A Mother to the Cowboys

She was called “Mary” by her husband Charles Goodnight, the best-known cattle rancher in Texas. Her distinguished Tennessee family referred to her as “Molly.” And she was known affectionately as “Mother of the Texas Panhandle” by the cowhands she doctored, fed, and counseled. Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight was loved and admired by all.

She was fourteen in 1854 when she moved with her parents to Fort Belknap on the western edge of Texas settlement. Soon, both parents died, and Mary began teaching school to support her three younger brothers. She met the young cattleman Charlie Goodnight at Fort Belknap in 1864 and their courtship continued through Goodnight’s service in the Civil War. By the time they married in 1870, Goodnight had a well-established reputation for driving cattle along the Goodnight-Loving Trail to New Mexico and eventually on to Wyoming before he built a thriving cattle ranch at Pueblo, Colorado.

When Charlie Goodnight and his bride arrived in Pueblo, Mary was shocked to discover two men hanging from a telegraph pole. Goodnight writes in his Recollections: “I hardly knew how to reply, but finally stammered out in a very abashed manner: ‘Well, I don’t think they hurt the telegraph pole.’ This seemed to irritate her very much and she said: ‘I used to think I knew you in Texas, but you have been out here among the Yankees and ruffians until I don’t know whether I know you or not, and I want you to take me back to Texas. I won’t live in such a country.’ I agreed to this but insisted that she must first have a rest, and during the next few days made it a point to acquaint her with all the good ladies of Pueblo, whom she found quite as human as herself, and the trip back to Texas was soon forgotten.”

The Goodnight-Dyer Cattle Company thrived in Pueblo until the financial panic of 1873 and a severe drought. Goodnight formed a partnership with John George Adair, an Irish financier, to establish the first ranch in the Texas Panhandle in the lush green pastureland of Palo Duro Canyon. Adair, who was interested in investing in the cattle business, put up the financial backing while Goodnight was charged with running the entire operation. Goodnight made the first of many land purchases—12,000 acres for twenty-five cents an acre—and trailed 1,600 head of cattle into the canyon in the spring of 1876. Adair and his wife, Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair a highborn lady from New York, had fallen in love with the west on a buffalo hunt and viewed the investment and the trip to the canyon as a great adventure.

The two couples, one of Mary’s brothers, and several cowhands made the 400-mile journey from Colorado to Palo Duro Canyon the following spring. The entourage consisted of 100 head of the finest Durham bulls, four wagons loaded with six months’ supply of provisions, equipment, and horses to upgrade Goodnight’s Texas herd. Cornelia Adair rode the entire distance on a fine white horse while Mary Goodnight drove one of the wagons.

When the Goodnight/Adair outfit reached the rim of Palo Duro Canyon, a 1,500-foot deep gorge, ten miles wide, and almost 100 miles long, it was teaming with 1,000 to 1,500 buffalo. They gazed upon the new JA (for John Adair) Ranch, home of Charlie and Mary Goodnight for the next eleven years. It took several days to move all the stock and supplies along the trail that wound for four miles down to the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River at the base of the canyon. After a few days exploring the area, the Adairs left, and Mary Goodnight set about adjusting to life in a two-room log cabin at least seventy-five miles from the nearest white neighbor.

Goodnight, in his Recollections claims that Mary was frightened that first night by the loud noises echoing off the canyon walls made by the buffalo during that spring mating season. Some accounts claim he had to convince her that dried buffalo dung made excellent firewood for her cook stove.

Charlie Goodnight devoted his boundless energy to enlarging the ranch, improving the stock, and blazing the Palo Duro-Dodge City Cattle Trail. Mary acted as surrogate mother for the cowboys—patching their clothes, sewing on buttons, and listening to their troubles. According to Crawford and Ragsdale in Women in Texas, Mary’s doctoring consisted of “coal-oil for lice, prickly pear for wounds, salt and buffalo tallow for piles, mud for inflammation and fever, and buffalo meat made into a broth for a general tonic.”

Despite the constant wind and the loneliness from going six months to a year without seeing another white woman (Comanche squaws came into the canyon with Quanah Parker’s band.) Mary claimed that was the happiest time of her life. Charlie Goodnight made a peace treaty with the Comanches that both he and Quanah Parker honored: Goodnight would give two beeves every other day to Quanah Parker’s band until they could find the buffalo they were hunting as long as the Indians did not take cattle from the JA herd.

