Oliver Loving, the First Trail Driver - By Grace Miller White.
[From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, April, 1942]
For half a century dust of the cattle trails out of Texas has been buried in plowed fields and lost in fenced ranches. The push of progress has obliterated these famous landmarks of another day, but in the history of the cattle kingdom, the men who rode up and down these trails will live. The most vital chapter in the saga of the range is that made by the Trail Drivers of Texas. To this resolute breed of men the hazards of mirage-haunted plains, the dangers of encounters with fierce, hard-riding plains Indians, and the difficulties of handling slow-moving herds of range cattle were but challenges to their ingenuity and determination. In meeting a desperate need with fortitude, the Trail Driver made himself an essential character in the development of the cattle industry.
A grave problem, indeed, confronted the cattlemen of Texas during and after the War Between the States—how to market the ever increasing surplus of cattle that was roaming the plains and valleys of this vast state. Though beef was sorely needed in far-away places, railroads had not yet penetrated the cattle country, nor had modern methods of refrigeration yet come into use. Besides the normal consumption of beef, the United States government needed it for frontier outposts and Indian agencies in the western country. By the close of the war an outlet to the teeming ranges of Texas was imperative.
It was evident that something must be done. Then the fertile brain of a cattleman conceived the idea of driving cattle across the weary dangerous miles to where they could be sold. To Indian Territory, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and even as far to the northwest as Wyoming. The dangers and risks to both men and beasts were terrifying: Nevertheless, the Trail Driver headed sinuous lines of cowbrutes toward the north and west. The innumerable hardships these men endured, the tragedies and comedies they experienced, the celebrations at the end of the drives, all these have been recounted around campfires wherever cowmen have gathered. Remnants of aging trail drivers now meet at intervals in sumptuous hotel lobbies and banquet halls in a gallant effort to cling to the comradeship and memories of other days. Names well known to the southwest pass their lips—Blocker, Saunders, Chisum, Driskill, Pryor, and many others, but always Colonel Goodnight and his early day partner, Oliver Loving, the first Texas cowman to head a herd into the north.
By what strange alchemy of fate mild mannered, gravely religious Oliver Loving came to be the guiding genius in this story of the trail will remain one of those inexplicable vagaries of fate. His life, his untimely death, and the remarkable friendship between him and Charles Goodnight will ever be a symbol of the strength and integrity that is a part of the Texas tradition.
Oliver Loving, son of John and Susan Bolling Loving, was born in Hopkins county, Kentucky, December 4th', 1812. In 1833 he was married to Miss Susan D. Morgan, who was three years his senior. To this union nine children were born, eight of whom lived to be well along in years, the last to go being Mrs. Roach, who died in 1928. Scattered throughout Texas, New Mexico, and other places may be found many descendants occupying high places in the social, business, and professional world—judges, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and women of culture and influence, and all proud of their distinguished ancestor, Oliver Loving.
In 1845, with his wife, their five children, and other members of his household, Oliver Loving left their home in Kentucky to come to Texas. The year before this his sister, Derinda, who had married a Kentuckian named Felix Grundy Miller, had left Kentucky with her husband and children for Texas. Traveling with them were two of her husband's brothers and a sister and their families. They made the trip down the Mississippi on a flat boat, bringing along such household goods as they required. Because they could not travel steadily, but sometimes had to tie up in some cove when weather or stream proved unfavorable, they were about three months making the trip. A son, Pryor, was born to Derinda Miller as they came down the Mississippi. They landed at Jefferson, Texas, at the head of Caddo Lake, then navigable, and made their way from there in ox wagons to a point in Lamar county county. Loving and his party followed the same route and mode of travel and also arrived in Jefferson sometime in 1845.
From Jefferson the Loving family also traveled by ox-wagon to Lamar county, where the Millers had located. Here they must have made a brief stay, however, for in 1846 Oliver Loving homesteaded a 640-acre tract of land in Collin county. While his family remained here the following eight or nine years and engaged in farming and stock raising, Oliver Loving himself probably gave no more time to these pursuits than to supervise his young sons and his slaves. He was a pathfinder, and the challenge of these vast ranges abounding in cattle intrigued him. He spent much of his time away from home buying and selling cattle and horses and freighting with ox teams. This was before the day of the railroad in Texas and it was the custom to haul supplies by ox teams from the nearest shipping points. Most of the freight he hauled was from Jefferson to merchants in his section, but he sometimes brought goods from Shreveport and even as far away as Houston. From time to time he hauled supplies to United States military posts on the frontier. He soon learned what supplies were most needed at the forts and this knowledge shaped in a large measure his future course.
