Charles Goodnight (March 5, 1836 – December 12, 1929) perhaps the best known rancher in Texas. Essayist and historian J. Frank Dobie said that Goodnight “approached greatness more nearly than any other cowman of history.”
Goodnight was born in Macoupin County, Illinois, east of St. Louis, Missouri, the fourth child of Charles Goodnight and the former Charlotte Collier.
Goodnight moved to Texas in 1846 with his mother and stepfather, Hiram Daugherty. In 1856, he became a cowboy and served with the local militia, fighting against Comanche raiders. A year later, in 1857, Goodnight joined the Texas Rangers. Goodnight is also known for guiding Texas Rangers to the Indian camp where Cynthia Ann Parker was recaptured, and for later making a treaty with her son, Quanah Parker.
The 2,000-mile Goodnight-Loving Trail extended from the Texas Panhandle and into Colorado as it headed north into Wyoming.
Goodnight became involved in the round-up of cattle that had roamed free in Texas. He and Oliver Loving drove their first herd of cattle northward along what would become known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Goodnight invented the chuck wagon, which was first used on the initial cattle drive. Upon arriving in New Mexico, they formed a partnership with New Mexico cattleman John Chisum for future contracts to supply the United States Army with cattle. After Loving’s death, Goodnight and Chisum extended the trail from New Mexico to Colorado, and eventually to Wyoming. Goodnight is reported to have kept a photograph of Oliver Loving in his pocket for a long time after his death. As requested by the dying Loving, Goodnight carried the body from New Mexico to Weatherford, the seat of Parker County, for burial.
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove and its sequels, Larry McMurtry based the relationship between Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call on the relationship between Goodnight and Loving. The grave marker Call carves for one of the characters late in the novel is based on an actual gravestone Charles Goodnight had created, and the trek back to Texas at the end of the novel is based on Goodnight’s return of Loving’s body to Texas.