Charles Goodnight

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Charles Goodnight

(Legendary cattle rancher:
"Father of the Texas Panhandle")

Charles Goodnigh of TX.jpg

Born March 5, 1836
Macoupin County, Illinois, USA
Died December 12, 1929 (aged 93)
Phoenix, Arizona

Resting place:
Goodnight Cemetery near Amarillo, Texas

Spouse (1) Mary Ann Dyer "Molly" Goodnight (married 1870–1926, her death)

(2) Corinne Goodnight Goodnight (married 1927–1929, his death) Parents:
Charles, Sr., and Charlotte Collier, later Charlotte Daugherty

Charles Goodnight (March 5, 1836 – December 12, 1929), also known as Charlie Goodnight, was an American cattle rancher known as the "father of the Texas Panhandle." Historian Jesse Frank Dobie (1888-1964)said that Goodnight "approached greatness more nearly than any other cowman in history."[1] In 1955, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerner at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.[2]


Goodnight was born in Macoupin County in southwestern Illinois, the fourth child of the senior Charles Goodnight and the former Charlotte Collier. He 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 Comanche raiders. A year later, in 1857, he joined the Texas Rangers. Goodnight led a posse in 1860 to recapture Cynthia Ann Parker (1827-1871), a Comanche captive then living with her Indian husband, Peta Nocona.[3] He later made a treaty with her son, Quanah Parker.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Goodnight though born in the North enlisted in the Army of the Confederate States of America. Most of his time was spent as part of a frontier regiment protecting soldiers from Indian raids. Goodnight described what it took to become a scout, "First, he must be born a natural woodsman and have the faculty of never needing a compass except in snow storms or darkness."[4]


In 2007, William T. Hagan published Charles Goodnight: Father of the Texas Panhandle, only 147 pages long but the first re-examination in some seventy-five years of Goodnight's life. Early in the 1870s, Goodnight resided in Pueblo, Colorado, where he engaged in cattle and real estate and became part owner of an opera house. Thereafter, he became the dominant rancher in the Texas Panhandle, specifically the grass and water-rich Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo. He discusses Goodnight's experimentation with cattalo (hybrid of cattle and bison) and the clash with the short-term state Senator Temple Houston (1860-1905) in a dispute over fencing the grasslands, a policy which aided large ranchers. Hagan describes Goodnight as “a dem]anding boss, approaching every task himself with all the energy he could muster, and he expected the same … from those under his direction”.[5] Whatever tasks were pending, Goodnight “thought that he was able to do it better than his [ranch] hands, and usually could." [6] In his last years, Goodnight still tried to finish all work that day, rather than postponing the less critical duties to maximize his declining physical energy. Though Goodnight had a profane tongue and drank moderately on occasion, he would fire any hand caught drinking, gambling, or fighting. Any abusing horses would also encounter his powerful displeasure.[7]

Hagan examines the partnership between Goodnight and Oliver Loving (1812-1867), who solidified the Goodnight-Loving Trail, and then with the equally strong-willed Irishman, John George Adair, an arrangement that probably succeeded only because Goodnight and Adair were rarely in each other's company. Paraphrasing J. Frank Dobie, Hagan finds the secret of Goodnight's wealth. A steer of eight hundred pounds brought $64 in Kansas, but the animal was barely worth $10 in Texas. So a herd of 750 animals would net more than $40,000, a huge return in the 1870s before the age of the income tax. The entrepreneurial Goodnight also invented the chuck wagon, his original version drawn by twenty oxen and carrying provisions for 18 men for the 600-mile cattle drive.[7]

Loving died of gangrene contracted from an Indian attack in New Mexico Territory. Goodnight arranged for the transportation of his fallen friend's corpse to Weatherford in Parker County, Texas, for burial. It was in Weatherford that Goodnight met his first wife of fifty-six years, the former Mary Ann Dyer, a teacher. A year after her death, Goodnight in his nineties wed Corinne Goodnight, a distant paternal cousin young enough to be his great-granddaughter who soon miscarried their unborn child. The newlyweds moved from his ranch house of forty years to Clarendon, originally a Methodist sobriety colony.[7]

Despite his dominant role in Panhandle history, Goodnight in his later years fell upon declining health and tough financial reverses. He dabbled in a failed venture to produce a western film and proved unable to make needed investments. Acrimony and tension caused him to leave the JA Ranch partnership with John Adair's widow, Cornelia Adair. Though she had professed sympathy for his plight, Mrs. Adair also attributed Goodnight's status to a lack of business savvy. Shut out in his last years from his beloved Palo Duro Canyon, Goodnight reflected in his old age: “Taken all in all, my life on the trail was the happiest part of it."[8]

He also developed an acquaintanceship with Willis Twichell, who lived in Amarillo from 1890 to 1918, and surveyed 165 of the 254 Texas counties. He met too with Charles "Buffalo" Jones, a rancher who founded the city of Garden City, Kansas, and also engaged in the breeding of cattalo.

After Goodnight had already left the JA Ranch, Tom Blasingame arrived at the ranch in 1918. Blasingame worked there most of the next 73 years, having, at the time of his death in 1989, become the oldest cowboy in the history of the American West.

In 1935, six years after Goodnight's death, Laura Vernon Hamner who knew Charles and his first wife Molly Goodnight from her time in Claude in Armstrong County, Texas, published a fictionalized biography of Goodnight, entitled The No-Gun Man of Texas. The western-themed sculptor Grant Speed's depiction of Goodnight is housed in the Square House Museum in the city of Panhandle, Texas. In 2010, Goodnight was interred beside first wife Molly at the Goodnight Cemetery near Amarillo.


  1. Deborah Hedstrom-Page (2007). From Ranch to Railhead with Charles Goodnight. B&H Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8054-3272-8. 
  2. Hall of Great Westerners.
  3. S.C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon (New York: Scribner, 2010), pp. 173-175.
  4. Goodnight, C., "The Making of a Scout," manuscript, Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas.
  5. Hagan, p. 11.
  6. Hagan, Charles Goodnight: Father of the Texas Panhandle, p. 50.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 William T. Hagan (1918-2011), Charles Goodnight: Father of the Texas Panhandle (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2007)' reviewed by Billy Hathorn in West Texas Historical Review. Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 195-197.
  8. Hagan, p. 137.