Charles Goodnight is often referred to as the "Father of the Texas Panhandle" (Hagan 123) and is said to have been "the most romantic man living, not only in West Texas, but in the entire West" (Hagan 134).
Born in Illinois, east of St. Louis, Missouri, he was the fourth child of Charles Goodnight and the former Charlotte Collier. In 1846, he moved to Texas with his mother and stepfather, Hiram Daugherty. He became a cowboy and joined the local militia in the fight against Comanche raiders when he was 20. A year later in 1857, he joined the Texas Rangers where he was best known for leading the 1860 raid against the Indian camp where Cynthia Ann Parker, a kidnapped pioneer woman who had been living as a Comanche, was living with her husband, Peta Nocona. This led to Cynthia Ann's rescue and a treaty with her son, Quanah Parker. During the Civil War, Goodnight joined the Confederacy and spent most of his time in a frontier regiment guarding against Indian raids.
As remarkable as his life was, it was what Charles Goodnight did after the war that made him a legend. Goodnight became involved in the herding of feral Texas Longhorn cattle in West Texas. In 1866, he and Oliver Loving drove their first herd northward along what would become known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. The trail followed the Pecos River north and in 1866 used the Raton Pass to cross from New Mexico to Colorado. Goodnight, unhappy about the tolls to use the Raton Pass, took a different route the next spring just west of Capulin Mountain through the easier and free Trinchera Pass. Charles Goodnight also wintered his cattle on the plains near Capulin.
Goodnight is well known for his legendary friendship with Oliver Loving. When Loving was mortally wounded by Indians during a cattle drive in 1867, Goodnight sat by his bed during the two weeks it took him to die. At the request of the dying Loving, Goodnight carried the body from New Mexico back to Weatherford, Texas for burial. The award winning novel Lonesome Dove authored by Larry McMurtry was in fact, loosely inspired by the histories and friendship of Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight.
Goodnight founded the JA ranch in the Palo Duro Canyon in 1876. It was the first ranch in the Texas Panhandle, the name JA came from his partner John George Adair. A few years later, in 1880, Goodnight also founded the Panhandle Stockman's Association which sought to improve cattle-breeding and eliminate the threat of rustlers. Goodnight also preserved a herd of native bison which he often allowed the tribes relocated to Oklahoma to visit and hunt buffalo as they had in the past. The descendants of Goodnights herd survive to this day.
In his personal life, Charles Goodnight was married twice. First he was married to Mary Ann Dyer, a teacher from Weatherford, TX in 1870, until her death in 1926. With her, he established the Goodnight Academy to offer post-elementary education to the children of ranchers. In 1927 he married 26 year old Corinne Goodnight from Butte, Montana who he had been corresponding with due to their shared surname and who had nursed him back to health when he became ill after Mary Ann's death.
Charles Goodnight died December 12, 1929, in Tucson, Arizona, he was buried in Goodnight, Texas next to Mary Ann.
Hagan, William T. Charles Goodnigh: Father of the Texas Panhandle. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.