Oliver Loving and His Last Overland Drive

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

    Oliver Loving was one of the most picturesque and venturesome of all the early pioneers, scouts, and plainsmen; and the movements of his immense herds over the great western prairies presented one of the most dramatic, and spectacular scenes displayed in the early western drama of conquest.

    The great adventurer came to Palo Pinto County, during the fall of 1855, and erected his pioneer log cabin in Loving Valley, about two miles north of the present town of Salesville. It was not long before he became one of the most noted, and well-known of the early cowmen, and was soon moving immense herds over the great western prairies to Colorado, Illinois, and, perhaps, other points. These he did before the secession of the Southern States.

    About one year after the arrival of Oliver Loving, there came to Palo Pinto County the venerable Chas. Goodnight, another famous frontiersman, who settled near old Black Springs in Palo Pinto County.

    After the close of the war between the States, these men had no markets for their cattle, so they decided to push out toward New Mexico and the northwest. Goodnight and Loving threw their cattle together, left old Ft. Belknap for Ft. Sumner, during 1867, and followed the former route they traveled with their longhorn herds on previous occasions. Concerning this trip, Col. Chas. Goodnight, said:

    "Loving and I started on our third drive, but our fortunes changed from the very start. While he halted for the night, near Camp Cooper, the Indians attacked us, shooting one man in the head with an arrow, but not fatally. I had here, a narrow escape. Very tired by our day's hard ride, I was sleeping on a buffalo robe by the fire, and an arrow sent with all the force of a strong bow, struck the edge of the robe deflecting sufficiently to pass under me, barely missing my body."

    The man wounded was Long Joe Loving, and the arrow was so deeply imbedded in his body, it took two men to hold him while others extracted the weapon.

    There were about sixteen men in the outfit, and with their cattle, Oliver Loving and Chas. Goodnight, pushed on toward the Horsehead crossing of the Pecos. Chas. Goodnight said:

    "The Goodnight-Loving outfit trailed on, past the haunted ruins of Fort Phantom Hill, through Buffalo Gap, in sight of the buffalo soldiers, African troops - at Fort Chadbourne, and then for forty miles up the Middle Concho River to its headwaters.

    "At the headwaters the outfit paused to put a good fill on the cattle." Then in the late afternoon, with the herd pointed straight for the setting sun, began the dry drive of ninety-six miles across the alkali desert to the Pecos. Oh, reader, forget, the automobile! Forget the stage coach! Think only of the creeping gait of 2000 mixed cattle - great, shaggy, mossy-horned steers at the lead and then back in the drag, sore-footed doggies and gaunt cows. It took three nights and three days to make that drive, and during the time no man slept save to doze on horseback. Three hundred head of cattle perished of thirst along the way.

    "There were alkali lakes just east of the Pecos and cattle mad with thirst had to be guarded from them, else they would drink the caustic waters and die.

    "There is no animal like the mule, for smelling water, but cattle could easily smell the Pecos for seven or eight miles. If the wind was right they could smell it farther. When once they fairly sensed it, all hands were required to hold them back. Before we got in good smelling distance I always plucked a few hairs from my horse and dropped them into the air to see which way the breeze was blowing. Then I veered the herd so as to miss the scent of the alkali water.

    "And so the Goodnight-Loving herd trailed for the Horsehead Crossing and far a cattle market somewhere beyond. The mocking mirages glittered. The water kegs were sucked dry and the staves shrunk apart. Alkali dust cut lips and air passages of the head like sprayed brine. Then at last there was the Pecos, clean and swift and clear.

    "As the cattle neared the water," says Colonel Goodnight,, "they had no sense at all, and we had to hold them back as best we could. When they reached the stream, they swam across and then doubled back without stopping to drink. That drive made the wildest old steers as gentle as dogs.

    "A pause for a little sleep and rest, grazing of horses and cattle, bathing of men and washing of clothes and saddle blankets, and the trail blazers moved on. The route from here on followed up the Pecos, west and north."

    A short time after the Loving and Goodnight outfits reached the Pecos, they were attacked by a band of savages, who succeeded in "driving away approximately 360 head of cattle. But the cowmen pushed on up the river and after traveling for 100 miles or more, and no more Indians seen, Oliver Loving decided to leave the herd and hurry to Ft. Sumner, among other reasons, to arrange if possible, a sale of the cattle, for it was now June and the beef contracts were to be let in July at Santa Fe. So somewhere on the upper Pecos, not many miles from the New Mexico line, Oliver Loving, accompanied by W. J. Wilson, also an early settler of Palo Pinto County, whom Charlie Goodnight termed "The coolest man in the outfit," left the herd and started on toward Ft. Sumner, the gateway to the great western towns of New Mexico.