In 1855 Loving sold out his possessions in Collin county and moved further west. He had been as far west as Ft. Belknap on the Brazos on freighting trips, so it was to this section that he moved his family and the modest number of slaves he owned. He chose a well-favored valley, later known as Loving's Valley, and set up his home there on the Belknap road. He also maintained a country store and began to deal in cattle on a more extensive scale than ever before. Oliver Loving probably never would have become a cattleman in the strictest sense, as his interest lay more in buying, selling and marketing cattle than in raising them. Most of the cattle in that area reached the outside markets through him. He trailed them to Shreveport or to New Orleans, which at that time was the chief outlet for the cattle of South Texas.
Other men, too, were trailing cattle to these markets over routes of comparative safety, but it was Oliver Loving who pioneered the more daring custom of sending herds over the long, dangerous stretches of Indian-infested territory to the northern and western markets. In 1858 he and John Durkee pointed the first herd toward the north. Edging outward from the borders of the sparsely settled lands as far as they dared, they beat out with their herds new trails that thousands of longhorns were to follow for the next three or four decades. They swam treacherous streams, they detected the red man's cunning, they lived in their saddles by day, scanning the monotonous expanse of prairie and plain for danger signals; they spread their bedrolls on bare earth beneath the stars at night; but they delivered the herd to the Illinois market. This drive was followed by others during the next couple of years.
Even this, however, was not enough to satisfy the spirit of Oliver Loving. By this time other cattlemen were sending their herds to the northern markets, but he knew a market that had not yet been reached and he knew prices would be good there. In Colorado a gold rush was on and the swarms of people pouring into that territory would have to be fed, so in the summer of 1860, with John Dawson as partner and guide, he set out from his valley with a thousand steers, the first to go over the trail to Colorado. Charles Goodnight, whose name later became inseparably linked with Loving's, told of how he helped the outfit until they reached Red river, where he watched them swim the turgid stream and string out into Indian Territory before he turned back. Loving and Dawson trailed this herd north until they reached the Arkansas river, which they followed in its somewhat westward course until they reached a point above Pueblo, Colorado. Here they stopped and wintered upon the grass there. In the spring Loving went into Denver and sold the cattle. He must have liked Denver or got into a trade there for after his death his family found deeds to lots he had acquired in that town.
Before he got away from Colorado in the spring, the War Between the States began, and he found himself detained there by United States authorities who refused to let him return to Texas. Sad indeed might have been his plight had he not had as his friend one Kit Carson and other mountain men who helped him to obtain his release. Southern to the core in his feelings, he arrived home late in the summer of 1861 full of zeal for service in the Confederate cause. He did serve the Confederacy, but not on the firing line. Armies must be fed, so for the duration of the war Loving held a contract with the Confederate government to deliver beeves to its armies.
While he was away those weary months to Colorado, his family, left the thinly settled valley, deciding that the frequent and terrifying Indian raids were too close to them. When he returned he discovered they had established a new home in Weatherford, Texas. His children had nearly all grown up; the youngest, Margaret Louise, was nine years old, and Sarah, the oldest, was twenty-five, and married to John Flint. Soon after his arrival home his son, William, only twenty-three, died in Weatherford. The others all lived to be well along in years. The last to go was Ann Maria, who married Isaac N. Roach of Weatherford, where she died in 1928. Her daughter, Mrs. J. P. Owens, now lives in Weatherford.
After the war had ended Oliver Loving became closely associated with Charles Goodnight, and the famous partnership of Goodnight & Loving came into being. Goodnight was some twenty-five years younger than Loving and his youthful enthusiasm balanced admirably with the years of experience of the older man. Goodnight, too, was a trailblazer. When he met Loving this time his head was full of plans to blaze the most daring trail of all. He had charted a course from Ft. Sumner, a military outpost in New Mexico, that he thought could be made by going around the Comanche dominated plains of West Texas. To go directly across these plains would be sheer madness, but by taking a course some 200 miles southwest from Fort Belknap, Goodnight reasoned, to a point near the South Concho rim, and from there across the desert to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos river, then follow the Pecos to Fort Sumner, they could avoid the Indians. The perilous part of this route was the 96-mile dry drive they must make across the desert to Horsehead Crossing, but it was worth trying.
