In the block-buster mini-series, LONESOME DOVE, starring Robert Duvall and and Tommy Lee Jones, the REAL TEXAS RANGER, Charles Goodnight, is fictionalized as Capt. W. F. Call. But the real Charles Goodnight is even more captivating than the fictional CALL. So we can conclude Haley’s biography of the great man.
Goodnight became a Texas Ranger at the age of 21. They recruited him because he was already locally famous as a skilled Indian Scout and Tracker.
Goodnight tells of how they one day got an inexperienced commander from back East. This commander had never fought Indians. He had never been out on the great plains. Yet he was all puffed up with self-importance and wanted charge out and kill some Comanches. So he ordered the Rangers westward and after a couple of days he spotted his first Indians on a distant hill.
Excitedly he called Goodnight over and asked him “What kind of Indians are those?” Goodnight paused and said, “Antelope.” The rookie Commander thought he was lying to him and ordered the rangers to charge those Indians. So Goodnight said, “We charged, laughing all the way, but successfully routed those antelope without losing a man.”
Goodnight was always fascinated by the Shields the Indians carried to stop arrows and bullets. He had always heard that the shields had reams of paper stuffed inside to make them better bullet stoppers.
One day he shot at an Indian retreating into the brush. The Indian escaped but dropped his shield. Goodnight took it back to the camp and pried open the buffalo skin cover and wood frame to discover an entire book inside. The book was The History of the Roman Empire. It solved the mystery as to why raiding Indians so often took Bibles. They wanted the paper to bullet proof their shields. There is certainly an irony in the fact that the Indians stole the Holy Book to protect them from the Christian civilization that pursued them, but that’s a matter for the philosophers to consider.
Charles Goodnight was indeed a genuine Texas Ranger, like the fictional Capt. Call, but he was also a genuine business entrepreneur. Were he alive today he would be someone like Michael Dell.
Goodnight was the first to drive cattle from Texas to to Colorado. But before he started everyone told him it couldn’t be done. They told him he couldn’t get cattle across the the deserts of West Texas. They told him he would be brutally killed by Apaches or Comanches, staked out naked on an ant bed to wait for vultures to pick his bones.
They told him that even if he did make it, the cattle would be mere skeletons by then and he’d have nothing to sell. Like all trailblazers, he simply ignored the naysayers. He ignored those who were always around to predict failure.
He proved them wrong, and got rich doing so. He was only thirty years old at the time. Many Texans followed his lead and the trail became famous as the Goodnight-Loving Trail.
Though Goodnight eventually owned the biggest ranch in Texas, well over a million acres, when he was in his 90’s he said,
“All in all, my years on the cattle trail were the happiest I have lived. There were many hardships and dangers, of course, that called on all a man had of endurance and bravery; but when all went well there was no other life so pleasant. Most of the time we were solitary adventurers in a great land as fresh and new as a spring morning, and we were free and full of the zest of of those who dared.”