Postcard From Goodnight, Texas

The road to Goodnight Cemetery
Sometimes you come across something on a road trip that is so unexpected, just so "right," that you have to stop and be grateful you are there at that particular moment in time. Goodnight, Texas, a near ghost town on Highway 287 on the edge of the Llano Estacado in the Texas Panhandle presented just such a welcome encounter.

The town was founded by Charles Goodnight who began a ranch here in 1887. The very next year, the railroad laid tracks and opened a station and soon, enough folks were around that a post office was established. A school was opened in 1889 and Charles and his wife, Mary Ann, established the Goodnight College in 1898.

By the time of his death at age 93 in late 1929, Charles had grown his ranch into a successful business, established a herd of buffalo (now the official Texas State Bison Herd) which preserved the animal from extinction, and was the dominant force behind the town which had grown to 300 residents and 9 business establishments. In 1940 though, Claude, another town down the road a bit, began to emerge as the county's business center and Goodnight began to fade. In 1963, the population had dropped to 50 when the movie "Hud," starring Paul Newman, was filmed there. Despite the popularity of the film, Goodnight continued to decline until the closing of the post office in 1969 when there were only 25 residents left. At the time of our visit, the town was virtually deserted and the population in the surrounding area was estimated to be less than 15.  

Entrance to Goodnight Cemetery
The reason for a visit to Goodnight wasn't to see where the town had been though, it was to visit the Goodnight Cemetery where Charles Goodnight is buried. Mr. Goodnight is one of those guys I've read a lot about, a sort of hero to me if you will, and I wanted to pay my respects. A true cowboy with few equals, he was actually born in Illinois, but came to Texas at the age of 10 and always claimed that Texas made him the man he was. A noted plainsman, Indian and Mexican bandit fighter, Texas Ranger, and cattleman, he and his partner Oliver Loving established the Goodnight - Loving trail over which thousands of longhorn cattle were driven to markets in the west. The true life exploits of Goodnight and Loving were so remarkable that Larry McMurtry based his award winning book, Lonesome Dove, on them. It has been proclaimed by some as the best western ever written and the TV mini-series made from the book starring Robert Duval (his character Gus McCrea was based on Loving) and Tommy Lee Jones (his character Woodrow Call was based on Goodnight) won 2 Golden Globes as well as 16 other awards.

Fenced in only by barbed wire, you can see for miles around.
The site of Goodnight and especially the cemetery are located in the middle of nowhere. You won't get there unless you are going there. I was glad I had found the coordinates to put into my GPS before trying to find it. Nestled among the low, gently undulating plains in the emptiness of the Texas Panhandle, it was somewhat surprising to find the cemetery to be fenced and well-kept. Even though it was small, it contained more graves than there are people living in the area. With just a soft blowing breeze, there were no sounds and no people as far as the eyes could see to disturb our cemetery exploring. It was very peaceful and very serene. Here you just naturally talk very little and when you do, you speak in whispers. Spending over an hour walking around, only one pickup truck was barely heard and barely seen driving down the road hundreds of yards away. In my travels over the years and with my interest in cemeteries, I've seen and explored a good number of them. Without question, this was one of the most tranquil I've ever come across. When it's my time to be laid in the ground, this would certainly fit the bill for my peaceful slumber.

Dozens of bandana's left in respect for Charles Goodnight.
The grave of Charles Goodnight and his family are very prominent. Right next to the single dirt road in the cemetery, the large plot is fenced and the headstones are larger than any others. What makes it stand out though are the dozens of bandana's tied on the fence that visiting cowboys have respectively left. There are a few other personal items left, some attached to the fence, some left on the ground, but the bandana's fluttering in the breeze is very touching and somehow humbling. These were symbols of respect from individual cowboys to one of the kings of cowboys.

I didn't grow up on a ranch, I've never rode a horse from sunup to sundown, I've never roped anything, I've never branded a steer or driven a herd of cattle, but I'm convinced I did in a former life. And I am a native-born Texan with a bandana and a love of wide-open spaces and freedom. I didn't have my one pitiful little-old bandana with me because I didn't know and didn't think about it. But I'll go back to the Goodnight cemetery one of these days, God willing and the creek don't rise, and I'll tie my bandana to the fence around Charles Goodnight's grave. A symbol of respect from a wistful wanna-be cowboy to a true cowboy. RIP, sir.

Plenty of room for those who want to rest away
from any others.
The quiet resting place of a military veteran.
A cowboy's grave
Lonely windmill in Goodnight, Texas