In 1866, two Texas cattlemen set off on a journey that helped shape the Old West. Charles Goodnight (former Texas Ranger and Indian Scout) and Oliver Loving (pioneer cowboy) combined their Longhorn herds of cattle and drove the entire lot to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. No one had ever tried to drive cattle along this route, so Goodnight, Loving, 18 hands and 2,000 cattle blazed their own trail through hostile terrain. Upon reaching Ft. Sumner, Goodnight and Loving sold half the herd to the Army for $12,000 in gold. Loving continued on with the rest of the herd to Denver, Colorado, while Goodnight returned to Texas for the second herd they held in reserve. This was the start of the Goodnight-Loving Trail — a trail that eventually stretched 2,000 miles from Texas to Wyoming.
This venture proved so profitable that Goodnight and Loving continued with many more drives in the following year. However, life on the frontier was never easy. The route crossed two major rivers, the Arkansas and Red, plus detoured around, over and through canyons, badlands and mountain ranges. The weather was often harsh — blistering hot in the summer and prone to gully-washing thunderstorms or freak snowstorms in spring and fall. In addition, rustlers and conflicts with Native American tribes added their own dangers. In 1867, Loving and one scout rode ahead of the herd to negotiate sales along the way. They were ambushed by Comanche and Loving was seriously wounded. While he made it back to Ft. Sumner, he died later that year of his injuries. Goodnight, then in Denver, returned to Ft. Sumner and picked up the body of his friend and returned it to Texas for burial in Greenwood Cemetery in Wetherford. For a few more years, Goodnight continued on without his partner and pushed the trail all the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Eventually, he retired to his ranch in Texas. This story provided the basis for the Larry McMurtry novel and acclaimed television special, “Lonesome Dove.”
Along the trail, Loving and Goodnight established several rest sites, but perhaps the most well-known is Roswell, New Mexico, located on the confluence of the Hondo and Pecos Rivers. Grass was plentiful and it was a good place to let the cattle rest before pushing on. Within a few years, a trading post, gambling hall and other attractions for lonely cowboys sprang up. In 1969, a professional gambler purchased all the buildings and named the place after his father, Roswell Smith.
Thanks to men of strong character like Loving and Goodnight, a civilizing influence began in the Old West.