Gus & Woodrow

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.


Red River Station

In the north west corner of Montague County, Texas, a disappeared town, that was once the bustling village of Red River Station existed. This spot was the last place to supply, cut loose, and prepare to cross the Red River into Indian Territory beginning the 400 mile trek north along the Chisholm Trail.

From 1860 until 1887 a community existed on the banks of the Red River. This hamlet provided shelter and sustenance to settlers, Confederate Troops of the Frontier Regiment and innumerable cowboys driving cattle from Texas to Kansas railheads.

A fortuitous bend in the Red River forced the current to the south side of the river and allowed a tenable, sandbar infested ford to exist. For centuries, Buffalo herds utilized this natural crossing and Native American tribes used it as a doorway into Texas. After the Civil War, this location became the staging point for longhorn herds being driven to Kansas railheads across the Indian Territory.

Feeder trails in Texas converged creating a funnel effect by the time it reached the Red River in Montague County.  The first herds crossed at Red River Station in 1867.  By 1870, it was the prominent crossing.

“It is difficult to imagine what the area must have been like during the heyday of the Chisholm Trails.  The dust, not to mention the odor, caused by thousands of milling cattle must have been intense at times.  The Red River has always been a temperamental beast, sometimes smooth as silk and a furious raging swell at others.

Mark Withers was a cowboy that traveled the Trail on more than one occasion.  In his later years, he wrote down some of his memories of the time.  He described one exceptional incident that occurred at Red River Station in 1871.

It had been raining for days. ‘We came up west of Gainesville and had just crossed into Montague County when we began to hear cattle bellering.  It was far off, but it never stopped.  It was like a wall of sound, two or three miles wide.  It continued through the night and grew louder as we drove on north the next day.  By landmarks I recognized, I knew that with conditions normal we were still two days from Red River Station.  In the afternoon, we saw cattle ahead of us, two or three big herds, and by the way they were spread out we knew they were being held.  We stopped where we were and I rode on alone to find out how bad the situation was. I knew it must be the river that was holding things up, but wasn’t prepared for what i saw and was told.  Some wild estimates put the number of cattle concentrated there at 75,000.  I believe 60,000 would be more accurate.'” 1

As the cattle trade increased, so did the fortunes of Red River Station. Between 1870 and 1871, twelve city block (over 100 lots) were sold and a Post Office established. The Chisholm Trail provided prosperity.

“J.S. Love and his wife Mollie purchased lots 10 and 11 in block one of the new town.  They built a two-story hotel.  It is said that Mollie was known my every cowboy on the trail.  Her kindness was documented in several letters home.  She was known to feed the hungry regardless of their ability to pay.  She often nursed the sick back to health as well.Other businesses that were established included Tom Pollard’s Saloon and Trading Post, WS Thurston’s General Mercantile, several blacksmiths and leather repair shops.A school was formed in the basement of JM Grayson’s home.   Even after a building for the school was erected, it was always known as the Grayson School.  Circuit preachers traveled to Red River Station to spread the gospel, meeting in different homes in town.” 2

“Red River Station’s demise can be attributed to three different, but equally devastating events.  First, the end of the Chisholm Trail.  As the railroads made further advances across the frontier, the need to drive them to market became obsolete.  The seasonal influx of cattlemen through Red River Station dwindled.  The second event was Mother Nature in full force.  In the early 1880’s the small town was severely damaged by a tornado.  It destroyed several of the businesses in town.  With the decline of patrons already in effect, several businesses chose not to rebuild.  The final event, that lead Red River Station to the ghost town category, was the decision by the rail road to bypass it as a stop, chosing Nocona instead.” 3

Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything of the once prosperous town. The river has shifted and is no longer visible from where the town once stood. On private property, a recently reclaimed and cleaned up cemetery is on site along with two historical plaques and a Chisholm Trail marker.

Maybe if you’re really quiet and listen very hard, you can still hear the bellowing of cattle objecting to crossing the cantankerous Red River.

