Skip to Content

The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Inspiring events, February marks 20th anniversary of ‘Lonesome Dove’ miniseries

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Denver, Colo. – “There is a connection between Montana and Texas that’s celebrated in a modern way – this February marks the 20th anniversary of the Lonesome Dove miniseries, a very epic tale,” said Karl Rove to NCBA convention attendees in Denver, Colo. on Feb. 3.
“Remember, Augustus McCray and Woodrow Call set out on this epic journey from Texas to the great plains of Montana to raise their cattle, and it doesn’t end well for one of the Texans. Augustus is set upon by Indians and is killed, but it’s a great bit of drama.
“What you may not know is that it’s based in reality. Did you know that episode happened?” asked Rove of the audience.
“In 1867, one Texas cattlemen named Oliver Loving had gone broke in the Civil War by selling his cattle to Confederates for worthless paper dollars. He had a young partner, 31-year-old Charles Goodnight. The two of them, during a terrible time in Texas in 1867, got a contract to supply beef and horses to the federal troops at Fort Sumner, New Mexico,” explained Rove.
He continued, saying the only problem was that no one knew how to get them there. The two men pioneered what became known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail.
“Because they didn’t know the grass or water along the Pecos River, they broke the herd up into several groups, and the first was led by Oliver Loving and a one-armed cowboy named Bill Wilson. As they neared Fort Sumner, they were set upon by Indians. The Indians drove the herd of cattle and horses off, and cornered them in a dugout on the Pecos River.
“Oliver was shot in the side, so in the middle of the night Bill Watson snuck out of the dugout to try to go for help, just like Pea Eye Parker did in Lonesome Dove.
“For two days, in a dugout on the Pecos River, Oliver Loving held off the Indians. They’d shot him a couple times, and his wrist was all busted up from getting shot. At one point the Indians dug within two feet of his dugout – they dug through the back of the embankment. But, they were so frightened by this warrior that they couldn’t bring themselves to dig through and confront him,” recounted Rove.
He added that after two nights of fighting fatigue, hunger and fear, a badly wounded Oliver Loving made his way up the Pecos River, not down as happens in the movie.
“For three days, in the middle of nowhere in southeastern New Mexico, Loving wandered in search of civilization and help,” noted Rove.
He said the book Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman by J. Evetts Haley describes what occurred next.
“In the middle of nowhere, a wagon with three Mexicans and a German boy was making its way east for Texas, and they stopped for the night. The German boy went into a grove of trees to get firewood and found Oliver Loving flat out asleep, on the prairie, near death. They took him to Fort Sumner, patched up the wound in his side and amputated his arm,” described Rove of the events.
“He sent word for his partner, Charles Goodnight. Goodnight was making his way up the trail and was met by a courier and hastened to Fort Sumner, where he found his partner, who, in the meantime, had found out where the herd was. So, Goodnight went with a couple of cowboys to recapture the herd and bring them to Fort Sumner to fulfill the contract,” said Rove.
However, during his absence, Oliver Loving took a turn for the worse. His amputated arm had to be opened again to re-tie the artery, which led to illness.
“It was probably blood poisoning. He was near death and summoned his partner, and said to Charles Goodnight, ‘I want you to do two things for me. I want you to keep our partnership alive for two years so you can pay my debts and make provision for my family.’ Then he said, ‘I don’t want to be buried in a foreign country,’ and asked Goodnight to bury in him Texas.
“Goodnight said he would write out a document and give it to Loving with the terms of the agreement, and Loving said to him, ‘I want your promise as a mason. Your promise is all I want.’ They shook hands and Loving died,” said Rove.
Loving was temporarily buried in Fort Sumner, and a couple months later Charles Goodnight, with a couple cowboys, came back and made a wagon at Fort Sumner to take the body home to Texas. To do that, Goodnight traveled across the unsettled plains of New Mexico, and eventually arrived in Wetherford, Texas.
“He buried Loving in the Masonic Cemetery, where he still is,” noted Rove.
“Then, J. Evetts Haley recounts that for the next 63 years of Charles Goodnight’s life – this man lived to be 94 years old, Oliver Loving’s memory was never far from the thoughts of his partner Charles Goodnight,” said Rove.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, throughout the 1860s Goodnight continued to deliver herds on the Pecos. He also received herds from John S. Chisum and other Texas cattlemen, and drove thousands of cattle into Colorado and Wyoming, selling them to ranchers such as John Wesley Iliff and the Thatcher brothers, who stocked the northern ranges.
“This is a reminder of the country we were and are – where a man’s word is his bond, where character matters, where you can dream big dreams and do the impossible, and where liberty and freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.
“These men had obligations to each other, and these values are still important when dealing with the big challenges our country is facing today,” concluded Rove.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

Back to top