Mary Goodnight said in later years that a cowboy brought her three chickens in a sack, and they became something she could talk to. They ran to her when she called and tried to talk to her in their language, following her as she went about her chores. She wrote in her diary that during the day she could hear the gunshots of commercial buffalo hunters who swept the plains killing the bison for their hides, even if a calf was standing next to its mother. At night she could hear the orphans bawling, alone and starving among the rotting carcasses that were left behind. She insisted that Charlie bring the orphaned calves home and by nursing them with three gallons of milk a day she restored them to health and helped establish the Goodnight buffalo herd.

The Goodnights cross-bred some of the buffalo with range cattle, calling the new breed “Cattalo.” Mary established her own herd and commissioned artist J.C. Cowles to paint scenes of the ranch. In 2011, eighty descendants of the great southern plains bison that Mary Goodnight was instrumental in saving were released to roam on 700 acres of the Caprock Canyon State Park in the Texas Panhandle.

After John Adair died in 1885, Goodnight worked for a couple of years in partnership with Cornelia Adair before he and Mary left the JA Ranch taking as their share a 140,000-acre spread and 20,000 head of cattle to land that became known as Goodnight Station. As railroads, fencing, farmers, and townspeople moved into the Panhandle, Mary helped establish Goodnight College, a post-secondary school, in 1898. As a result of their generosity, churches, schools, and other organizations in the Panhandle were named for the ranching pioneers.

Mary died in 1926 and her headstone reads: “Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight: One who spent her whole life in the service of others.

Mary and Charles Goodnight, Courtesy Charles Goodnight Historical Center

Butterfield Stage Line Across Texas

Concord Coach

Concord Coach

The famous Southern Overland Mail Route, better known as the Butterfield Stage in romantic Wild West movies, actually operated its twice-weekly mail and passenger service for less than three years from September 15, 1858 until March 1, 1861. Two trails from the east started from St. Louis and from Memphis, Tennessee. When the trails met at Fort Smith, Arkansas, they joined and continued west. The line swooped south through Texas in what was called the “Ox Bow” to avoid the snows and mountain passes of the central regions of the country. The stages crossed the Red River into Texas on Colbert’s Ferry near present Denison and then headed west for the 740-mile, eight-day trip to Franklin (present El Paso). The stages ran night and day averaging speeds of five to twelve miles per hour. Primitive stations offering water and a change of horses lay about every twenty miles along the flat, desert-like trail and were spaced between stops at Fort Belknap, Fort Phantom Hill, and Fort Chadbourne. The route crossed the Pecos River, skirted the base of the Guadalupe Mountains, and reached the dividing point between the route’s east and west divisions at present day El Paso.we_pg184_map

Passengers who did not want to make the grueling trip straight through could lay over, get some rest, and take a later stage. However, if the next few stages were full, a traveler might be marooned for up to a month. Almost everyone agreed the food was awful. Waterman Ormsby, a reporter for the New York Herald, was the only passenger that made the entire distance on that first trip from St. Louis. He sent dispatches along the way to his paper describing the journey. He wrote, “…the fare, though rough, is better than could be expected so far from civilized districts. It consists of bread, tea, and fried steaks of bacon, venison, antelope, or mule flesh ­the latter tough enough. Milk, butter, vegetables were only met with towards the two ends of the trip.” He described another meal of shortcake, coffee, dried beef and raw onions. He said that often there were not enough plates or tin cups to serve the passengers. Mail delivery took top priority, which often resulted in mailbags being crammed into the coach with the passengers. On the stretch from Fort Belknap in Texas to Tucson, Arizona, the handsome Concord-made coaches weighing more than two tons were replaced by lighter-weight “celerity” or mud wagons and the team of four to six horses stepped aside for mule power that proved to be a lot less attractive to Indians. The mud wagons had light frames that made it easier to maneuver the deep sands and mud. The roofs were made of thick duck or canvass and the open sides allowed the free flow of air as well as dust and rain.

Celerity Wagon copy of daguerreotype-Nita Stewart Haley Memorial Library Midland, TX

Celerity Wagon
copy of daguerreotype-Nita Stewart Haley Memorial Library Midland, TX

Until Congress authorized the U.S. postmaster general to offer a contract to deliver mail from St. Louis to San Francisco, all mail bound for the West Coast had to be shipped through the Gulf of Mexico, freighted across the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific and shipped up the coast to California. John W. Butterfield and his associates won the U.S. government contract in September 1857 to haul mail and passengers across the southern part of the country to California. It took a year to assemble the necessary equipment—a huge investment in 250 Concord Stagecoaches, 1,200 horses, and 600 mules. They dug cisterns or water wells and built corrals at 139 relay stations and hired 800 employees, including drivers, conductors, station keepers, blacksmiths, and wranglers. The government contract called for the Butterfield Overland Stage Company to receive $600,000 a year, plus the money it earned on passenger fares and the receipts for mail. Postage cost ten cents per half-ounce and passengers paid $200 for the one-way 2,795-mile trip. The coaches departed each Monday and Thursday morning in the east from near St. Louis and in the west from San Francisco for the 25-day journey.