    We shall again place Col. Chas. Goodnight before the microphone, and let him relate the experiences of these seasoned veterans of the plains. Mr. Goodnight:

    "The first day they rode, brought them to and across the Rio Sule, or Blue River which flows out of the extreme east end of the Guadalupe Mountains. After crossing the Sule the trail crosses a table land or plains for sixteen or eighteen miles, and when they had reached within four or five miles of the Pecos River, Wilson observed a large body of Indians charging them, from the southwest. 'They immediately quit the trail taking the shortest course to the breaks of the river where the plains break off very abruptly. Upon reaching the river they found a small sand-dune, covered with mesquite brush to which they tied their horses - the river bank being four or five feet high. The Indians numbering about six hundred, soon surrounded them. They stood them off until near sundown, the Indians being able to reach them from one course only, that being from right across the river. This they kept clear with their guns; each one having two six-shooters and Wilson having a six-shooting rifle and Mr. Loving having a Henry rifle, which carried sixteen or eighteen shots. Late in the evening the Indians called for a parley, in the Spanish language - Wilson understanding some of the language.

    "Wilson told Loving if he could watch and keep the Indians from shooting him in the back (as many of the Indians were in the brush just below them) he would go out and have a parley and see what he could do. They did so and while Loving was standing guard behind Wilson, the Indians fired from shelter just below with a large calibre rifle, breaking Loving's arm at the wrist and also inflicting a bad wound in the side, which he than thought fatal. This wound however, proved not to be very serious.

    "When the Indians fired this shot proving that they had not kept their truce, Loving and Wilson stepped back behind the band and the sand-dune and kept them until between midnight and day.

    "Loving believing he would die from his wounds, told Wilson to make an effort to get away, though it seemed all but impossible; and if the Indians had not already got me and the herd, to give me his message. First to get word to his family where and how he died; and that he would keep the Indians off if he could until I would get there, imagining me to be much closer than I was, as I had laid over a day or two resting the cattle. But to tell me also that before being captured alive, and tortured as he knew they would do, that he would kill himself, and that if he would try to do so, by falling in the river. But if they quit him, he would go two miles down the river and await my coming. As before stated the Indians could only reach him from one source, from across the river. This he watched closely, and believed he killed two and after that none dared make the attempt. They kept him there two whole days and nights, he then believing, as I had not arrived, that the Indians had killed me.

    "So instead of going down the river as he had sent me word, he went up the river to where the herd would water, hoping that somebody might pass and pick him up. I forgot to state that the Indians came up about dark and got the horses and their packs, containing every thing they had to eat leaving them afoot. When I picked Wilson up out of a cave, sixty or seventy miles below, after he had wandered about many days. I at once picked six good men to go with me, riding all night and the next day until about three or four o'clock in the afternoon - our best trail horses not being able to make better time. The night that I went up it didn't only rain, but it rained torrents and it was so dark at times that we were forced to halt. When I reached the place on the trail where Wilson told me he had left the trail, and had gone nearly due north to the river, I recognized it easily from his description, although the plain was unmarked or would have appeared so to the untrained. But besides his description of this plain or table land of the Rio Sule, the whole tribe of bunch of Comanches had crossed the trail in the exact spot where they had left them, nearly obliterating all trace of the trail made by Loving and Wilson.

    "At the junction where they left the trail, the Comanches had taken a leaf out of Mr. Loving's day-book and drawn a Comanche and a white man shaking hands, and a splendid drawing for an Indian at that. The drawing showed the white man wearing a silk hat. I have always wondered at this as no one in the west wore them. They had pinned the drawing with a mesquite thorn to a mesquite bush at the junction of the trails. I recognized the piece of paper as being from Loving's book but it gave me no special alarm, as Wilson had told me the Indians got the horses early in the evening and Loving always carried the book in his saddle bags.