In June 1866, these two intrepid men set out with eighteen cowhands and about two thousand cattle to beat out the trail that would be known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. They followed the route Goodnight had mapped out and fared well until they started across the desert. Three days and three nights without stopping, the apathetic, thirst-weary herds moved tortoise-like across the alkali sands. Two or three hundred head of the herd never reached the Pecos. Their bones mutely marked the trail for the thousands that were to follow them. The rest of the trip the men kept the herd near enough the river to water them daily. Despite these natural hazards, they made the entire trip of about 600 miles without seeing a single Indian.
After selling the herd at a profitable price, Goodnight and Loving both wanted to bring up another herd the same season. They rounded up the second herd about the same size as the first and set out again over the same trail. This time they lost only a few cattle on the desert. Arriving in New Mexico late in the autumn, they stopped below Fort Sumner and wintered the cattle there. Up to this time each man had had his own cattle and part of the outfit separately, but while spending the winter in lonely dugouts here the partnership of Loving and Goodnight was formed. Each would now share the same risks and likewise share the same profits and losses. Though this partnership was soon to be dissolved by the death of Loving, Colonel Goodnight, who came to be a well loved and well known character in Texas, always remembered Loving with affection, and referred to him throughout the long years of his life as "my old partner." A picture of Oliver Loving never left its place above the head of Colonel Goodnight's bed so long as he lived.
By spring the partners had rounded up two more herds from Texas ranges to be sent over the Goodnight-Loving Trail. The first herd went on when spring had come, but tragedy was to travel with the second. Many of the cattle were lost to the Comanches, time was rapidly slipping by, and Loving became worried for fear they would not reach Fort Sumner before the government contracts should be let in July.
The rest of the saga of Oliver Loving, the first Trail Driver, will forever hold its place among the stories of great and enduring friendships. The story has been told many times, but it is never dull with repetition. "One-Armed" Bill Wilson told it first hand to J. Marvin Hunter, who published it some years ago; Colonel Goodnight related it to the family of Oliver Loving, and it is this version in Colonel Goodnight's own words that I shall repeat:
"In 1867, after working in New Mexico and Colorado, Loving and I returned, reaching the frontier of Texas in June. We put the herd together as soon as possible, some 2,500 steers. The Indians on this trip gave us much trouble, stampeding the cattle and wounding one man, at or near the Clear Fork of the Brazos. They afflicted us again on the lower Pecos and took some sixty cattle. We were not strong enough to retake the cattle from the Indians, so we moved on up the Pecos river with the remainder of the herd, keeping to the high ground as much as possible, but going in to the river each day for water.
"After moving up some 150 or 200 miles and seeing no sign of Indians whatever, Mr. Loving got restless to go on, as the contract for furnishing beef for the western country would be let in July at Santa Fe. I undertook to persuade him not to go, or at least not until we had passed the spurs of the Guadalupe Mountains, very near the Pecos river. He insisted on going but promised to take my advice and ride entirely by night, hiding and resting in the daytime. I gave him a good man, Bill Wilson, and he started on ahead of the herd. After traveling two nights and seeing no sign of Indians, he decided it would be all right to travel by day, as he disliked to travel by night.
"The first day they rode brought them to the Rio Sule (Azul), which flows out of the extreme east end of the Guadalupe Mountains. After crossing the Sule, the trail crosses tableland for sixteen or eighteen miles. When they got within three or four miles of the Pecos river Wilson observed a large body of Indians charging them from the southwest. They immediately quit the trail and took the shortest course to the river where the plains break off abruptly. Upon reaching the river they found a small sand dune covered with mesquite brush to which they tied their horses, the riverbank being several feet high. The Indians soon surrounded them but they kept them off until nearly sundown. The Indians could reach them from only one spot, directly across the river and thus the two could keep clear with their guns. Each man had two six-shooters, and Wilson had a six-shooting rifle, while Mr. Loving had a Henry rifle which carried sixteen or eighteen shot.