At the conclusion of that first trip west, Waterman Ormsby, the New York Herald correspondent wrote: “Had I not just come out over the route, I would be perfectly willing to go back, but I now know what Hell is like, I’ve just had 24 days of it.”

Despite passengers complaints of discomfort, the Concord coaches, unlike other conveyances that rode on steel springs, were suspended on “thorough braces,” leather straps fashioned for each coach from over a dozen oxen hides that were cured to be as tough as steel. In 1861, when Mark Twain’s brother Orion Clemens was appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory, Twain accompanied him on the trip west and wrote of the journey in Roughing It. Twain describes their stagecoach as “a swinging and swaying cage of the most sumptuous description—an imposing cradle on wheels.”

Continued debt and competition from the Pony Express that proved mail could be delivered cross-country in ten days forced Butterfield out of the Overland Stage Company. Wells Fargo took over the operation and in anticipation of the Civil War, the southern Ox Bow route through Texas made its last run on March 21, 1861. With the start of the Civil War on April 12, Wells Fargo moved all the equipment north and continued the operation as the Central Overland Trail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Placerville, California.

On March 30, 2009, President Barack Obama signed Congressional legislation authorizing the study of the designation of the Butterfield Overland Trail National Historic Trail.

El Paso Mission Trail

My long-range plans call for finding a book publisher interested in my Texas history blogs. With that goal in mind, I’m expanding my Texas coverage with a series of West Texas and Panhandle stories. This blog post was to be about the founding of the oldest Spanish mission in Texas and the first thanksgiving in the United States, both of which I thought had occurred near El Paso, a city on the far western edge of Texas. Immediately, I uncovered a wide range of stories that I have decided to share.

We often think of Spanish activity in Texas getting underway when the Frenchman René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle landed on the Texas coast in 1685. Concern that the French might have an eye on Texas prompted the government of New Spain to construct six missions in East Texas to Christianize the Indians and to serve as a buffer against encroachment from the French in neighboring Louisiana. In fact Spanish explorers started coming into Texas at present-day El Paso in the early 1580s, a century before the East Texas missions were built.

King Phillip II of Spain made Don Juan de Oñate the governor of New Mexico, before the territory

Don Juan de Onate

Don Juan de Onate

had been conquered. In search of riches, adventure, and political power Oñate personally financed an expedition, or entrada, meant to “pacify” the natives in New Mexico. He assembled 400 soldiers, 130 families and thousands of head of cattle, sheep, and other livestock. In early 1598 Oñate led his entourage on what he thought was a shortcut across the Chihuahuan Desert in Northern Mexico in search of a pass through the mountains into New Mexico. In late April, after four days of walking without food or water, the desperate travelers reached the Rio Grande where Oñate claimed all the surrounding land for King Phillip II of Spain. A few days later, they met native people who called themselves Manos, “peaceful one.” The friendly Indians led the Spanish to the place where the Rio Grande cut through the mountains forming El Paso del Rio del Norte—the pass of the north—the Spanish entryway to the West. The Mansos, who wore very little clothing, provided fresh fish for the Spanish and received clothing in return. Oñate invited the Mansos to be guests at a feast on January 26, 1598, celebrating the travelers’ amazing survival. The huge display of wild game and other food stuffs from the expeditions’ supplies created a feast of thanksgiving, which seems to be the second to be celebrated in the present United States. The first thanksgiving is claimed by St. Augustine, Florida, where on September 8, 1565, the Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez held a feast of thanksgiving with the Timucua.

The entrada moved on into New Mexico, but when scouting parties failed to find gold and silver,

Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo

Oñate’s troops began demanding payments from the Pueblo population. The Acoma pueblo refused to comply and in 1599 the Acoma Wars ended with Oñate’s orders to kill 800 people, enslave another 500, and cut off the left foot of all men older than twenty-five. Numbers of amputees vary from twenty-four to eighty. The young women were sent into slavery. Oñate continued his exploratory travels as far as present Kansas, returned to found the town of Santa Fe, and was finally called back to Mexico City in 1606 to answer for his conduct. Although he was tried and convicted of cruelty to the Spanish colonists and to the natives, he was later cleared of all charges.

