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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Doak Good

by Clay Coppedge

Just after the demise of the great buffalo herds and the Comanches but before many towns or vestiges of civilization popped up on the Llano Estacado, a few hardy individuals claimed that vast and lonesome land as their own. One such person was Doak Good.

E.S. McNairy encountered Good when his outfit trailed a herd of cattle across the Llano Estacado, headed for Greer County, in 1879. The weather was bad so they took the cattle into the Yellow House to make use its abundant grass, water and shelter. This was lonely, deserted country and McNairy and his cowboys were surprised when they found some young cattle that did not belong to their herd wandering about in the canyon.

“This so aroused my curiosity that I began an investigation, and further up the mountain found a very crude shack, made of a few poles and buffalo hides,”’ McNairy told frontier journalist Don Hampton Biggers.

The only sign of inhabitation was a pile of ashes. There was an axe, a tin can that obviously worked as a coffee pot and water bucket, and small quantities of flour, salt and coffee. A piece of buffalo meat was tied up to the rafters and in one corner was a pile of rolled up blankets.

McNairy: “I was forcibly impressed with the squalid, forlorn appearance of the place, and was wondering what manner of man or men, recluse or hermit, could so disdain civilization and the commonest comforts of life in such a wild, dreary place and inflict upon himself such scant provisions for the sustenance of life.”

His question was answered when a boy about 18 years old rode up and introduced himself as Doak Good, owner of the cattle that McNairy had seen. Biggers wrote of Doak Good: “There was nothing of the romantic or dime-novel display about him, but he stands as the youngest individual to engage in independent operations in this part of the country.”

Col. Jack Potter described Good as about 5-foot-8, slender with medium brown hair. “His mustache was light and barely covered his upper lip and it was a blonde color,” Potter wrote. “In fact, when I first met Doak Good, you could {have} passed him off for a big blond nester girl.”

Biggers reported that things got too crowded for Good’s tastes when a ranch was established about 25 miles away from his Yellow House hideaway. He left and was apparently part of, wittingly or not, the Star Route Swindle, a scheme concocted by Sen. S.W. Dorsey and others to collect money from non-existent or unnecessary mail routes.

Good was reportedly hired to carry mail between Singer’s Store (the future site of Lubbock) and Fort Sumner, New Mexico and all points in between. There weren’t a lot of points in between and not a lot of mail going from Singer’s Store to Fort Sumner anyway, so Good’s job as a mail carrier was strictly a part-time deal, if that.

On one of his infrequent trips to New Mexico, Good passed Portales Springs and decided the springs and the adjacent lake would be a good place to run some cattle. Never an extravagant sort, he set up camp in some caves under overhanging caliche porches. He later upgraded to a house and sheds made out of waste rock. He ran 300 to 400 head of cattle at the springs and mostly minded his own business as much as was possible.

According to an August 2008 article in the Portales News Tribune by Ruth Burns, who took her information from her mother, Rose Powers White, Good was involved in a fabled but implausible shootout with another rambunctious pioneer of the day, Gabe Henson.

According to the story, Doak Good got all riled up when Henson moved in east of the springs where he ran his cattle. Harsh words and gunfire had been exchanged over this matter even before Henson showed up at Good’s place one day and called for him to come out of the house and “shoot it out.”

“All of the details may not be true, but this {is} what was sworn to by the cowboys who were there at the time, including my step-grandfather, Bob Wood,” Ms. Burns wrote.

When Good told Henson that he didn’t care to come out of the house, Henson took cover behind a shed and started taking pot shots at Good. Good fired back with his old Sharp’s buffalo gun. They exchanged gunfire the better part of one morning, with neither man getting hit.

According to cowboys who were supposedly there, Good sent Henson some dinner at noon. Even more surprising is the report that Henson ate it. When he was finished eating, Henson picked up his rifle and began shooting at Good again.

The post-dinner portion of the gunfight continued until Henson hollered for Good to come out of the house. Good opted to stay put. Henson came out and took a seat in front of the shed. Good fired one more time and either that bullet or the dinner killed Henson. Burns wrote that the cowboys who picked Henson up and carried him home said there wasn’t a drop of blood anywhere on Henson body, that the bullet wound didn’t bleed at all.

“The inference was that the dinner was really what killed him, that Good had poisoned it, and Henson was dead before he shot him,” Burns wrote.

How true this story might be is open to debate. It’s hard to imagine Good taking a break to fix Henson lunch, and even harder to believe that Henson would accept food from a man who had been trying all morning to shoot him. But there you have it.

Biggers ends his account of Doak Good by noting that Good amassed a nice fortune at his place at Portales Springs “but misfortune came upon him and he is said to have lost nearly everything he had, and is at present somewhere in Arizona.”

© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" January 15, 2009 Column

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