Sunday, March 18, 2012

Molly Goodnight-"Darling of the Plains"

By Celia Yeary

Molly Goodnight (1839-1926) was the epitome of a rancher's wife during the early settlement of Texas. She would become known as "Mother of the Panhandle" and "Darling of the Plains."

Mary Ann Dyer married Charles Goodnight in 1870 at the age of 31. (Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving blazed the Goodnight-Loving trail  to drive cattle north. The novel and series Lonesome Dove was based on Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving.)


Charles and  Molly spent a seven-year stint ranching in Pueblo, Colorado, before a number of unfavorable conditions resulted in their relocation to the Palo Duro Canyon near present day Amarillo. Molly considered Texas to be much more civilized than Colorado. She had been particularly disturbed when two men were found hanged to death on a nearby telegraph pole.

This lack of civility, coupled with the ensuing drought and the Panic of 1873, resulted in the Goodnights relocating to the the Texas Panhandle.
Charles found a financial backer in John George Adair, a wealthy Irish landowner, and the two men and their wives started the JA Ranch in the Palo Duro Canyon. The Goodnights convinced the Adairs to select this location because of the plentiful grass for grazing, a steady water supply, and protection for the cattle during the winter by the canyon walls.
In May of 1877, the Goodnights and the Adairs moved cattle and provisions into the canyon.  Charles and Molly built a two-room cabin. The nearest neighbors were 75 miles away from where Molly Goodnight established the first ranch household in the Texas Panhandle. Soon the Adairs left the management of the ranch to Charles and Molly.

When a cowboy once gave the Goodnights three chickens as a token of appreciation—intended for a Sunday supper—Molly made the chickens her personal pets to help pass the time.
Over the years, Molly earned the respect and admiration of the cattlemen for the compassion she showed them and the natural remedies she developed for wounds and fevers.

She often gave parties for the cowboys, mended their clothes, and taught a number of them how to read. For this, she was soon regarded as the “Mother of the Panhandle” or the “Darling of the Plains.”
Molly also extended her compassion to orphaned buffalo calves who were left to die after commercial hunters killed their mothers on the range. By rescuing the orphaned buffalo and bottle-feeding them, Molly established an impressive buffalo herd, soon known around the world as the Goodnight Herd. Many credit her efforts with helping to prevent the extinction of the southern buffalo.

As the Panhandle became more populated, Molly donated her time to various philanthropic efforts. In 1898, she and Charles helped establish Goodnight College through the donation of 340 acres.
Molly passed away in April 1926. A fitting tribute to her life, her gravestone was inscribed: 
"Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight- One who spent her whole life in the service of others."

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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  1. Celia,
    Molly sounds like a wonderful person who loved all living things. Although I write about western life, I think I probably would have gone crazy from the drudgery of every day life and the boredom. I don't know what I'd do without my trusty pen and notebook--and I imagine those things were hard to come by. I would have made pets of the chickens, too.
    Wonderful post, as always!

  2. What an interesting lady. Thanks so much for sharing it, Celia.

  3. Celia, thank you so much for this interesting story. I find this site the most informative of all that I visit. It never fails to meet its high standards. I always promise myself to read it every week but often get bogged down with things that relate to my own work and miss it. I'm glad there are archives to catch up when I have the time.

  4. I never knew any of this information. Heck, I didn't even know that Lonesome Dove was based on real people. Well, shoot, I just got some education today. Wonderful blog, Celia.

  5. What a great article. I knew nothing about Molly and am so pleased you included her. I'm sure you know, Celia, that Oliver Loving (Goodnight's partner) is burined in Weatherfod as is Bose Ikard, the man called Deke in LONESOME DOVE. There are no Loving descendants here, but there are still Ikards in the Parker County.

  6. Thanks for your comment and visit, Annette.

  7. Oh, you and me both, Cheryl. I would go mad very quickly. I thought she was incredibly brave to live there. And see? She was creative and found plenty to do...just not what I would have done, but she was very inventive. I guess she had to be.
    Thanks for visiting!

  8. You're welcome, Anne, and thanks for stopping by.

  9. Linda--well, this is a busy blog--I don't know how we all keep coming up with so many entertaining posts. But there are tons of stories out there--history never runs out of tales.
    Thanks for your know it always means so much to me.

  10. Sarah--See what you learn by coming to the Sweethearts? We're just loaded with new information just to entertain you.
    Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment!

  11. Caroline--I'd only just barely heard of Molly Goodnight--now I don't remember how I came up with her for this post.
    I did not know Oliver Loving was buried in Weatherford until you told me some time ago.
    Texas State University here in San Marcos has a permanent display of all things Lonesome Dove--you should make a trip to SM one day and I'll take you up to the 7th floor of the library to see it all.

  12. Fantastic article, Celia! One thing that struck me was once again, success came out of failure. Colorado didn't work out too well. But that didn't daunt Molly Goodnight at all, obviously, and she made the best of whatever she had to work with. Amazing lady. Thanks for taking the time to write this article.

  13. Thank you, Jacquie. I think that's the mark of a true pioneer--they made the best of what they had. Even my mother during the depression did this--same kind of spirit. I'm not sure I have this in me to survive as they did. Thank God for our pioneer ancestors.


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