark in our historic fabric, branded in the mind’s eye. And, for those that wish they could trace it, modern-day markers continue to lead the way.

The Tale of the Goodnight-Loving Trail: Branded in the Mind’s Eye

Photo: Facebook/Goodnight Family in America

In the biography titled “Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman” by J. Evetts Haley, it was written, “The trace that led from Texas to Fort Sumner is generally known as the Goodnight Trail, while that which Goodnight later blazed directly to Cheyenne is called the Goodnight and Loving Trail, though sometimes the terms are used interchangeably.” As with many of these trails, over the years the route changed, depending on available grass and water, as well as the fact that Goodnight didn’t want to pay a dime per head at the Wootton toll station (Raton Pass) along the Colorado-New Mexico border.

The Goodnight-Loving trail begins in Newcastle, Texas – the history of which stems from Fort Belknap, which stood sentinel on the Brazos River. Kentucky-born Oliver Loving came to Texas in 1843 at the age of 30. He drove cattle to Denver in 1860 and was later commissioned by the Confederacy to drive cattle to Rebel troops on the Mississippi River. It was rumored that the government owed him somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000 at the end of the war. Illinois-born Charles Goodnight was nine when his family moved to Texas in 1845, and by the age of 11, he was working on farms before entering the cattle business as a young man. By 1866, Mescalero Apaches and Navajos were situated at the Bosque Redondo reservation (a place many Native Americans would refer to more as a concentration camp), close in proximity to Fort Sumner in New Mexico Territory. Goodnight thought that with this group was a new market for beef and approached Loving with the idea. The elder of the two warned of the dangers, however, Loving found that with Goodnight undeterred, he would rather go with him than not. On June 6, 1866, they joined forces on a drive that would set out with 18 men and 2,000 Longhorns, approximately 25 miles west of Fort Belknap.

The Tale of the Goodnight-Loving Trail: Branded in the Mind’s Eye
Photo: Facebook/Wade Brooks

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