Charles Goodnight partnered with Oliver Loving in 1866 to take a herd of hardy longhorns over a trail that was to be known as the Goodnight Loving Trail. After the Civil War, making money and settling the west were big priorities. Native Americans were starting to settle on the Reservations and the Government had to feed them. The cattle numbers had expanded greatly in Texas because of abundant grass and there were no men on the Texas ranches to take care of them. But after the civil war and all the men returning from the war, found work gathering the cattle and delivering them to different markets for food consumption. Cattle were a great food source, so the Texas cattle started the trails north. But with the northern markets had problems with delivery. Going through the Native American territory was an even larger problem. Goodnight came up with the idea to go west of the Native American Territory and thought of ways around the problems of the civilized farmers in Kansas. The only concern with that route was to cross the southern end of the Staked Plains which lacked sufficient water to trail the big herds.
Goodnight met Oliver Loving while he was putting his first herd together twenty-five miles southwest of Belknap, Texas. Loving decided to combine resources and herds for the sake of success and take advantage of different personal experiences from the past. Loving was a businessman and knew the cattle markets.
Goodnight and Loving combined their resources and on the 6th day of June 1866, they left with two thousand head total and an outfit of 18 men well-armed. Goodnight’s new chuckwagon and his new acquaintances “One Arm” Bill Wilson and his brother Charley were also included in the outfit. Goodnight convinced Loving to take charge of the herd while he scouted the countryside for dangers, water and campsites. They followed the Butterfield Trail as it was going in the direction they were headed and it was well marked and followed the waterholes going West. As the cattle smelled water, they became crazed for water and were unmanageable. The Pecos River was full of quicksand, high banks on the riverside and deep fast water. It took them three days to water the herd and keep them together while they recuperated. They lost another one hundred head from quicksand to drowning.
Finally, after three days they left with the remainder of the herd on the east side of the Pecos headed for Fort Sumner, where they planned to sell the steers. And that’s why this painting is named “Goodnight Loving Trail at Horsehead Crossing 1866.”