Bill Kroger 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Charles Goodnight and the JA Ranch Charles Goodnight lived one of the most remarkable lives of any Texan.1 As a scout, he led the Texas Rangers to Peta Nocona’s Comanche encampment on the Pease River in December 1860 and participated in the attack that led to the recapture of Cynthia Ann Parker.2 He continued to serve as a Texas Ranger during the Civil War. He and his business partner, Oliver Loving, organized and led some of the first cattle drives in Texas, creating the Loving- Goodnight Trail. When Loving died, Goodnight brought his body back to Texas for burial, a scene fictionalized in Lonesome Dove . Goodnight created one of the largest and best-known ranches in Texas, the JA Ranch, in the Palo Duro Canyon. He and his wife, Molly, preserved the few remaining buffalo in Texas, which make up the Texas State Bison Herd today. Goodnight knew his way around a courtroom almost as well as the open range. He was involved in a number of federal and state lawsuits, but the most significant one was filed in Donley County by the State of Texas against Goodnight in 1886. The State claimed that Goodnight had improperly fenced in state owned land when laying fences around his JA Ranch and two adjacent ranches, the Quitaque Ranch and the Tule Creek Ranch, which he managed for his investors. The case is important, as it was filed just as the Texas landscape was undergoing significant changes as Texas ranchers were using barbed wire to fence land that had previously been open ranges. Goodnight was one of the first and largest purchasers of barbed wire. The State asked that Goodnight be enjoined from building more fences and be ordered to remove enclosures built around public lands belonging to the State. The State claimed these fences prevented the grazing of livestock by the inhabitants of the State and impeded the sale of these lands. Goodnight denied the charges and was represented by William M. “Buck” Walton, one of the finest lawyers in Texas during the 19th century. The file contains many interesting documents,3 but the most fascinating may be Goodnight’s discovery responses. Given Goodnight’s historical image as scout, Texas Ranger, and rancher, one wonders at the thought of Goodnight sitting in the office of his lawyer, impatiently answering 48 interrogatories that the State propounded on him. In response to one question, Goodnight admitted he did not know how many acres he owned in the Palo Duro Canyon. In another pleading, however, he stated that he owned 340,000 acres of land and had another 40,000 acres under lease. When asked whether the JA Ranch was completely fenced, Goodnight responded, “In places it is and in places it is not.” And when asked whether cattle owned by the public grazes on that land, Goodnight similarly responded, “In places they do and in places do not.” The file appears to be incomplete. Goodnight prevailed at trial on the suit, although many years of additional battles between the large Panhandle ranchers and the State of Texas remained over the fencing of the Texas ranges. By Bill Kroger Notes 1. Goodnight’s life is recounted in one of the best biographies about a Texan, J. Evetts Haley’s Charles Goodnight, Cowman & Plainsman. 2. Cynthia Ann Parker was the daughter of a well-known Texas family. She was kidnapped by the Comanches, with whom she lived for many years. She was the mother of the Comanche chief Quanah Parker. Her recapture was a famous incident and later fictionalized in the movie, The Searchers. 3. These include the pleadings filed by the State of Texas and Goodnight, witness subpoenas for Goodnight and other ranchers, and an original copy of a decision by the Texas Supreme Court in this case.
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