Known as the "Father of the Texas Panhandle", this legendary rancher and trailblazer helped shape the West and was also instrumental in improving beef cattle.
1836-1929 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)
Impact & Accomplishments
“The Father of the Texas Panhandle,” Charlie Goodnight was a true legend of the American West. Born in Illinois, his family moved to Texas when he was ten years old. As a young man, he became a cowboy and militiaman, defending ranchers from Comanche raiders.
He joined the Texas Rangers, and then served as a Confederate soldier. After participating in the round-up to recover cattle left to roam during the Civil War, he imagined a new market for Texas cattle, to replace the war-ravaged South. Partnering with Kentucky-native Oliver Loving, they led 2,000 head to blaze a new trail to New Mexico, selling the cattle to the U. S. Army.
Goodnight is credited with building the first chuckwagon for their inaugural cattle drive. More drives would follow over several years, extending what became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail into Colorado and later Wyoming. Goodnight and Loving’s third cattle drive was fictionalized in Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove.
After Loving’s death along the trail, Goodnight established his Home Ranch in 1876, the first ranch in the Texas Panhandle. Soon thereafter, he formed a partnership with Irish investor, John Adair to found the JA Ranch. In less than a decade, JA Ranch had grown to 1,325,000 acres and more than 100,000 head.
A pioneer in cattle breeding, Goodnight crossed scrawny Texas longhorns with Herefords, resulting in one of the nation’s finest herds. He also crossed buffalo with polled Angus, developing the first “cattalo.” He established the Panhandle Stockmen’s Association and two schools in the town of Goodnight, Texas.
His final stock operation, Goodnight Ranch, became a major tourist attraction and wildlife preserve, with herds of buffalo, elk, and antelope, shipped to Yellowstone National Park and zoos.
This legend of the West died at age ninety-three. Often called “Colonel,” Goodnight was one of the original five men voted into the Hall of Great Westerners in 1958.
Did You Know?
In 1958 Goodnight was one of the original five voted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
The invention of the American chuck wagon is credited to cattleman Charles Goodnight. In 1866, Charles needed a way to keep his drovers fed as they trailed cattle from Texas to the North. A true product of "necessity breeds creativity", Goodnight bolted a wooden box to the back of an Army Studebaker wagon and added compartments to store utensils, bedding, food, and more. The rest, they say, is history.
The term "chuck" is from 17th Century England used by meat merchants who referred to their lower priced goods. By the 18th Century, "chuck" was colloquial for good, heart-warming food. So it is no suprise that Goodnight's invention became known as a "chuck wagon". His simple creativity revolutionized the cattle industry and is now celebrated as the official vehicle of Texas.
The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas has several items that tell the story of Charles Goodnight.
Courtesy of NCBA's Cattlemen to Cattlemen.
Charles Goodnight and the JA Ranch by Studies Weekly
Goodnight Home - Texas County Reporter 2017 With the help of generous donations and volunteer labor, the home of early Texas settler Charles Goodnight has been restored to its former glory. Montie Goodin Charles Goodnight Historical Center
The legend of Charles Goodnight continues to have influence today. A small batch Kentucky bourbon was recently named in his honor.