Shhhh. Listen.

(Credits: 1 –; 2 –; 3 –

Battle for Fort Donelson

In February 1862, after the fall of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, General Grant marches his Union forces twelve miles to besiege Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. An early spring lulls the Union troops into discarding warm clothing and shelters. Suddenly, winter returns with a vengeance as rain, sleet, and cold temperature assault the battlefield. The privation claims the lives of many Union soldiers.

Grant’s plan calls for surrounding the fort by land and bombarding the defenses from the river with his naval flotilla.

For three days, the armies slug out their battle. Naval forces are stymied by the Conferedate cannoneers who have the advantage of the fort being constructed on bluffs overlooking the Cumberland River.

General Grant moves 24,500 Union troops against Fort Donelson.

On the third day of battle, the Confederate forces mount a tremendous attack that repulses the Union forces surrounding the fort. This action could have provided an avenue of escape for the fort’s defenders. However, Confederate General Pillow, in a moment of miscalculation, orders his troops to return to their entrenchments where they sustain vicious Union counterattacks.

The Union noose tightens on Fort Donelson. While continuous break out attacks are launched they are met with little success. Of the 16 000 Confederates engaged in the battle a few groups do manage to slip away but ultimately the South surrenders and 12,000 soldiers are captured. One group that did escape was elements of Confederate cavalry led by Nathan Bedford Forrest.

General Pillow is recalled from Fort Donelson, escapes, and leaves Confederate General Buckner to negotiate a surrender with the Union. Grant’s terms — Unconditional Surrender.

This victory provides a much-needed victory for the North, it guarantees Kentucky remains under Union control and opens up another avenue into the South along the Cumberland River.

Losing both Fort Henry and Donelson were disastrous for the South. The western theater of the Civil War moves into  Tennessee.

Donelson – The coming battle

Following the contended battle of Belmont, MO, U.S. Grant determined the best spot to break into the South would be at Fort Henry on the Tennessee River.

Since, Confederate General Polk violated Kentucky’s neutrality by constructing fortification in Columbus, KY, General Grant felt justified to seize Paducah, KY, as a base of operations. Now, the buffer as a neutral state that Kentucky offered the South was eliminated.

In February 1862, Grant determined to use both his army and a naval flotilla to capture Fort Henry built just across the Kentucky state line in Tennessee. Leaving Paducah, he steamed up the Tennessee River, landed his troops unopposed, and sent the ironclad warships to bombard the fort. February had seen tremendous rainfall and the Tennessee River was experiencing high water and flood conditions. Unfortunately, Fort Henry, an earth and timber construction, was built in a floodplain.

“Seventeen guns were mounted in Fort Henry by the time of the battle, eleven covering the river and the other six positioned to defend against a land attack (18-pounder smoothbores). There were two heavy guns, a 10-inch (250 mm) Columbiad and a 24-pounder rifled cannon, with the remainder being 32-pounder smoothbores. There were also two 42-pounders, but no ammunition of that caliber was available. When the river was at normal levels, the fort’s walls rose 20 feet (6.1 m) above it and were 20 feet (6.1 m) thick at the base, sloping upward to a width of nearly 10 feet (3.0 m) at the parapet. However, in February 1862, heavy rains caused the river to rise and most of the fort was underwater, including the powder magazine.” 1

The Union gunboats approached Fort Henry and began bombardment. The Fort had only nine guns above water with which to respond.