    "In a hundred or two yards I ascertained I was following the two horsemen and we then put our horses on the run. When we were near where the plain pitched off to the river, we halted for a minute to give the men their instructions, of course thinking and having a good right to believe it was the last. We then went in on the full side as fast as our horses could take us, aiming to get the Indians by surprise and shoot our way through to the bank of the river. We having our guns and four pistols apiece, I have no doubt we would have reached the river, even had the Indians been there, at least most of us. But when we got to the top of the bluff, there was not an Indian in sight. The river having a short bend there, they had just marched out of sight and could not have been a half mile away, as the water had scarcely stopped running down the bank where they had swum the river and come out. I saw that they had been hunting for Loving. I then knew they had not killed him or they would not have been looking for him. I then believed that he had carried out the threat he had sent me; that he had shot himself and floated off down the river, the torrent of rain obliterating all traces.

    "After finding the Indians had not killed or captured Mr. Loving, knowing this; from the thorough search they had been making, I then thought I would look over the ground they had selected for the attack. I found they had made a most ex­cellent selection, and the only place available there. Instinct or Providence had guided them to the right spot. The sand-dune on the little Pecos River bank and the curve of the river above and below made a most excellent place for the fight, as they could only be reached in a short space on the opposite bank. A small arroyo entering into the river, had not broken down the bank, but had cut a small notch eight or ten feet from its entrance, making it impossible to reach them from either up or down the bend. An arrow or shot would miss the top of the little bank and pass above the body close up under it, harmless to the person. Many arrows bad been shot there and left either sticking in the sand-bar or on the edge of the water. They could get all the water they wanted without exposure, except as before stated straight across the river, probably a space of twenty or thirty feet. This could be easily kept clear with the guns. They also had cut tunnels through the sand-dunes within five or six feet of where Loving lay; but they did not dare to put their heads over far enough to get a correct shot. They also carried at least a cart­load of boulders from the bluffs, spoken of just behind, trying to drive him out and kill him but with the same result. The rocks that had missed the top of the little bank also missed him. He said while it was annoying in the extreme, that none them hurt him, I waited until it grew dark, to ensure by successful get away and then returned to the herd. I found every thing all right and reached Fort Sumner without mishap, believing Loving was dead.

    "As before stated Mr. Loving went up the river instead of down, reaching the watering place a few miles above. He lay there three days and nights, wounded and with nothing to eat. He told me he tried to shoot birds, but the pistols were so water-soaked, they would not fire; as in those days we did not have the metalic cartridges, but used the old cap and ball. He had Mexican gloves and he told me he tried to eat them, but could not do so, as he had no means of making a fire, whereby he could have made a crisp of them and eaten them. The watering place, heretofore, referred to, is where we crossed the Pecos River very near where the city of Eddy now stands. At this place a few shrubs and China trees grew, a thing extremely rare in those days. Mr. Loving got under these bushes and remained a day and two nights. He became very weak and kept himself in water by tying his hankerchief on a stick and dipping it in the river, two or three feet below him.

    "Now it so happened that three Mexicans and a German boy, with an old Mexican wagon and three yoke of cattle had started through trying to go to Texas. They stopped at the place at noon, it being the fourth day of his fast. The German boy went into the brush to get sticks to cook their noonday meal and there found Mr. Loving, who, he says, was in a stupor; but when he waked him he grabbed his pistol and levelled it at him, but immediately laid it down telling

    me afterwards that he knew it would not fire. The German boy was able to speak a little English and on learning that it was a white man and not an Indian, he revived and sat up. They then took him to the wagon and gave him a drink of what they called 'tolley," being in our language, a thick gruel, made of corn meal the most fortunate thing he could have had. He then hired these Mexicans, promising

    them $250.00 to take him back to Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, about one hundred and fifty miles.

    "But it so happened that a man by the name of Burleson, from the Austin country of Texas, had a herd of cattle just behind mine. With my assistance his herd had been saved from capture and the two herds were very close together each night. Burleson had gone through to Ft. Sumner some weeks before, and was there awaiting the arrival of the herd. The herd on account of delay, was late in getting in, and Burleson, being very uneasy about the cattle would make trips down the trail about once a week, as far as he could venture with a small party.

    "On one of these trips he met the ox-wagon, and Mexicans with Loving. He at once returned to Ft. Sumner as fast as a horse could take him and got the gov­ernment ambulance and doctors, meeting the ox-wagon some fifty miles down the trail. The doctors dressed Loving's wounds and returned with him to Ft. Sumner, where he appeared to do well for a few days, but the wound in the arm would not heal, the one in the side having healed.