"Late in the evening the Indians called for a parley. They spoke in Spanish which Wilson could understand. Wilson told Loving to watch and keep the Indians from shooting him in the back and he would go out and see what he could do. He did so, but while Loving was standing guard behind lam, the Indians fired from the shelter just below with a large calibre rifle and broke Loving's arm at the wrist and inflicted a bad wound in the side which he thought was fatal. This wound however, proved not to be very serious. When the Indians fired this shot, proving that they had not kept their truce, Loving and Wilson stepped back behind the bank and sand dune and kept them off until between midnight and day.
"Believing that he would die of his wounds, Loving told Wilson to make an effort to get away and try to find me and the herd. He said he would try to keep the Indians off until I could get there, but before he would be captured alive and tortured as he knew he would be, he would kill himself and try to do so by falling into the river. If, though, the, Indians should quit him, he would go down the river two miles and await my coming. Wilson reluctantly consented to try this plan. He took off all his clothes but his underwear and, though one-armed, managed to make his way in silence down the river and out of hand of the Indians. The Indians had already got their horses and their pack containing everything they had to eat.
"Two days and nights passed before Loving left the spot and then, believing that the Indians had killed me too and I had not come to him, he decided to go up the river instead of down, as he promised Wilson, to a place where the herd would water. He thought someone might pass here and pick him up. In the meantime I had picked Wilson up out of a cave some sixty or seventy miles below this place. I at once picked six good men to go with me and we rode all night and until 3 or 4 o'clock the next day until we reached the place on the trail where Wilson told me he had left it. It rained torrents all night and was so dark at times that we were forced to halt. At the junction where they had left the trail, the Comanches had taken a leaf out of Mr. Loving's day book and had drawn a Comanche and a white man shaking hands. They had pinned the paper with a mesquite thorn to a mesquite bush at the junction of the trails. I recognized the paper as being from Loving's book, but it gave me no, especial alarm as Wilson had told me that the Indians had got the horses and I knew that Loving always carried this book in his saddle-bags.
"ln a hundred yards or so I saw that I was following two horsemen, so we got our horses on the run. When we were near where the plain pitched off into the river we halted to give the men their instructions. We then went in on full side as fast as our horses could take, aiming to get the Indians by surprise and shoot our way to the bank of the river. I have no doubt we would have readied the river, even had the Indians been there, but when we got to the top of the bluff there was not an Indian in sight. I saw in a minute that they had been looking for Loving so I knew by that that they had not killed or captured him. I believed that he had carried out his promise and had floated off down the river. Seeing that the Indians had gone, we thought we would look over the ground where they had made the attack. Instinct or providence had guided Wilson and Loving to the right spot. The sand dune on the river bank and the curve of the river above and below made a most excellent place for a fight, as the Indians could only reach them in a short space on the opposite bank. A small arroyo entering into the river had not broken down the bank, but had cut a small notch eight or ten feet from the entrance which made it impossible to reach the two men from either up or down the bend. Any arrow or shot would miss the top of the little bank and pass above the body close up under it. Many arrows had been shot there and left either sticking in the sand bar or on the edge of the water. The Indians had cut out tunnels in the sand dune within five or six feet of where Loving lay, but they did not dare put their heads over far enough to get a correct shot. They had also carried at least a cartload of boulders from the bluffs and tried to drive him out or kill him, but the rocks that missed the top of the little bank also missed him. We waited until dark to insure a successful getaway, and then returned to the herd. Believing that Mr. Loving was dead, we went on and reached Fort Sumner without mishap.
“As before stated, Mr. Loving went up the river instead of down, but reached the watering place a few miles above. He lay there three days and nights, wounded and with nothing to eat. He afterward told me that he had tried to shoot birds but his pistols were so water soaked they would not fire. He had Mexican gloves and he told me he tried to eat them but could not do so because he had no means of making a fire to crisp them whereby he could eat them. The watering place is where we crossed the Pecos river and is very near where the present town of Eddy now stands.