“After the bombardment had lasted 75 minutes, Tilghman surrendered to Foote’s fleet, which had closed to within 400 yards (370 m) for a close-range bombardment. Before the battle, Tilghman told his men that he would offer an hour of resistance to allow his men additional time to escape. With only one cannon still working, down to the last few rounds due to the powder magazine being underwater, and the rest of the guns destroyed or knocked out, Tilghman ordered the Confederate flag at Fort Henry lowered and a white sheet raised on the fort’s flagpole. Upon seeing the white flag, the Union gunboats immediately ceased fire. A small launch from the flotilla sailed through the sally port of the fort and picked up Tilghman for the surrender conference and ceremony on the Cincinnati. Twelve officers and 82 men of the garrison surrendered; other casualties from the fort’s garrison were estimated to be 15 men killed and 20 wounded. The evacuating Confederate force left all of its artillery and equipment behind. Tilghman was imprisoned, but exchanged on August 15.” 2 

The victory was a naval accomplishment. Grant’s infantry arrived after the surrender. The majority of Fort Henry’s defenders evacuated and travel twelve miles east to join the defenders of Fort Donelson.

Grant now had complete mobility and use of the northern portion of the Tennessee River, and a pathway into the heart of the South.

Two days later, Fort Henry was completely underwater.

(Credits: 1 –; 2 –

Fort Donelson

Been a while since I’ve added to this blog. Not because of negligence, just because been focused on other things.

This week, we crossed western Tennessee returning from a visit to Evansville, IN, and Clarksville, TN. During the transit, I remembered and stopped at Fort Donelson. I remembered how much I like this military park. The setting is phenomenal on the high banks of the Cumberland River. It’s hard to believe that a major battle in the opening of the western theater of the Civil War occurred here.

Fort Donelson was a key link in the line of defense for the South that extended from the Mississippi River to Virginia. “President Davis adopted a strategy of territorial defense, stationing forces at critical points along the perimeter of the Confederacy. In the West, this involved occupying a defensive cordon across southern Kentucky, stretching eastward from Columbus on the Mississippi River to Bowling Green, and from there to the Cumberland Gap on the border with Tennessee and Virginia. The Confederates also built fortifications along the Mississippi at Island Number 10; New Madrid, Missouri; Fort Pillow, Tennessee; Memphis; Vicksburg; and Port Hudson; and on the Gulf Coast at Mobile and Pensacola, Florida. Davis chose an old friend, General Albert Sidney Johnston, to command the Confederate forces in the West. Johnston established his headquarters at Bowling Green and assembled a 34,000- man force to defend the approaches to Nashville.” 1

Union forces were collecting in St. Louis, MO, and Cairo, IL, planning on pushing into the southern states. The initial salvo of the war in the west was at Columbus, KY, and Fort DeRussey. The area was strategically located on a large bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.  Standing on the bluff, one can look up the Mississippi River for oncoming Union forces for miles.  And considering how slow movement was along the river, it would be easy for the Confederate forces to fire upon the Union armies.

“Fort DeRussey – the “Gibraltar of the West”

Confederate General Leonidas Polk created the fort on the bluff around September 3, 1861.  Officially the name was Fort DeRussey, but Polk referred to the site as the “Gibraltar of the West”.  It was one of the most strategically significant sites in this part of the country due to its ability to control traffic on the Mississippi River.  The fort would also help protect important cities downriver such as Memphis and Vicksburg, Miss.  It also was the northern terminus of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, which was an important supply line for the Confederacy.

The Chain & Anchor

One of General Polk’s unique ideas was to stretch a one-mile iron chain across the Mississippi River to keep Union forces from heading downstream.  Today it would seem like a logistical nightmare to pull off, but considering this was 150 years ago makes the feat all the more impressive.  Polk had hoped the chain would stop the Union boats long enough for the Confederates to bombard them with cannons.

The Anchor and Chain 

The chain was suspended in the river on a pontoon bridge, made up of several flat-bottomed boats.  By removing certain boats, the chain was raised or lowered.  However, the system was flawed and soon the chain broke.  At one point, too many boats were removed and weight of the chain plus the current of the river was too much for it to handle.

The chain had an anchor on one end that weighed anywhere from two to six tons.  The chain’s links were 11 inches long and weighed just over 20 pounds each.  When the chain was exposed during a landslide in December 1925, officials dug around the chain until the anchor was revealed.  It had been buried in 11 feet of earth with its 9-foot flukes fixed vertically to 12-foot oak logs.  It had been there for 64 years.

