Col. Charles Goodnight's home and all of his many accomplishments are being remembered and restored by the Armstrong County Museum and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Col. Charles Goodnight's mansion on the prairie about an hour's drive southeast of Amarillo might not be what you would expect from a man who once controlled thousands of acres of the Texas Panhandle.
Goodnight was a straight-talking pioneer cattleman who lived to tell his story. The documentation of his 93 years is massive and rates at least a mention in every major history museum in the state. He was a Texas Ranger and cowpuncher on the frontier. Goodnight and his partner blazed the Goodnight-Loving Trail taking cattle from Texas to Colorado. He is credited with inventing the chuck wagon, an improved model of the sidesaddle, and cattle-breeding techniques. After Loving died, Goodnight moved into Palo Duro Canyon with a herd of cattle as the Comanche were moved out. A replica of his dugout cabin is in the state park.
The man who lent Goodnight the money to start his Texas cattle operation became his partner in 1877, and the JA Ranch was born. At one time John Adair's brand controlled more than 1.3 million acres of pasture in the Texas Panhandle. The ranch still exists in parts of Armstrong, Donley, and Brisco counties and is still owned by descendants of the Adairs.
After leaving the partnership with Adair, Goodnight moved to his own ranch on 160 square miles of land in Armstrong and Donley counties. "Folks around here call it the Goodnight Buffalo Ranch," says Montie Goodin, the director of the Armstrong County Museum. One of Goodnight's accomplishments was rescuing the bison from extinction.
Goodnight built his two-story home near the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad. Goodin calls the 118-year-old wooden house "folk-Victorian style." Although he had homes in nearby Clarendon and in Phoenix, Ariz., this was Goodnight's headquarters for the last 42 years of his life. Earlier this year, the old house on the south side of U.S. 287 at FM 294 and 30 acres were deeded to the history museum to be restored and opened to the public.
After Goodnight's death in 1929, Goodin was born in the house when her father was ranch foreman. Her special affection for the place is evident when she talks about the old homestead. "We'd like to return it to how it was in 1915 or 1920," she says, "because that is when the town was at its peak."
All that remains of the town of Goodnight is a few scattered houses and the cemetery where the colonel and Mrs. Goodnight and several of their neighbors are buried. At one time the village had a bank, post office, cotton gin, cattle pens, orphanage, and the first college in the Panhandle.
"The automobile did the town in," Goodin says. "People didn't need small towns every few miles anymore because they could drive to get to the grocery store."
The house is rather modest considering Goodnight built a fortune from selling cattle and land. Surrounded by the rolling hills of the plains that drop over the last cliffs of Palo Duro Canyon, the house has five fireplaces and several stained-glass and etched-glass windows that still spread the light over the same wood floors that Goodnight's boots once scraped across.
The museum volunteers estimate that the restoration project will take three to five years and cost $3 to $5 million. An architect has declared the structure sound; now they need to remove the modern carpet and paneling. In addition to the house, the historical society plans to add flower gardens like Mrs. Goodnight might have grown. With help from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the staff will maintain an undisturbed playa lake on the property for birdwatchers.
The Goodnight house is currently closed to visitors. To see pictures of the Goodnight Ranch and the town it once supported, stop by the Goodnight Hall in the Armstrong County Museum at 120 N. Trice in Claude. The museum opens Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4pm.
The volunteers also stage theatrical presentations in the theatre next door once a month. On July 7 and 8, Claude will be hosting the annual Old-Timers Rodeo at the fairgrounds. For information, call 806/226-2187 or go to www.armstrongcountymuseum.org.
782th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.