Western Trips

Friday, March 9, 2012

Charles Goodnight And The Historic Goodnight Ranch House / Goodnight Texas

If you find yourself driving between Wichita Falls and Amarillo Texas on US Hwy 287 or planning a family trip to the Texas panhandle region, you will have an opportunity to see the historic ranch house of the very first rancher in the Texas Panhandle. In fact, a town at this site was named after this rancher, Goodnight

 The Charles Goodnight Ranch House in Goodnight Texas

goodnight ranch house
Goodnight Ranch House
Today, Goodnight Texas named for cattleman Charles Goodnight, is a ghost town. The site is about 40 miles east of Amarillo. The remaining structure that is being preserved is the Goodnight ranch house which was built in 1887. The ranch house sits about a quarter of a mile south off U.S.  Hwy 287. If you pass by this area I would highly recommend you stop and see the home as it's currently being restored.

 To learn more about the restoration project and about Charles Goodnight, I recommend you visit the Armstrong County Museum in Claude Texas. Claude is about twelve miles west of Goodnight TX on Hwy 287.

The preservation and restoration of the ranch house is ongoing as of the spring of 2012. Work is being done both outside and inside with the goal of restoring the home to it's original likeness when the Goodnight's had it built. Charles Goodnight died in this house in 1929 and what would finally become of it was a big question.

While it fell in disrepair over the decades, it was an important historic structure that needed preservation. To tear it down would have been a big loss to the area's ranching heritage. A newspaper story was published in August of 2011 in the Amarillo Globe-News which stated..."the site was donated to the museum in 2005 by Amarillo businessman Brent Caviness and a partner. The museum raised about $1 million from area foundations and private donors to fund the project".

There is much more planned for this site including a visitor center which is estimated to cost about $800,000. The Goodnight Ranch House is being managed by the Armstrong County Museum. The museum must match 20 percent of that amount to get a promised grant from the Texas Department of Transportation to cover the rest. When the project is completed it will be an excellent historic site that will chronicle both the Goodnight ranching legend and cattle ranching history in general in northwest Texas.

Charles Goodnight the Texas Rancher

Goodnight, born in 1836 in Illinois, moved with his mother and stepfather to Texas in 1846. Charles worked as a cowboy and also was involved in fighting the Comanches who were quite a presence in northwest Texas. The Comanche problem had been an ongoing affair going all the way back to the Spanish and Mexican rule of Texas. The Comanches were expert warriors with some feeling they were better fighters than the Apaches.

The next development in Goodnight's life was the American Civil War.  During the war, Charles worked as a scout for a regiment in northwest Texas which was part of the Confederate forces. By 1860 and at the age of twenty-four, Goodnight had already seen quite a bit of frontier action.

goodnight texas historic marker
Historic Marker at Goodnight Ranch House
When the Civil War finally ended, Charles was involved in Texas longhorn cattle herding. A great number of cattle had been roaming free throughout Texas during the war and the job then was to round them up. There was even a term they used for this great roundup, "making the gather". It was vast in size, covering much of the state.

Among the historic accomplishments of Charles Goodnight was when he blazed the Goodnight Loving Trail into New Mexico in 1866. He did this with the knowledge that Indian trouble could commence at any time and it was said that at one point he drove his herd some eighty miles without water.

The journey was very tough by all accounts but in making it Goodnight proved to all that cattle could be driven over rugged regions that were considered by many to be a cattleman's graveyard. The drive was very profitable for both Goodnight and his partner Oliver Loving. Loving unfortunately met his death in 1867 at the hands of the Comanches. Goodnight returned his body to Texas after the attack. Goodnight would eventually extend the Goodnight Loving Trail into Colorado. This cattle trail would become one of the heaviest used in the southwest.

By 1870, Goodnight had established a ranch in Colorado and went back to Kentucky to get married and bring his bride back to his ranch. It was very common in that era for men to first establish themselves in ranching before taking a bride. As a side note, Goodnight was credited with inventing the "chuck wagon" which was used on his very first cattle drive into New Mexico. This was the wagon we are all familiar with that contains many shelves and drawers. It was a structure that was fitted to the back of one of his wagons and it helped the cattle drive's cook immensely.

A Colorado Ranch and Then A Move Back to Texas

goodnight ranch
Another view of renovated Goodnight House
Charles Goodnight had good financial success with his Colorado ranch. What happened to him next was something that was out of his control. The financial panic of 1873 that gripped the country had many negative effects on the western ranching industry. This was the first financial pullback since the end of the Civil War and it was bad. This national financial downturn would cost Goodnight all he had earned up to that time. This was not however an event that would permanently derail Goodnight's plans.

The JA Ranch

In 1876 Goodnight teamed up with John Adair and bought land in the Texas Panhandle to establish the JA Ranch. The cattle that remained after the failure of his Colorado ranch were transferred down to Palo Duro Canyon Texas. Goodnight was very familiar with the area around Palo Duro Canyon and knew the right acreage to buy. He knew where the ever important water was to be found. Charles Goodnight made a good and profitable success of the JA Ranch which was one of Texas' largest. At one time it was said that the JA ran some 100,000 head of cattle.

The JA Ranch was started prior to the famous XIT Ranch which occupied some 3 million acres of the Texas panhandle. Goodnight went on to found the Panhandle Stockman's Association in 1880. Charles Goodnight eventually left the JA Ranch in 1918. His ranching career spanned an era of many changes in the U.S. as well as in the ranching industry in general. He began his career when fighting the Comanches was necessary and ended it when the automobiles started to hit the road. An amazing span of American history.

Two additional Western Trips photo article you'll find interesting include Texas Ranching. A story about the famous old ranches of Texas.

Also, a Visit to Matador Texas, home of the historic Matador Ranch.

You may also enjoy our Western Trips article on the Early Rock & Roll Hits Recorded in Clovis, NM.

 Charles Goodnight the Cattle Breeder

charles goodnight
Charles Goodnight
Many people who are familiar with the career of Charles Goodnight know that he experimented in cross breeding cattle. The photo at left is of Charles Goodnight in 1866 and is in the public domain.

Goodnight kept a herd of native bison which incredibly survives to this very day. He also crossbred buffalo with domestic cattle which he called "cattalo". His cross breeding efforts were typical of his trail blazing and ranching career in general. Charles Goodnight always looked for the possibilities available.

The Goodnights did quite a lot in helping their community grow. Charles and his wife, Mary Ann, along with help from the Goodnight Baptist Church established Goodnight College in 1898. The college operated until 1917. Charles Goodnight spent his latter years at his ranch home and passed away there in 1929.

Another interesting fact, and one that many may not realize, was that ranchers in the movie "Lonesome Dove" were modeled after the real Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. The movie portrays the Goodnight-Loving cattle drive into New Mexico. Another Hollywood fact was that the movie "Hud" was filmed in Goodnight Texas in 1963 when the town still had a post office.

On your next Texas vacation, you may want to add a stop at both the Goodnight Ranch House and the Armstrong County Museum to your Texas vacation planner. The museum will also be able to give you the latest update on the historic site renovation. There's a lot of good history there regarding the big Texas ranches of the 1800's.

(Article copyright Western Trips.Charles Goodnight photo from the public domain)

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