Goodnight Loving Trail: A Brief History

Horse Head - We Made it  (1)

The Goodnight-Loving Cattle Trail began in 1866. The trail ran from Young County, Texas southwest to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River, then northwards to Fort Sumner, through Colorado and finally ending in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Charles Goodnight was a former Texas Ranger and known Indian Scout. Oliver Loving was a pioneer cowboy and rancher. After the civil war, there was a large number of cattle and the cattle market was dreadful. The two entrepreneurs joined together to gather cattle for a contract to provide beef for Ft. Sumner, where provisions were needed to feed the outpost and the Indian on the reservations.

Two routes were considered; west through the Llano Estacado, which was controlled by the Comanche Indians or south then west on the Butterfield Overland Mail route through Horsehead Crossing and north to the fort. The southern route was chosen and preparations made to embark on this dangerous trip through Indian country Charles Goodnight bought a government wagon and hired a wood-worker to build an upright chuck-box mounting it on the rear of the wagon bed, thus creating the first “chuck wagon”.

The Cattle drive began on June 6, 1866 with some 2,000 head of longhorns, 18 cowhands. The westward trip from the Middle Concho River in Tom Green County through Castle Gap would reach Horsehead Crossing, the middle point of the drive. But the 97 miles of dry land was difficult with a loss of 300 head. Cattle and cowhands traveled three days and nights without water or rest to reach the salty bitter waters of Horsehead Crossing on July 4.

Upon reaching Ft. Sumner they sold the herd for 8 cents a pound, but the government would not buy the cows and calves so Loving continued to Wyoming while Goodnight returned to gather another herd.