A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Wild West Meals on Wheels
by Gordon Eskridge (Jul 2013)


In 1866 over eight thousand Navajos had been interned at the Bosque Redondo reservation under the control of Fort Sumner, but due to the poor conditions on the reservation for agriculture and inadequate planning by the US authorities for provisions, there was an urgent demand for new food supplies.

Colonel Goodnight pondered this while sitting in a poker game at Fort Belknap, Texas, where he and his partner Oliver Loving decided there was money in getting cattle to the Navajos.

Goodnight at 30 years of age, five foot ten, dark hair, full mustache and beard dressed in a black suit, white shirt, string tie and cowboy boots. He lived in south west Texas where there were a lot of cows and grass and not much else. This former Cowboy, Texas Ranger and Confederate Colonel was looking for something to do with his life.

Charles Goodnight being ex-military knew the importance of logistics for his crew. To drive cattle required daily meals, bedrolls, extra gear, and supplies. A humble Cowboy could work harder on a full stomach and a good night sleep. The trail would often last two or more months moving cattle several miles each day. On past cattle drives, cowboys often relied on eating what they carried in their saddle bags such as dried beef, corn fritters, or biscuits.

First Goodnight needed a good cook and in the Dallas Herald he had read about a young man who had been General Grant’s cook in the Civil War. He wrote him a letter and offered him a job at sixty dollars a month. The cook showed up two weeks later and together they designed a mobile kitchen: a modified Studebaker wagon, field box on the back where the lid would fold down for a work table; a water barrel on one side of the wagon; tool box on the other; a “Bonnet” of canvas to keep things in the wagon dry.

Goodnight-Loving trail began at Fort Belknap, Texas. With 18 cowboys and 2,000 cows we traveled along part of the route of the Butterfield Overland Stage. Traveling through central Texas across the Staked Plains where there is a lot of dry grass and alkali dust and nothing lives except a few wild horses. To drink the alkali water it had to be filtered with charcoal from last night’s fire. Cattle drives were only possible in the spring when the shallow playa lakes formed from the spring rains. Heading South to Horsehead Crossing the Apaches had left their mark moving into Mexico. Turning North along the Pecos River we reached Pope's Crossing where quicksand was to be found.. The drive into New Mexico from Pope’s Crossing to Fort Sumner was one of up and down hills along the Pecos River with plenty of good grass and water. The chuck wagon had proved its worth and the cook also. Goodnight and Loving received twelve thousand dollars in gold to reinvest in more Texas cattle. The era of the chuck wagon had begun.


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