September 25, 2007

September 25 | Oliver Loving

December 4, 1812 - September 25, 1867: Age 54

In 1866 the Civil War had all but destroyed the US cattle industry. Although both armies needed to be supplied with beef, the overall disruption in supply lines had meant a population explosion in the Texas herds. Moreover, those who supplied the Confederate army were left with a lot of worthless IOUs at the end of the war.

Oliver Loving was one of those men: the Confederate Army owed him more than $100,000 which he had no hope of collecting. Originally a farmer born in Kentucky, Loving was a cowman who considered himself a Texan. He is thought to be the first man to trail cattle out of Texas. In 1866 he and his partner Charles Goodnight began driving cattle northwest, to the new Indian reservations, mining camps, and railway crews working their way across the country. These new markets were further west than ever before, and Loving and Goodnight were able to earn $12,000 in gold for their efforts that year.

The following year they set out again. In June, Goodnight stayed with the herd while Loving went ahead with one companion to get to Denver in time to bid on the lucrative government contracts that were to be offered in July. Although Loving promised Goodnight that he would not travel by day (the territory was full of hostile Indians) he got impatient after a couple of days and struck out in daylight. By the afternoon they were being chased by a band of several hundred Comanches. They made for a nearby river where the banks were more than 100 feet high, left their horses, and hid themselves among sand dunes and reeds.

The Indians had them pinned, but it is extremely difficult to deal with two well-armed men in a strong position. During an attempt at a parley Loving was wounded in the side and sustained a broken arm. Thinking that he would die from his wounds, he asked his companion to sneak away.

The companion, leaving most of the guns and ammunition with Loving, managed to slip away by swimming down the river with no supplies, wearing only his underwear. He holed up in a cave a day's journey back toward the herd and waited for the herd to arrive. Within three days they found him, starving, and heard his tale. Goodnight took a party of men to the spot where Loving was last seen, but he could not be found and they supposed the Indians had killed him and thrown his body into the river. In fact Loving, when the wound in his side hadn't killed him after a day, managed to slip out the same way his companion did and made it to a road. After five days with no food, he was picked up by a party of Mexicans and taken to Fort Sumner for medical attention.

The broken arm had to be amputated, but the doctor there was reluctant to do so. When Goodnight and his men found him there the mortification was clearly gaining and they sent to Santa Fe for a doctor to do it. The arm was amputated, but the gangrene had already reached his body. Loving died September 25.

Before he died he expressed sadness at being buried in a "foreign country". Goodnight promised to take the body back to Texas. He had the body temporarily buried while he completed the drive, then returned, had it exhumed, and put his wooden coffin into a casket made of flattened tins. The long journey back to Texas inspired the story, Lonesome Dove.

Sources: PBS — The West, Trail Drivers of Texas, Wikipedia

1 comment:

Ulla said...

The stories are told so vividly, one can really imagine the life and times of these characters. They are also a reminder of them who went before us, with their good and bad days, one day all that is left of us,
are few words and pictures, the joys and pains that we so concentrate on while here, long gone and forgotten like they never existed... All those emotions from people who have passed on.... Are they lingering around those of us who are still in a human form....?