The Real Lonesome Dove

The following excerpt from the book, Ninety-Four Years In Jack County 1854-1948, by Ida Lasater Huckabay, describes Oliver Loving's last confrontation with Indians and the final days of his life. A fictional portrayal of this account appears in the film Lonesome Dove.

    Charley Goodnight (as pioneers all called him) often visited in the Lasater home, when the writer was a child. His mother Mrs. Sheek and grandmother Lasater were neighbors at old Black Springs during the Indian times. After grandmother lost her eyesight she made her home with the writer's parents for years. Goodnight and other old-timers were thoughtful to drop in to see her. It was through these visits the writer heard much about pioneer life, Indian raids, etc. After some of these visitors departed, the writer imagined she saw Indians every time she stepped out after dark.


    Map from the book, Panhandle Pilgrimage, by Pauline Durrett and R.L. Robertson

    The writer remembers what Charley Goodnight said about his association with Loving, and Grandmother Lasater often spoke of the details leading to Loving's death. It was about 1858 when Loving headed a herd of cattle for Chicago, on the first northward drive ever made from Texas. In the Spring of 1859, he drove cattle to Colorado. It was after the war that he formed a partnership with Charley Goodnight of Palo Pinto County. In 1867, Loving lost his life on one of these drives to Colorado.

    While the herd was in New Mexico, Loving and one-armed Wilson, (so-called because Wilson had only one arm) started on ahead of the herd, first promising Goodnight that they would travel by night on accounts of the Indians. But, after about two nights of traveling and having seen no signs of Indians, they decided it was safe to travel by daylight. On the third day they were attacked by about eighty Indians. In the battle Loving was wounded in the arm. They had managed to secrete themselves in a cave-like hole. It was so small there was hardly elbow room for the men to handle their rifles. The two men were hardly settled in the cramped position when the Indians opened fire. These two men held the Comanches at bay until about sunset, when an Indian slipped through a nearby canebrake and succeeded in wounding Loving. Wilson poured lead into the canebrake, then turned to relieve his companion. "They got me," stammered Loving. "Get out if you can and save yourself, find Goodnight and tell him what has happened." "One-armed Wilson" refused to go. He worked as fast as he could in cramped quarters, trying to bandage Loving's wound with a portion of his shirt. Then lying on his armless side with his six-shooter in his hand, awaited the next move. There was a rustle in the cane but not from Indians, in the fading light Wilson beheld a huge diamond-backed rattlesnake which crawled out of the cane and headed directly for the hole, The men shuddered as they realized that the snake was determined to share their place of refuge. In a moment it stopped, coiled up with its head a few inches from Wilson's knees. The two men lay speechless, afraid to move a muscle. It was a mere question of choice of two evils-the poisonous fangs or arrows. Their cramped muscles were almost unbearable, cold perspiration stood on their brows. In about half an hour, which seemed a lifetime to the two occupants of the cave-like hole, the snake quietly glided its scaly body across Wilson's feet, raised its head for a moment, then left the hole by the same sweet route it had entered. Again, Loving urged Wilson to try to escape. After much hesitation, Wilson agreed to go in search of help. Loving insisted that Wilson take his rifle, saying, "It is the best of the two. Find Goodnight, If I am not here upon your return, well-just tell the folks about it."

    After loading every chamber of his cap and ball pistol, Wilson slipped off his boots and pants and started crawling toward the river. When he reached the river he soon learned that a one-armed man could not make headway trying to swim and carry a rifle. He hid the guns and, unarmed, cautiously paddled down the stream.

    Throughout the long night, Loving lay listening; queer noises haunted him. The approach of day revealed to the cattleman the reason for those noises he had heard through the night. The Indians had been digging a tunnel through the sand toward his place of refuge, and about twenty feet away, he saw an Indian busily digging in. With one shot Loving killed the Indian. Several times during the forenoon the Indians tried to reach him via trench, but after he had killed two more warriors, they drew to higher ground nearby and began throwing huge rocks into the hole, missing their mark each time. He lay all day without food or water. The river was nearby but he dared not venture out. Night brought a heavy rain which lessened his thirst, but rendered his guns useless. He felt sure the Indians would make another attack at daylight, but after waiting until the sun was well up and no signs of an attack, he crawled out of the hole and staggered toward the river. He tried to reach a point on the river where he knew the trail herd would cross, but became exhausted and sank down in a clump of bushes on the bank of the river.

    Footsore and hungry, Wilson reached the Goodnight herd on the fourth day. Goodnight and six of the men went to Loving's relief. They found the hole marked by arrow spikes, also found Wilson's rifle, but no sign of Loving. They searched the surrounding country to no avail. They returned to the herd and continued the trial with heavy hearts and bowed heads.

    Enroute they met a man who told them that Loving was not dead but doing nicely at Fort Sumner, where he had been brought by three Mexicans and a white boy who were passing on their way from Mexico when they encountered Loving. He paid them $ 250.00 to carry him to Fort Sumner.

    When Goodnight heard this report, he saddled a fresh mount and hastened to Loving's bedside. He found him resting nicely, but in a few days gangrene set up and an operation was necessary; then a second operation, but in a few hours this brave, noble pioneer passed on. Before his death he requested that he be sent back to Texas. There was difficulty in securing a suitable casket and it was found necessary to bury him temporarily in New Mexico, but as soon as Goodnight could freight a metallic casket with a guard of six men, he began the slow, sad march homeward over mountains and plains, where Oliver Loving had driven one of the first herds ever driven from Texas. Among the guards who accompanied the body back to Texas was the late W. D. Reynolds of Fort Worth, Texas. After long, weary days and dreary nights the body was delivered to the Jack County cattleman's family. Oliver Loving rests today in the picturesque cemetery at Weatherford, Texas.

    Loving was recognized a leader among men, possessing varied traits of character which were of special value in those days of constant danger. He was one among the seven men who volunteered to find Bill Willis and his band (who, with a party of Indians, murdered the Mason and Cambren families in 1858) and bring them back to Jack County.

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