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Jeff C. Campbell
Jeff C. Campbell

The Trail from Lonesome Dove, Part 1

By Jeff C. Campbell

2018-06-14 00:40:45

Lonesome Dove, (1985) Larry McMurtry’s seminal novel of the West, about two fictional characters Augustus “Gus” McRae and Woodrow F. Call, ex-Texas Rangers who trail a herd from the Rio Grande (& their “Hat Creek Outfit”) to Montana starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones respectively, is based loosely on the genuine life adventures of men who trailed their Texas cattle right through here. Jeff C. Campbell

Of course, the real story covered several years wavering, but not much from here up to Limon, Brush and Ogallala, Nebraska, then later up to Miles City, Montana. The mini-series (1988) was hailed as one of the best westerns ever made and the Pulitzer prize winning novel was a best seller for a long time. Back in the mid-80’s it seemed every time I turned around in New Mexico someone was reading that book in waiting rooms or cafés.

When McMurtry was researching his book he apparently came by Bill Dawson’s ranch and he describes it and the owner in Chapter “Sand Creek, November 29, 1864” (pp 91-113, from his 2005 book, Oh What A Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890.


The answer is yes. The question was, did the Goodnight – Loving Trail cross Kiowa County? You betcha and it followed the natural course of the Big Sandy Creek. It also became the first leg of the Montana Trail through Colorado.

The two tough men likely had as rich and colorful a story, if not moreso, than Call and Gus. Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving got together after the Civil War and as much together as separate they came to be legends in the cattle industry, the history of Colorado and in particular icons of what Texas independence and ingenuity is all about.

One of the best places to start exploring the story is in The Handbook of Texas, (eventually three volumes), Editor-in-Chief, Walter Prescott Webb (a great Western historian), put together by the Texas State Historical Assn. starting from scratch after Nov. 17, 1940.

The massive 1,930-page undertaking was published in 1952. Texas never being out done, especially by itself, created a collection of updated and revised information of 1,145 pages under the same title as “A Supplement” Vol. III, published during the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial or 150th Anniversary. of the birth of the Republic of Texas & Independence from Mexico. Each article came from localities throughout the state, verified and edited by staff. [Always thought every state should follow the Texas example.]

If you suspect you have a connection to Texas, in any way, the Handbook is a great place to start. See www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online.

Oliver Loving:
We think he was born about 1812, Hopkins Co., KY. Near the beginning of the War with Mexico Loving settled in Lamar Co., TX. He was involved with livestock, farming and freighting. By 1855, he found himself in Palo Pinto Co. (near Mineral Wells). Chicago saw him and his partner John Drukee bring their first herd to town in 1858. If not the first they made trail driving history taking their Texas beef directly to market. While Southern states were seceding in 1860 he was in Denver selling off a herd that he’d brought via the Arkansas River and Pueblo. The Handbook says being a Southerner, he “escaped with some difficulty.”

Of course he supplied the Confederates with beef during the Civil War. In 1866 he teamed up with Charles Goodnight and trailed a herd from Ft. Belknap to the Horse Head (or Dead Man’s) Crossing of the Pecos River (not far from modern Pecos, TX) then upriver to Ft. Sumner and the concentration (camp) of Navajos and Mescaleros being held at the Bosque Redondo Reservation. Thence, the two trail makers pushed their cattle to a point about 75 miles downriver from Denver on the South Platte. Thus this basic route became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail.

In 1867 Loving along with “One-armed” Bill Wilson were riding ahead of another herd they were taking to Ft. Sumner. The two men were attacked by “Indians” [probably either Kiowa, Comanche or Mescalero Apache] and Loving was wounded. For the 55-year-old his first thought was the herd and he sent Wilson back to warn Goodnight. In the meantime, a group of “Mexicans” rescued Oliver and took him to Sumner where he was attended by the military surgeon.

He seemed to be healing, but gangrene set in. Goodnight was there during the last three weeks of his life. As he lay dieing he, like Gus McRae in the movie requested of his partner, “Take me back to Texas, Don’t leave me in foreign soil.” Goodnight fulfilled the promise and took him home. Loving was buried at Weatherford, TX.

Loving broke new trails and is remembered for being a pioneer in that. His trail to Chicago is in part known as the “Shawnee Trail.” He died in the lead of the trail drive, which would probably be epitaph enough for him.

Next week: Part 2 – The Trail from Lonesome Dove: Charles Goodnight

Say Goodnight, Loving

Travel well.

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