“And I’ll tell you another thing: I’m sorry you and Gus McCrea ever met. All you two did was ruin one another, not to mention those close to you.” — Clara Allen to Woodrow Call in Larry McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE.
I read Clara’s tirade and at once felt a great deal of empathy for the good Captain who felt “it was hell to have her, of all women, talk to him about the matter” of hauling the corpse of fellow ex-Texas Ranger Augustus McCrea back to Texas. “A promise is a promise,” said Call.
Like millons around the world, for me the characters depicted in McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the three others in that series which followed became like family or at least bore an uncanny resemblance to persons known to us.
The fictional Clara was, of course, absent the knowledge of the cemented bond between the two real life men whose real life adventures inspired McMurtry’s epic western tale, its prequel novels Dead Man’s Walk and Comanche Moon, and its sequel, Streets Of Laredo.
In those books’ combined 2,619 pages, the Texas author paints an embellished story of Charles Goodnight (1836-1929) and Oliver Loving (1812-1867), both immigrants to Texas (from Illinois and Kentucky respectively) immigrants and both of whom made their livng in cattle.
Goodnight, who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, had entered the cattle business in northwest Texas at age 20 and also served with the local militia in a long-running fight with Comanche raiders. He became a member of the Texas Rangers in 1857. He was McMurtry’s Captain Woodrow F. Call.
As Goodnight began gathering his herd from cattle scattered across Texas by the Civil War he happened upon Oliver Loving’s cow camp and had no trouble convincing him to join him on an ambitious trek with 2000 head of cattle to supposed lucrative markets in Colorado. Thus was formed a partnership of legend.
According to historical records in Harding County in far northeastern New Mexico, Loving was 24 years older than Goodnight, “knew cattle and how to manage large herds over the worst terrain” while his new partner was experienced in Indian fighting, was a young strong plainsman, and knew the country of west Texas.
Both, according to the Harding County file, were “men of the highest honor and character, willing to go to heroic lengths to account for every stray, every cow and willing to ride for days to see that every cent of proceeds got to its rightful owner.”
They left Texas in early June, 1866 with a 2000-head mixed herd and 18 cowboys to blaze what history recognizes as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. A notable figure among the assembled outfit was Bose Ikard , a black cowboy, one of many who worked for both Goodnight and Loving over the years. Ikard was born a slave in Mississippi and went west to first work for the -by then- somewhat famous Loving and later the Goodnight-Loving outfit. McMurtry’s book named him Joshua Deets.
Writing for NewsMax, Diane Alden said Ikard settled in Weatherford, Texas after his work on the cattle trails. He and his wife, Angeline, were the parents of six children. He died at age 85. Goodnight had a granite marker placed at his grave.
By all accounts and evidenced by the book Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman among many other works, Goodnight religiously kept meticulous records including personal diaries. Upon Ikard’s death he wrote,”Bose surpassed any man I had in endurance and stamina. There was a dignity, a cleanliness and reliability about him that was wonderful. His behavior was very good in a fight and he was probably the most devoted man to me that I ever knew. I have trusted him farther than any man. He was my banker, my detective, and everything else in Colorado, New Mexico and the other wild country. The nearest bank was in Denver, and when we carried money, I gave it to Bose, for a thief would never think of robbing him. Bose Ikard served with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, never shirked a duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me in many stampedes, participated in three engagements with Comanches, splended behavior… Bose could be trusted farther than any living man I know.”
In June, 1867, Loving, accompanied by one-armed W.J. Wilson, depicted as Pea Eye Parker in the novel and subsequent movie, rode on ahead of the herd to scout the territory where the cattle were to be driven. It was on that unfortunate occasion that the two men were set upon by a small band of Indians and sought shelter in a river redoubt. They fought off their attackers for several hours before a brave shot Loving. The arrow went through his arm and pierced his side.
Wilson was dispatched the 80 miles back to the herd and the rest of the boys for help. By his own account published in the historical records housed in Texas’ Cushman Library and other Texas Historical Society documents, Wilson walked barefoot for three days before “I found a little place, a sort of cave, that afforded protection from the sun, and I could go no further. After a short time the boys came along with the cattle and found me.”
By this time, “Loving had been found by some Mexican vaqueros, ” Alden writes, “and taken to Fort Sumner.” There, he was near death from gangrene in his arm when Goodnight found him. Loving could not be saved.
On his deathbed, Loving made Goodnight promise to provide for his family which included nine children. Goodnight assured Loving he would and also carry out his dying wish to be carried hundreds of miles back to Weatherford, Texas and buried there. “It was the strangest and most touching funeral cavalcade in the history of cow country…” wrote J. Evetts Haley in his landmark Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman.
Loving’s request was not simple, but there would be no letdown between the two men. Goodnight continued to divide his cattle profits with his old friend’s family.
In 1876, Goodnight consolidated his operations back in the Texas Panhandle where he contiued to apply vigilante justice to outlaws and rustlers. He lived into his 90’s on a small ranch near Goodnight, the town named for him where he died in 1929.
Actor Barry Corbin who lives in Texas is a big fan of that state’s Western history. You may remember Corbin whose role in the movie Lonesome Dove was that of Roscoe, the rather slow-witted deputy to Fort Smith Sheriff July Johnson. In a one-man show sometime back Corbin depicted Charles Goodnight on the last day of his life.
In her article, Diane Alden quotes Corbin’s description of Goodnight: “In any part that you do, there is an honesty to your character and you have to get in touch with that. In the case of Goodnight, it’s easy because his core of honesty extended all the way out to surface.” It is a devotion to personal codes, “an unshakable belief in right and wrong, that’s almost unheard of today.”
“The cowboy became the best-known occupational type that America has given the world. He exists still and will long exist, though much has changed from the original. His fame derives from the past.” — J. Frank Dobie