Oliver Loving – Pioneer of the Cattle Drive

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Kentucky farmer Oliver Loving moved his family to Texas in 1843, pioneered the long-distance cattle drive, and helped establish the Goodnight/Loving trail.

Oliver Loving (1812-1867) was born and raised in Kentucky where he married Susan Doggett Morgan in 1833. Over the next ten years they had four children on their farm in Muhlenberg County, then Loving and his siblings decided to move their families to Texas. Loving continued to farm, and his family grew to include nine children. Their property grew, as well: According to the Handbook of Texas Online, the first assessment of Palo Pinto County in 1857 listed1000 acres in the name of Oliver Loving.

Loving Moves his Cattle North

In addition to land, Loving accumulated a large herd of cattle. He knew the greatest profits could be made by moving the cattle north. In 1857 he sent his son on a cattle drive to Illinois by way of the Shawnee Trail. His success encouraged Loving to repeat the drive, this time joining his cattle with that of a neighbor, John Durkee. This drive was equally profitable, so he tried it a third time with another neighbor, John Durham. They moved 1500 cattle into Denver to feed the miners and Loving quickly gained a reputation as an honest cattleman experienced in large cattle drives.

Contract to Feed the Confederate Army

By the time he was ready to return to Texas the American Civil War started and Loving was detained by the Union Army. Colonel Kit Carson and wealthy landowner Lucien Maxwell interceded with the Union officers to set Loving free. Much to the Union’s chagrin, when Loving returned to Texas he was commissioned by the Confederate Army to deliver cattle to their troops. However, when the war ended, the Confederate Army still owed Loving around $200,000.

Charles Goodnight and the Goodnight/Loving Trail

That same year, Texas rancher Charles Goodnight met with Loving to discuss his plans for a cattle drive. Loving needed a new partner, and the two men quickly became friends. In 1866 they hit the trail with 2000 cattle. Their first stop was Fort Sumner, New Mexico. They sold most of their herd to the Army for $12,000, then Loving moved the remaining cattle to Denver. Their path through New Mexico and Colorado became the Goodnight/Loving trail. Charles Goodnight returned to Weatherford, Texas with the gold, gathered a second herd and met up with Loving in New Mexico. They established a ranch in the Bosque Grande for use as a base camp to supply cattle to Fort Sumner and Santa Fe during the winter.

Fateful Encounter with the Comanche

In the spring of 1867, Loving and Goodnight returned to Texas for more cattle. On this drive, Loving and his scout, Bill Wilson, traveled ahead to secure government contracts while Goodnight followed with the herd. Eager to reach the northern markets ahead of other cattlemen, Loving decided to risk traveling during the day and soon encountered a party of 500 Comanche. Loving was shot in the arm and side. He sent Wilson back to Goodnight then managed to evade the Comanche for three days and nights before he flagged down a wagon that took him to Fort Sumner. Goodnight arrived soon after, but Loving was already dying from gangrene. Goodnight promised his friend that he would take his body back to Texas for burial.

A Texas Burial

Loving was temporarily buried at Fort Sumner and Goodnight returned after the cattle drive to exhume his body. Loving was escorted back to Weatherford, Texas and buried with Masonic honors in the Greenwood Cemetery on March 4, 1868. True to his word, Goodnight divided the profits from the drive with the Loving family. The character Gus McCrae in Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove is based on Oliver Loving. In 1958, Oliver Loving was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Both Loving County, Texas and Loving, New Mexico, are named in his honor.

Resources:

  1. Forbis, William H. The Old West: The Cowboys. Time Life Books. Canada:1974.
  2. Leonard, Randy. Trail Drives of the Old West: The Story of Oliver Loving and the Goodnight/Loving Trail.
  3. “Oliver Loving” The Handbook of Texas Online.
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