Saturday, July 9, 2011

Larger than life: Even cowboys need heroes


To steal a line from Willie Nelson, “my heroes have always been cowboys, and they still are it seems.” But whom do cowboys choose as their hero? I think it just might be Charlie Goodnight.

“I was on the frontier carrying a gun when I should have been in school,” an aging Charles Goodnight told his biographer years later.

Goodnight was born in the farming region of Macoupin County, Illinois, (three days after the forming of the Republic of Texas) on March 2, 1836.

His exploits are legendary and are woven into the very fabric of the West in general, and the histories of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and the cattle industry in specific.

“He rode bareback from Illinois to Texas when he was nine years old. He was hunting with Caldo Indians beyond the frontier at thirteen, launching into the cattle business at twenty, guiding Texas Rangers at twenty four, blazing cattle trials two thousand miles in length at thirty, establishing a ranch three hundred miles beyond the frontier at forty, and at forty-five, dominating nearly twenty million acres of range country in the interest of order. At sixty, he was recognized as possibly the greatest scientific breeder of range cattle in the West, and at ninety, he was an active international authority on the economics of the range industry.”

So wrote J. Evetts Haley in his 1936 book “Charles Goodnight ­– Cowman and Plainsman.’

“He always rode beyond the borderlands, upon the ranges of unspoiled grass. He knew the West of Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Dick Wooten, St.Vrain and Lucien Maxwell. He ranged a country as vast as Bridger ranged. He rode with the boldness of Fremont, guided by the craft of Carson. The vast and changing country which he moved, the fertility of a mind that quickly grasped the significance of climate and topography, the inexhaustible energy of his mind and body, and the long period of time which he constantly applied himself to the Western World, operated to produce in this man an ample nature surpassing many more famous characters of frontier history… Now, a hundred years after his birth, his massive frame looms strong among the horsemen of the storied West,” wrote Haley.

Much of Charlie Goodnight’s early experience was in fighting Indians, particularly Comanche raiders on the edge of the Texas frontier. First serving in the local militia, then as a Texas Ranger, and with the onslaught of the Civil War, as part of the Confederacy.

But that was only the start.

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Please see related story:

Longhorns on the Goodnight - Loving Trail

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