His treatment of the native peoples set the pattern of Spanish cruelty that continued until the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 when the natives rebelled against their overlords. The Pueblos drove out the soldiers and the Spanish authorities, killed twenty-one Franciscan priests, and sacked mission churches. More than 400 Spanish colonists and 346 native people were killed, which sent hundreds of Indians and Spanish fleeing for their lives to the south. The Tigua (Tiwa) people were among the refugees who reached safety at the Paso del Norte. In order to serve the displaced population, Franciscan friars established the first mission and pueblo in Texas, Corpus Christi de la Isleta, in 1682 on the south bank of the Rio Grande. That same year Nuestra Señora de la

Ysleta Mission

Ysleta Mission

Concepción del Socorro was established for other native people who had fled from the Pueblo Revolt. Over the years, the Rio Grande flooded many times, changing course, and moving the communities that grew up around the missions to both sides of the river, even isolating them for a time on an island between two channels of the Rio Grande.

Socorro Mission

Socorro Mission

Despite the construction of the Spanish missions, the Indians from New Mexico brought their own way of life with them, and continued to control the political and economic activities of the new mission communities. The Franciscan friars were allowed authority only over the Indians’ spiritual life.

Into this mix of missions, native peoples, and Spanish settlers, San Elizario settlement was established, and the Presidio de San Elizario was built in 1789 to protect the area missions and the travelers on the Camino Real (Royal Highway) that ran from Mexico City through Paso del Norte to Santa Fe. While it was never a mission, the presidio boasted a chapel to serve the military personnel.

San Elizario Chapel

San Elizario Chapel

Today’s Ysleta church was completed in 1907 and the Isleta community was annexed into El Paso in 1955. The present Socorro Mission was completed in 1840, replacing the 17th-century structure destroyed by Rio Grande floods. The current church retains many of its original decorative elements, including the original beams, or vigas, which were salvaged from the old flooded church. Both missions and the San Elizario Chapel are on the El Paso Mission Trail.

El Paso Mission Trail

El Paso Mission Trail

Waco’s Suspension Bridge

Slide49After the Civil War, Waco was a struggling little town of 1,500 nestled on the west bank of the Brazos River.  No bridges crossed the Brazos, the longest body of water in Texas.  During floods, days and even weeks passed before travelers as well as cattle on the Shawnee and Chisholm trails could safely cross the river.  Although money was scarce and times were hard during recovery from the war, a group of businessmen formed Waco Bridge Company and secured a twenty-five-year contract to construct and operate the only toll bridge for five miles up and down the river.

John A. Roebling and Son of New York designed the 475-foot structure, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world at that time.  Waco’s bridge served as the prototype for Roebling’s much-longer Brooklyn Bridge completed in 1883.

The fledgling Waco company ran into problems from the beginning.  Work started in the fall of 1868 with costs, originally estimated at $40,000, growing to $140,000 as the investors continued to issue new stock offerings.  The nearest railroad stopped at Millican, over 100 miles away, which meant that coils of wire and cable, steel trusses, and custom-made bolts and nuts had to be hauled to Waco by ox wagon over rutted, sandy roads.  The contractor floated cedar trees down the Brazos for shoring up the foundation in the unstable riverbed.  Local businesses made the woodwork and the bricks.

Slide50The bridge opened to traffic in January 1870 with tolls of ten cents for each animal and rider; loose animals and foot passengers crossed for five cents each; and sheep, hogs, or goats crossed for three cents each.  It was not long until residents on the far side of the river began complaining about the tolls.  Businessmen who used the facility joined them in their protests.

Landowners along the river began allowing cattlemen, travelers, and local citizens to cut across their property to reach the fords on the river.  The uproar increased for the next nineteen years, until September 1889, when the Waco Bridge Company sold the structure to McLennan County for $75,000 and the county gave the bridge to the city.

