Charles Goodnight was born in 1836 in Illinois and when he was 10 years of age his family moved to the newly formed State of Texas. Here Goodnight learned about cattle herding and began his life-long love affair with Texas Longhorns. He and Oliver Loving began trailing Longhorns north to Colorado and Wyoming in the 1860s. Goodnight invented the chuck wagon in order to more easily feed the drovers on the trail.
In 1868, Goodnight put down roots just west of the newly created town of Pueblo, Colorado. He built his Rock Canyon Ranch below the bluffs of the area just west of what is named Goodnight Street. He ran his cattle all over the Gervacio Nolan Grant and had line camps over the area, including Babcock’s Hole Ranch in Wetmore, Colorado. The ranch remains today as a testament to Goodnight’s western heritage.
In 1869-70 Goodnight and his ranch hands built the beautiful and architecturally significant stone barn that alone remains from his ranch.
If you have ever read the book Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, or seen the TV movie of the same name then you will be familiar with the main characters Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae. They are based on real men -- Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving.
Goodnight was born in Macoupin County, Illinois, northeast of St. Louis, Missouri, the fourth child of Charles Goodnight and the former Charlotte Collier. Goodnight's father's grave is located in a pasture south of Bunker Hill, Illinois.
Goodnight 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 against Comanche raiders. A year later, in 1857, Goodnight joined the Texas Rangers. Goodnight is also known for rousing and leading a posse against the Comanche in 1860 that located the Indian camp where Cynthia Ann Parker was living with her husband, Peta Nocona, then guiding Texas Rangers to the camp, leading to Cynthia Ann's recapture. He later made a treaty with her son, Quanah Parker.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined the Confederate States Army. Most of his time was spent as part of a frontier regiment guarding against raids by Indians.
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."
On July 26, 1870, Goodnight married Mary Ann "Molly" Dyer, a teacher from Weatherford, west of Fort Worth. Goodnight developed a practical sidesaddle for Molly. Though he was not of his wife's denomination, Goodnight donated money to build a Methodist Church in Goodnight. He and Molly also established the Goodnight Academy to offer post-elementary education to hundreds of children of ranchers. For several years after their marriage the Goodnights resided in Pueblo, Colorado, where Goodnight had considerable financial success, having invested in real estate, buying town lots, and even becoming part owner of the opera house. The barn from the Goodnight home west of Pueblo on the Arkansas River is still standing and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Much of his money was invested in the Stock Growers Bank in Pueblo; locals there began referring to him by the title "Colonel".
After Molly died in April 1926, Goodnight became ill himself. He was nourished back to health by a distant paternal cousin, 26-year-old nurse and telegraph operator from Butte, Montana, named Corinne Goodnight, with whom Charles had been corresponding because of their shared surname.
On March 5, 1927, his ninety-first birthday, Goodnight married Corinne, who was young enough to be his great-granddaughter and who soon miscarried their unborn child. Her name was hence Corinne Goodnight Goodnight. He joined her Two by Twos church and was baptized a few months before his death in Goodnight, Texas. Evetts Haley had described Goodnight as "deeply religious and reverential by nature."
In his younger years, Goodnight smoked some fifty cigars per day but switched to a pipe in his mature years. He never learned to read or write but had his wives write letters for him to various individuals, including Quanah Parker. During his last illness, he gave his gold Hampton pocket watch to his pastor, Ralph Blackburn.
After he mastered ranching, Goodnight was involved in other activities, including the establishment of his Goodnight College in Armstrong County and working as a newspaperman and a banker. He lost his life's savings when the Mexican silver mine he invested in was nationalized by the Mexican government. He was forced to sell his ranch in 1919 to an oilman friend, W. J. McAlister, with the provision that Goodnight and his then first wife could stay in the home until they both died.
He is buried next to his first wife, Mary Ann, in the Goodnight Cemetery near Amarillo.