    "On another of Burleson's excursions down the trail I met him some seventy-five miles below Ft. Sumner, in rather a peculiar way. Knowing we had to pass through some broken country before camping time, it was my usual custom to go ahead, generally alone, to reconnoiter, to ascertain whether any Indians were present or not, to prevent surprise. On this evening two or three hours by sun, I had gone into these brakes a mile at least north of the trail it being my custom never to follow the trail on such excursions. While slipping around through the brakes, I saw a man coming into the hills. I was perfectly sure it was an Indian and maneuvered around keeping out of his sight, amining to cut him off from the brakes and get him. This man seemed to be very cautious, peeping from one hill to another, but coming in my direction. When he got close enough I discovered he was a white man. I then got my horse and rode in open ground. Strange to say, I rode some little distance in the open before he saw me. However, I had worked around until I was almost behind him and he was interested in looking ahead. When he did see me, he started to run, but when he saw me making signals he halted and allowed me to overtake him. He was so anxious about the herd that it was some time before I could get any definite information. I told him that Loving had been killed by the Indians some hundred miles below. He said, "Loving is at Ft. Sumner." I said, 'Impossible, he was killed by the Indians.' He says, 'He is not dead; he is now in Sumner.' He then related the circumstance of meeting the ox-wagon getting the ambulance and taking Loving to Ft. Sumner, saying he thought he would get well. He said Loving had sent a message to me should he find me, to come to Sumner at once. We returned to the herds and caught the best animals we had, and about one hour by sun, I started. After riding all night I reached Ft. Sumner about two hours by sun, making the distance of about seventy-five miles, in fourteen hours. I soon met Mr. Loving, who was walking around feeling well with his arm in a sling. He felt confident he would recover, yet I did not like the looks of the wound. The old post doctor being at Las Vegas on a court martial, had left the young doctor in charge who assured him it was all right. After resting two or three days, Mr. Loving asked me to go to the mountains and recover some stock which had been stolen from us several months before, six or eight fine mules and some saddle horses. The stock was scattered from in behind Las Vegas to San Jose on the Pecos River, below Sante Fe. I was gone about ten days and recovered all the stock. When I reached within thirty miles of Ft. Sumner, I met a courier hunting me, saying that Mr. Loving had sent him for me, that he was very sick, that the arm from its long neglect and the excessive heat had become poisoned; gangrene having set in, necessitating amputation. He didn't want the operation performed unless I was there, fearing he might not survive the operation. I left the stock in charge of the hired man and in a few hours reached Ft. Sumner. The next morning the operation was performed, and he came out from under the choloform in good shape and then rallied for some forty-eight hours, when the arteries commenced to leak. They then had to re-chloroform, take the arm apart and re-tie the arties. He then revived from the chloroform, but gradually sank from that time on. While he had a great and strong constitution, he had gone through more than a man could stand, and twenty-two days later, died. He was buried at Ft. Sumner by the officers of the garrison, who showed us a great kindness.

    "In October 1867, I returned to Ft. Sumner from Colorado and took his body placing the metal casket in a wagon drawn by a pair of good mules and returned it to his home, in Weatherford, Texas, something over six hundred miles, where he was buried by his own lodge of Masons, and where his body now rests."

    Loving County was named in honor of Oliver Loving, a grandfather of United States District Judge, James C. Wilson, of Fort Worth, Oliver Loving Jr. of Jermyn, Mrs. J. H. McCracken, of Mineral Wells, Horace Wilson of Fort Worth, Mrs. J. P. Owens of Weathefrord, and others, whose names are not available. James C. Loving and his brothers and sisters were sons and daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Loving, and the Loving family long played a conspicuous part in the cattle industry of the west.

    Note: - Before writing this section, the author interviewed: Mrs. R. N. Roach, a daughter of Oliver Loving; Lafayette Wilson, who helped pull the arrow out of Long Joe Loving, W. D. Reynolds, W. B. Slaughter, A. M. Lasater, and many others who were living on the frontier at the time. Further Ref: A written account by Chas. Goodnight, himself, kindly furnished the author by Mrs. J. P. Owens; Pioneer Days in the Southwest, which contains the reminiscenes of Chas. Goodnight, a story entitled, Chas. Goodnght-Trail Blazer.

The above story is from the book, The West Texas Frontier, by Joseph Carroll McConnell.

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