Vehicles continued using the bridge, without paying a toll, until 1971 when it was converted to a pedestrian crossing.  Today lovely, shaded parkland edges both sides of the river and the bridge enjoys a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and designation by a Texas Historical marker.  Slide51

Butterfield Stage Across Texas

The famous Southern Overland Mail Route, better known as the Butterfield Stage in romantic Wild West movies, actually operated its twice-weekly mail and passenger service for less than three years from September 15, 1858 until March 1, 1861.  Two trails from the east started from St. Louis and from Memphis, Tennessee.  When the trails met at Fort Smith, Arkansas, they joined and continued west. The line swooped south through Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) in what was called the “Ox Bow” to avoid the snows and mountain passes of the central regions of the country. 800px-Butterfield-Overland The stages crossed the Red River into Texas on Colbert’s Ferry near present Denison and headed west for the 740-mile, eight-day trip to Franklin (present El Paso).  The stages ran night and day averaging speeds of five to twelve miles per hour.  Primitive stations offering water and a change of horses lay about every twenty miles along the flat, desert-like trail and were spaced between stops at Fort Belknap, Fort Phantom Hill, and Fort Chadbourne.  The route crossed the Pecos River, skirted the base of the Guadalupe Mountains, and reached the dividing point between the route’s east and west divisions at present day El Paso.

Passengers who did not want to make the grueling trip straight through could lay over, get some rest, and take a later stage.  However, if the next few stages were full, a traveler might be marooned for up to a month.  Almost everyone agreed the food was awful.  Waterman Ormsby, a reporter for the New York Herald was the only passenger for a portion of the first trip from St. Louis.  He sent dispatches along the way to his paper describing the journey.  He wrote, “…the fare, though rough, is better than could be expected so far from civilized districts. It consists of bread, tea, and fried steaks of bacon, venison, antelope, or mule flesh ­the latter tough enough. Milk, butter, vegetables were only met with towards the two ends of the trip.” He described another meal of shortcake, coffee, dried beef and raw onions.  He said that often there were not enough plates or tin cups to serve the passengers.  Mail delivery took top priority, which often resulted in mailbags being crammed into the coach with the passengers. On the stretch from Fort Belknap in Texas to Tucson, Arizona, the handsome

Butterfield Stagecoach

Butterfield Stagecoach

Concord-made coaches weighing more than two tons were replaced by lighter-weight “celerity” or mud wagons and the team of four to six horses stepped aside for mule power that proved to be a lot less attractive to Indians. The mud wagons had light frames that made it easier to maneuver the deep sands and mud.  The roofs were made of thick duck or canvass and the open sides allowed the free flow of air as well as dust and rain.

Mud wagon

Mud wagon

Until Congress authorized the U.S. postmaster general to offer a contract to deliver mail from St. Louis to San Francisco, all mail bound for the West Coast had to be shipped through the Gulf of Mexico, freighted across the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific and shipped up the coast to California.  John W. Butterfield and his associates won the U.S. government contract in September 1857 to haul mail and passengers across the southern part of the country to California.  It took a year to assemble the necessary equipment–a huge investment in 250 Concord Stagecoaches, 1,200 horses, and 600 mules. They dug cisterns or water wells and built corrals at 139 relay stations and hired 800 employees, including drivers, conductors, station keepers, blacksmiths, and wranglers. The government contract called for the Butterfield Overland Stage Company to receive $600,000 a year, plus the money it earned on passenger fares and the receipts for mail.  Postage cost ten cents per half-ounce and passengers paid $200 for the one-way 2,795-mile trip. The coaches departed each Monday and Thursday morning in the east from near St. Louis and in the west from San Francisco for the 25-day journey.

At the conclusion of that first trip west, Waterman Ormsby, the New York Herald correspondent wrote: “Had I not just come out over the route, I would be perfectly willing to go back, but I now know what Hell is like, I’ve just had 24 days of it.”

Despite passengers complaints of discomfort the Concord coaches, unlike other conveyances that rode on steel springs, were suspended on thoroughbraces, leather straps fashioned for each coach from over a dozen oxen hides that were cured to be as tough as steel.  In 1861, when Mark Twain’s brother Orion Clemens was appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory, Twain accompanied him on the trip west and wrote of the journey in Roughing It.  Twain describes their stagecoach as “a swinging and swaying cage of the most sumptuous description—an imposing cradle on wheels.”

Continued debt and competition from the Pony Express that proved mail could be delivered cross-country in ten days forced Butterfield out of the Overland Stage Company.  Wells Fargo took over the operation and in anticipation of the Civil War, the southern Ox Bow route through Texas made its last run on March 21, 1861.  With the start of the Civil War on April 12, Wells Fargo moved all the equipment north and continued the operation as the Central Overland Trail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Placerville, California.

On March 30, 2009, President Barack Obama signed Congressional legislation authorizing the study of the designation of the Butterfield Overland Trail National Historic Trail.