cleared of hostile Indians by the U.S. Cavalry, and with commercial hunters rapidly
annihilating the buffalo,
the Texas Panhandle lay mostly
empty in the fall of 1876 when Charles
Goodnight and his men trailed the first herd of cattle into Palo
Duro Canyon. |
That marked the beginning of the famous JA Ranch. Not
only is it the Panhandle’s oldest
ranch, it is still owned by descendants of Goodnight’s
partner in the venture, Denver-based Irish investor John G. Adair. But as it turned
out, before Goodnight
could begin ranging cattle on the High Plains, he would find that a certain additional
arrangement needed to be made – the sort of agreement two parties do not put down
first looked down into the 65-mile-long chasm south of present-day Amarillo
late that summer. Then running cattle out of Pueblo, Colo., he had heard tell
of such an awe-inspiring geologic feature, but wanted to see it for himself. He
got the sheepherder who had told him of the giant chasm to guide him there in
August 1876 and got his first glimpse of the nation’s second-largest canyon.
| When Goodnight
saw it, he realized he had found a near-perfect location for a ranch. The canyon
walls offered natural fencing for his livestock and the flowing waters of the
Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River would keep the mouths of his cattle wet and
nourish the grass needed to fill their bellies.|
But only a month after
he and his cowboys walked the first cattle down a steep trail on the side of the
canyon, Goodnight had
to leave to get more money to finance his operation. By February 1877, with letters
of credit directed to post traders at military garrisons in Kansas, Oklahoma and
the newly established Fort Elliott near Mobeetie
in the northeastern corner of the Panhandle,
he was on his way back to the canyon.
took a stagecoach as far as Fort Supply, OK, but could not continue in that more
or less comfortable conveyance because it would be full of Army officers bound
for Fort Elliott. They had priority.
though himself an experienced guide, hired someone more familiar with the land
and set out for the canyon on horseback. Given the time of the year, the wind
blew cold and snow covered the ground. While it proved to be an arduous trip,
all went well until the two men came to a tributary of the Canadian
a distance, Goodnight’s
guide spotted a camp. Riding in a little closer, he recognized a band of outlaws
led by one Henry Born, more popularly known as Dutch Henry. A former buffalo hunter
who had survived the June 1874 Indian attack on Adobe
Walls, Born had changed careers. Now, with the buffalo nearly hunted to extinction,
he had turned to outlawry. He had become particularly adept at stealing cattle
The wary guide, knowing trouble when he saw it, told Goodnight
that their only hope was to stay back from the camp and wait until nightfall.
Then they could slip past the campers. But Goodnight,
a former Texas Ranger, was a “take the bull by the horns” kind of fellow. He told
the guide he wanted to meet Born. In fact, he insisted on it.
and his nervous guide, likely feeling like he’d made his last ride, sauntered
their horses into the outlaw camp. Goodnight
politely, but with a certain firmness, asked to speak to whoever was in charge.
When Dutch Henry stood, Goodnight
introduced himself and shook his hand. Then he got to the point: He intended to
start ranching in Palo
Duro Canyon and didn’t need to be losing any of his stock to cattle thieves.
If Dutch Henry would stay out of the canyon, Goodnight
told him that he would mind his own business in regard to whatever he did farther
north in the Panhandle. Somewhat
also mentioned that he had a body of armed men at his disposal who were all good
After pondering the proposition for a moment, the outlaw replied:
“Well, old man, you are damn plain about it, but it is a fair proposition and
I will do it.
To seal the deal, Goodnight
reached into one of his saddlebags and withdrew a bottle of French brandy, offering
drinks all around.
Proving thieves can be trustworthy to an extent, the
outlaw honored his agreement with Goodnight.
Elsewhere in the Panhandle, however,
he continued his felonious ways.
Born eventually served some federal prison
time in Arkansas, but when he got out, he went straight. From the 1880s on, he
engaged in mining in Colorado, married and fathered four children. He died of
natural causes in 1921.
Cox - July 10, 2013 column
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