Oliver Loving was made famous by a partner and a book

Time Before Now, December 1812  Present-day Missouri’s New Madrid area experienced two huge earthquakes in January, powerful aftershocks from two even bigger quakes in mid-December.  All registering more than seven, it is estimated 1,000 people may have died, many believed to be Native American.  In February, Massachusetts Governor, Elbridge Gerry, invented “gerrymandering,” signing a bill which created a district that looked like a salamander.  The practice has long been vilified but is still widely used by political parties today.  And the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm and Jacob, published “Rumpelstiltskin,” (right) just one of 85 stories in the first edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  By the seventh edition four decades later, the book had expanded to 211 popular folk tales.

December 4, 1812

On this day, Oliver Loving, legendary Texas cattleman and namesake for half  the Goodnight-Loving Trail, was born to farmers in Hopkins County or next-door Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.

Becoming a legend didn’t happen overnight and the partner that helped make him famous, Charles Goodnight, didn’t come along for half a century.  Arriving in Texas at 31, Loving (left)   was already the father of five of his nine children, having married Susan Doggett Morgan, a fellow Kentuckian in 1833.  He’d operated a freight line, a country store and a thousand-acre ranch.   It was nearly two decades later when he his son with his cattle and those of a neighbor, up the Shawnee Trail to Illinois.  The 19-year-old Joseph returned with profits of $36 a head, about $900 today, convincing his father to make the trek the next year with another partner, John Durkee.

But by 1860, the threat of the tick-borne Texas Fever had effectively shut down the trails through Kansas and Missouri and Loving’s next herd  instead moved west to Colorado.  He and yet another partner, John Dawson, trailed 1,500 head to Denver.

Timing is everything, as they say.  Wintering over in Pueblo, Colorado, he sold the herd the next Spring at the very beginning of the Civil War. Union officials were seeking to prohibit the flow of northern money to the Confederacy.  Loving, with a load of gold jingling in his pockets, was arrested.   He was saved only by the good offices of the famous frontiersman, Kit Carson.  Luckily  for Loving, he was explorer John C. Fremont’s favorite scout. (Left, Fremont and Carson)  Newly minted as Abraham Lincoln’s Union Commander of the Department of the West.  Fremont allowed Loving to leave with his pot of gold intact.

Once safely back in Texas, he quickly consigned all his cattle to the Confederate States and began driving beef along the Mississippi River to New Orleans.  The old saw, “driving your cattle to a poor market” could have been invented for Loving.  When the war ended, the Army of the Lost Cause owed him somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000, more than $3 million today.

While Loving was going broke, Charles Goodnight (right)  a Texas Ranger,  busy fighting Comanche, discovering the whereabouts of Quanah Parker’s mother, Sara Ann, and rounding up ownerless Longhorns roaming the mesquite.

The pair finally teamed up in 1866, successfully cobbling together a way west along the a defunct Butterfield Mail Route and the Pecos River to Fort Sumner.  It was an easy sale.  The Army there was desperate to feed thousands of Navajo being held at Basque Redondo. 

Fort Sumner, circa 1860s

The Army’s $12,000 in gold, about $200,000 today, went for a second herd. They entered into a successful  partnership with owner of New Mexico’s Bosque Grande ranch, John Chisolm. (Left)  Chisolm’s sister, Nancy, was married to a Loving cousin, B. F. Bourland.

A third drive was planned for the Spring of 1867 but was bogged down by heavy rains and the threat of attacks by the Comanche.  Leaving Goodnight with the herd, Loving and a single scout headed to Fort Sumner for contract bidding.  In spite of a promise to travel only at night, the pair pushed on in daylight and quickly caught the attention of a party of Comanche. Attacked at what is now Loving’s Bend, New Mexico, Loving was seriously injured.  With no hope of escape he sent his companion back to the herd to summon help.  

Loving’s Bend, site of the Comanche attack

Two days later, however, weakened by his injury and a lack of food, he managed to make it to Carlsbad, 12 miles away.  Traders headed to Fort Sumner agreed to take the injured man with them.  

Goodnight arrived at the fort several days later to find his partner dying of gangrene and the post surgeon absent, out on patrol.  Before his death September 25, 1867, Loving asked for assurance his remains would be returned to Texas.

Temporarily interred at Fort Sumner, his body was exhumed and reinterred at Weatherford.  He was 68.  It is unclear who made the pilgrimage back to Texas.  Some sources credit Goodnight while others indicate it may have been one of Loving’s sons.

The Goodnight-Loving saga was the basis for author Larry McMurtry’s 1986 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel “Lonesome Dove” (left) which became a 1989 Emmy-winning television mini-series by the same name.  In addition to its seven Emmies, it received a Peabody Award for outstanding achievement in drama and was anointed “Program of the Year” by the National Television Critics Association.

The characters of the real-life drama have been equally celebrated in the annals of Western lore. Loving County, Texas, Loving, New Mexico, as well as Loving’s Bend on the Pecos River bear Oliver Loving’s name.   In 1958, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

Charles Goodnight outlived Loving by more than six decades  He is credited with inventing the iconic chuckwagon, establishing the first ranch in the Texas panhandle and saving the American bison.  His house in Armstrong County, Texas, (above) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Hall of Great Westerners, part of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, 1700 WE 63rd Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is one of the premier conservators of Western legend and lore.   Founded in 1955, the museum’s 12 gallerias include everything from Western and Native American art. frontier history and all things cowboy.  Great Westerners, Great Western Performers and Great Rodeo Performers are  honored the museum’s three Hall of Fame galleries.   


Open 10 to 5, Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 Sunday, it’s closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Day.  The Museum Grill is open 11 to 1:30, Monday through Saturday.  Admission is $12.50 for adults, $9.50 for seniors and students with ID, $5.75 for kids 6 to 12 and 5 and under are  free.  “Elder hours,” seniors 62 and over are eligible for a $3 discount weekday mornings from 9 to 10.  For more information go to nationalcowboymuseum.org, call (405) 478-2250 or write 1700 NE 63rd St., Oklahoma, OK 73111.

Loving’s Bend Historic Marker, near Loving, New Mexico, is located at the intersection of U.S.  285 and Eddy Co. 712.  The inscription reads:  

“In July 1867 Oliver Loving, a partner in the Goodnight–Loving cattle concern, was attacked by Comanches while driving cattle to Fort Sumner. Wounded, Loving held off the attack for two days and nights. With the help of Mexican traders, he made it to Fort Sumner, where he died of gangrene. Fulfilling his promise, Charles Goodnight exhumed Loving’s body, reburying him a year later in Weatherford, Texas.”

In addition, a Goodnight-Loving Trail Historic Marker is located approximately a mile and a half west at U.S. 285 and N.M. 31, near Carlsbad.

Go to the Western Heritage Museum website before planning a visit                               for the latest COVID-19 updates.

© Text Only – 2020 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.