Thursday, January 8, 2015


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.
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas


  1. Celia, I cannot imagine why someone would be put off by finding hanged men virtually in her front yard.

    Molly Goodnight was a phenomenal woman -- and a Texan through and through. Thank you for sharing her story with us. :-)

  2. What an incredible post, Celia. I knew of Charles Goodnight but not these wonderful details about Molly. I am absolutely teary-eyed about her rescue of baby buffalo. The wanton murder of that grand species still makes me kill.

    Thanks for presenting her to us! xoxo

  3. Just one look at that dugout photo had me shuddering. Can you imagine in living in one of those today? In the heat? In the cold? On a dirt floor? In a long skirted, long sleeved dress? Having babies on their own in such surroundings? The pioneer women who came before us were stoical for sure. They didn't have our niceties from today to compare with, but still I imagine they suffered a great deal. Thanks for this interesting post.

  4. Helllllo, Kathleen--I, too, wonder what in the world she would care if someone was hanged almost in her front yard. What amused me was that she though Texas would be more civilized. Where had that woman been?
    Yes, she was something special. The was sometimes called The Mother of the Plains, but later she became the "Darling." Now, isn't that nice?
    Thanks, my friend.

  5. Tanya--me, too! You know she had to have a soft heart to rescue not only baby buffalo, and chickens. I might wonder..."Who would want chickens for pets?"
    But out here where I live, one family has red hens for pets--and eggs, and another family has Guinea hens for pets, and another has a Banty Rooster. I do not understand this....but to each his own.
    Thanks for dropping by.

  6. Janice--when I began my Mail Order Bride series, I chose the South Plains, just below the Panhandle of Texas, very close to the New Mexico border. But then during research, I learned all of them lived in dugouts for years. I could not stand it thinking what my heroine would go through. So, I moved the series to Central Texas in the Hill Country. No one could dig a dugout in the limestone underground. Everyone had to build a cabin.
    Yes, they suffered, but it's all relative. Who know what humans might think of us a hundred years from now. Oh!!! Wouldn't you love to know?

  7. Interesting post, Celia. I've heard of Charles Goodnight, of course, because of the trail, but I didn't know about his wife. Fascinating woman.

  8. Kirsten--she was, for sure. Palo Dura Canyon is isolated and deep and wide. Imagine a smaller Grand Canyon. Down there, she was definitely isolated and lonely. But as most pioneers, she made the most of her situation.
    Thanks for your comment.

  9. Fascinating history. Thanks for posting.

  10. Molly sounds like a woman I would have loved to call friend. No wonder she had the name, "Darling of the Plains". I loved the part where she made pets out of the dinner chickens.
    Celia, it always amazes me how you find these interesting people to tell us about. I loved this blog.


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