One of my favorite westerns, and maybe yours also, is Lonesome Dove written by Larry McMurtry. The story, characters, locations, and all the elements come together to create a memorable tale.
As I’ve been researching for my upcoming book, Red River Station, I’ve discovered that the main characters of McMurtry’s novel were based on real westerners – Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving.
These men saw opportunity in the longhorn cattle business, and following the Civil War, they carved a cattle trail across west Texas, north through New Mexico along the Pecos River, and into Colorado to feed hungry miners in the Denver area. They called their route the Goodnight-Loving Trail.
They also drove another herd purchased from John Chisolm, Fort Sumner, NM, into Colorado.
In 1868, after contracting with the Union Pacific Railroad, Goodnight drove cattle into Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Goodnight and Loving were westerners who pioneered the frontier. Loving was older than Goodnight but the two men ‘hit it off’ and became partners.
In J. Marvin Hunter’s “The Trail Drivers of Texas,” Goodnight wrote about his friend:
“Oliver Loving, senior, is undoubtedly the first man who ever trailed cattle from Texas. His earliest effort was in 1858 when he took a herd across the frontier of the Indian Nation or “No Man’s Land,” through eastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri into Illinois. His second attempt was in 1859; he left the frontier on the upper Brazos and took a northwest course until he struck the Arkansas River, somewhere about the mouth of the Walnut, and followed it to just about Pueblo where he wintered.”
He continued: “In 1867 we started another herd west over the same trail and struck the Pecos the latter part of June. After we had gone up this river about one hundred miles it was decided that Mr. Loving should go ahead on horseback in order to reach New Mexico and Colorado in time to bid on the contracts which were to be let in July, to use the cattle we then had on trail, for we knew that there were no other cattle in the west to take their place.”
In Lonesome Dove, you may recall the Indian attack that catches Gus and Pea Eye in the open. Gus is wounded, stays behind, and allows Pea Eye to escape to warn Call. The episode is based on Oliver Loving experiencing the same life ending event.
J. Marvin Hunter wrote:
W.J. Wilson (one-armed Wilson) was the person who accompanied Loving to scout out the territory before the cattle were to be driven to Ft. Sumner on a contract they had with the Army to feed the Indians. They left Goodnight and the rest of the men with the cattle. Goodnight had made Wilson and Loving promise to travel only by night lest the Comanches attack. But Loving was in a hurry and did not listen to Wilson or Goodnight.
The Indians attacked and the two men took shelter in a river redoubt, where they held off warriors for hours. Finally, the Indians wanted to parley and Loving stood up to see where they were. A brave shot him and the arrow went through his arm and into his side.
Wilson’s descriptions of the events that follow are in the historical records kept in Texas’ Cushman Library and other Texas Historical Society documents:
“When I went down the river about a hundred yards, and saw an Indian sitting on his horse out in the river, with the water almost over the horse’s back. He was sitting there splashing the water with his foot, just playing. I got under some smart-weeds and drifted by until I got far enough below the Indian where I could get out. Then I made a three days’ march barefooted. Everything in that country had stickers in it. On my way I picked up the small end of a teepee pole which I used for a walking stick.
The last night of this painful journey the wolves followed me all night. I would give out, just like a horse, and lay down in the road and drop off to sleep and when 1 would awaken the wolves would be all around me, snapping and snarling. I would take up that stick, knock the wolves away, got started again and the wolves would follow behind. I kept that up until daylight, when the wolves quit me. About 12 o’clock on that last day I crossed a little mountain and knew the boys ought to be right in there somewhere with the cattle. I found a little place, a sort of cave, that afforded protection from the sun, and I could go no further. After a short time the boys came along with the cattle and found me.”
Loving had been picked up by some Mexican vaqueros and taken to Ft. Sumner. By the time Goodnight arrived, Loving was in a bad way. The wound in his side had healed, but the doctor refused to amputate the arm, in which gangrene had set in. Goodnight and Wilson had to coerce the doctor to amputate the arm, but it was too late to save Loving. Oliver Loving asked Goodnight to provide for his family and to return his body to Weatherford, Texas, where he wanted to be buried.
Goodnight kept his promise. The 600-mile trip was probably the longest funeral procession of all time. It was made famous in Lonesome Dove when Captain Call transports Gus McRae’s body back to Texas from Montana.”
Oliver Loving was temporarily interned at Fort Sumner. Goodnight completed delivery of their herd to Colorado, returned to Fort Sumner, exhumed Loving’s body, and escorted it home to Weatherford. He was reburied on March 4, 1868, with full Masonic honors.
Another memorable character from Lonesome Dove is that of Deets. Larry McMurtry had a real-life person to model his written character from – Bose Ikard.
“Bose Ikard was born a slave and went West to work for Oliver Loving in 1866. He worked for Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving when they were partners. When Loving died, he remained a steadfast friend and employee to Charles Goodnight.
Following his work in the cattle drives, Ikard settled in Weatherford, Texas. He and his wife, Angeline, were the parents of six children. He died in 1929 at age 85. Goodnight had a granite marker erected at his grave.
Goodnight wrote about Ikard:
“Bose surpassed any man I had in endurance and stamina. There was a dignity, a cleanliness and reliability about him that was wonderful. His behavior was very good in a fight and he was probably the most devoted man to me that I ever knew. I have trusted him farther than any man. He was my banker, my detective, and everything else in Colorado, New Mexico and the other wild country. The nearest and only bank was in Denver, and when we carried money, I gave it to Bose, for a thief would never think of robbing him: Bose Ikard served with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, never shirked a duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me in many stampedes, participated in three engagements with Comanches, splendid behavior. … Bose could be trusted farther than any living man I know.”
Heros. Today, we are in a world that needs heros. Not papier-mache imitations. These men, my friends were and are heroes – then and today.