GOODNIGHT, TX (KFDA) - Is there a name more synonymous with – or symbolic of – the history and heritage of the sprawling Texas Panhandle than Charles Goodnight?
Accordingly, the Texas Historical Commission has honored the great man's huge legacy with a historical marker on Fourth Avenue in Canyon on the southern entrance to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.
The marker is near the trail Goodnight used to run roughly 1,600 head of cattle to what would become the first cattle ranch in the Panhandle in 1876.
The next year Irishman John Adair invested in the business in Palo Duro Canyon that eventually expanded to take in one million acres under the umbrella of the JA Ranch.
Goodnight was born in Illinois in 1836. By the age of 9, he rode a horse bareback behind a covered wagon carrying his parents and arrived in North Central Texas about the time of statehood in 1845.
He eventually guided Texas Rangers fighting Kiowa and Comanche Indians and helped found the Goodnight-Loving Trail to drive Texas cattle to New Mexico and Colorado markets before settling in the Panhandle. He and partner Oliver Loving became the basis for the lead characters in author Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove."
After the JA Ranch partnership with Adair's widow dissolved, Goodnight worked another ranch he founded nearby until his death in 1929. He is buried in a family cemetery with his first wife, Mary Ann, near the town that bears his name. Their recently restored home, also in Goodnight, is open to the public.
Michael Grauer, associate director for curatorial affairs and curator of art at PPHM, said the text on the marker is very accurate.
He called Goodnight "literally the pioneer of cattle ranching in this region" but the PPHM front desk staff "rarely gets asked about the marker."
Grauer also likes the position of the Goodnight marker in front of the museum's main door.
"I believe given the mission of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum that this is an excellent location for this particular marker," Grauer said.
One of the legacies Goodnight left behind are the bison that became the Texas State Bison Herd raised from Goodnight's original herd.
"It was actually the JA Ranch that gave [the bison] in the 1990s to Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque," Grauer said.
Texas Parks & Wildlife has been expanding the acreage available to the animals with the goal of letting them roam much of the park's 15,000 acres.
Goodnight was, to borrow a phrase, a "man's man" in every sense of the notion. Indeed, he reportedly smoked 50 cigars daily and switched to puffing on a pipe in his later years.
One more thing about Goodnight that most people might not know: He never learned to read and write, but his wives managed to write letters for him.
Goodnight produced no children with his wives. Thus, Goodnight's only official survivor beyond the bison is the cattle industry he founded when he arrived in the Texas Panhandle … which isn't a bad legacy at all.