"Now it so happened that three Mexicans and a German boy with an old Mexican wagon and three yokes of cattle had started through trying to go to Texas. They stopped at this watering place at noon and when the German boy went into the brush to get sticks to cook their noonday meal, he found Loving, who had fallen into a stupor. The boy was able to speak a little English, so when he aroused Loving they spoke friendly words. They gave Loving a drink of what they called "toley"—in our language a thick gruel made of corn meal—the most fortunate thing they could have done. Mr. Loving then hired the Mexicans to take him back to Fort Sumner, about 150 miles, promising them $250 to do so. Now immediately behind my herd on the trail was a man named Burleson from Austin, with a herd. With my assistance his herd had been saved from capture, so the two herds stayed close to each other. Burleson had gone on to Fort Sumner and was awaiting the arrival of the herd. Burleson, uneasy at the delay of the herd, went back down the trail with a small party to see what was the matter. It was then he met the Mexicans with Loving, whereupon he returned to the fort as fast as he could and got a government ambulance and doctors and went back to get the wounded man. They met him about fifty miles from Fort Sumner, dressed his wounds, and brought him back to the fort. For a few days he appeared to do well. The wound in his side had healed but the one in his arm would not heal. Burleson then came back down the trail and met me about seventy-five miles below Fort Sumner. When he drew near enough that I saw he was not an Indian I rode out in the open to meet him. When he saw me making signals he halted and I rode up to him. I told him that Loving had been killed, but to my surprise he told me that Loving was at Fort Sumner. Then he related the circumstances of meeting the ox-wagon, getting the ambulance and taking Loving to Fort Sumner, and added that he thought he would get well. He said Loving wanted me to come to Fort Sumner at once, so taking the best animals we had I started out about an hour by sun. I rode all night and reached Fort Sumner about two hours by sun, making the distance of 75 miles in fourteen hours.
"When I arrived I found Mr. Loving walking around with his arm in a sling but feeling very well. He felt confident that he would recover, but I did not like the looks of the wound. The old post doctor had gone to Las Vegas on a court-martial and had left a young doctor in charge who assured us that it would be all right. After I had rested two or three days, Mr. Loving asked me to go to the mountains and recover some stock that had been stolen from us some months before. I was gone about ten days but recovered all of the stock. On my way back I met a courier about thirty miles from Fort Sumner. Mr. Loving had sent him to find me and bring me back at once. The wound in his arm had become poisoned from long neglect and execessive heat and an amputation was necessary. He did not want this operation performed, however, unless I was there, for he feared that he might not survive it. I left the stock in charge of the hired men and reached Fort Sumner in a few hours. The next morning the operation was performed, and Mr. Loving came from under the influence of the chloroform in good shape. He rallied for some forty-eight hours when the arteries began to leak. The doctors had to re-chloroform him, take the arm apart and retie the arteries. Again he revived from the chloroform but gradually sank from that time on. Though he had a good sound constitution, he had gone through more than a man can stand, and twenty-two days later he died, September 25th, 1867. He was buried at Fort Sumner by the officers of the garrison, who had shown us great kindness.
"In October, 1867, I returned to Ft. Sumner from Colorado and took his body, placing the metallic casket in a wagon drawn by a pair of good mules, and returned it to his home in Weatherford, Texas, something over 600 miles, where he was buried by his own lodge of Masons, and there his body now rests. This was in accordance with his expressed desire that he should not be buried in foreign soil, but should be placed for his last long sleep near his family and large circle of friends. He was mourned by many who felt great regret that a good man of wide influence, one of our bravest pioneers, should thus be cut off in his prime by hostile hands."
Back again over the dangerous trail that Loving and Goodnight had laid out went what must have been the strangest and most touching funeral trek the west has ever seen. What an example of loyalty and friendship Charles Goodnight gave the world; six hundred tortuous miles this cortege moved with the body of this man who had lost his life to the dangers they must hazard to take his body back to his home. Down the treacherous Pecos, across the unrelenting desert, they went to arrive after many weary miles to Weatherford.
Tomes have been written on friendship; the story of Damon and Pythias has come down through the years; the closeness of Jonathan and David has been eulogized, but nowhere in the annals of the West has a greater example of friendship been displayed than this.
Nor was this the last proof of Charles Goodnight's loyalty to his "old partner." Loving's finances were in a very bad state. At the close of the war the Confederate government owed him $150,000 for cattle he had delivered to the armies. Of course, this was a total loss. He had been striving desperately to recoup his losses. Before he died he asked Goodnight to continue the partnership for at least a couple of years in order that his debts could be paid and his family provided for. This Goodnight did, and when he did dissolve the partnership some two years later, he turned over to the Loving family a sum of $40,000 as their share of the profits.
And now the body of Oliver Loving, the first trail driver, lies peacefully in the little cemetery at Weatherford, Texas. A simple marble slab marks his grave which lies, as he had wished it, among those of his wife and children, thanks to his good friend and companion, Charles Goodnight.
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