In addition to the chain, Fort DeRussey was home to 17,000 confederate troops and several dozen cannons and land mines.  After the Battle of Belmont, Columbus was home to several wooden gunboats from the Confederate Navy.”2

Old Columbus Kentucky MapMap on a sign at Columbus Belmont State Park showing the different areas and routes taken by troops during the Battle of Belmont.

General U.S. Grant decided to try out his new Union army by avoiding Columbus and attacking Belmont, MO, across the river. This movement still threatened to eliminate the chain across the river.

The battle raged with Union forces landed from riverboats advancing and forcing the less numerous Confederate forces to retreat. Low ammunition and the wrong size bullets led to the evaluation of Belmont by the South.

Union euphoria at appearing to win a victory led to looting, pillaging, and disintegrating discipline among the Yankee forces. This lax in military preparedness allowed Confederate replacements to arrive from Columbus and downriver, driving the Union forces back to their riverboat transports and fleeing upriver for the safety of Cairo, IL.

General Grant had his trial by fire for the Western Union army. The chain still held across the Mississippi. His next target was the less defended Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and then contend with its larger brother Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River a scant twelve miles away. He still needed to break the Southern line of defense.

(credit — 1 – http://www.cmhPub_75-7.pdf, page 9-10; 2 –


Company A Awarded

At July’s East Texas Writer’s Guild conference, COMPANY A was award First Place in the Western genre for its book cover.

The scene is sunlight washing over The Superstition Mountains of Arizona. The mountains were a constant part of the landscape of my growing up. Every time I looked out the window of my bedroom, the Superstitions stood as a silent sentinel.

I am very honored to receive this prestigious award and thank the East Texas Writer’s Guild for this recognition.

Custom Book Cover William Burgdorf Company A Ebook (1)first_place.png

Company A

I wrote Company A as a bridge novella between The New Mexican and The Arizonan. After I’d written the first two books, I realized there was a noticeable gap between them and Company A rounds out the full picture.

The time period from Zep and Allie’s marriage to Byron and Braxton’s coming of age left me an eighteen-year window. During this time the Civil War in New Mexico, cattle ranches and drives, railroads, and dealing with final Indian solutions all consume the historical stage.

I couldn’t leave the stage vacant, so Company A steps into the gap.

There are rich historic stories to be told of each major event taking place in the novella.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing about the Civil War and the Arizona Rangers. This regiment served the Confederacy during the New Mexican conflict. When the CSA withdrew from the Southwest the regiment went with it a fought in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. When the war ended, the Rangers surrendered their flag at Galveston and the veterans headed back to Arizona.

I chose to have Zep retire early from the Rangers in order to introduce the cattle industry chapters.

Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving opened a cattle drive trail that followed the Pecos River from Texas through Eastern New Mexico and supplied beef to Colorado markets and railheads. John Chisum was among the first to drive herds up the Goodnight-Loving Trail into New Mexico with every intention of establishing a cattle kingdom in the grassy plains of the western Illano Estacado. He accomplished what he set out to do. Ultimately, he became a major rancher in the territory and there is much more to be read about his involvement in the Lincoln County Wars in New Mexico that introduced one of this ranch hands, William Bonney, to the rest of us. Zep, Miguel, and Guillo have a tale to tell about driving their herd to Chisum for sale.

Allie, has a position that many women of the frontier territories found themselves defending. Theirs was the ‘home front.’ Often, with absentee spouses, women became the protectors of their homeplace. In Company A what can happen does happen and Allie stands up to Yankee aggression as well as to abduction. Strong willed, driven, and capable, she represents with glue that holds civilization together on the frontier.

I hope that you enjoy Company A. I had a great time researching and writing it. If possible, share your comments and let me know what you like or don’t like. I’m always wanting to hear from you.