By Mel Rhodes
While many places in Texas and the West tap into the cowboy history of the region, often melding myth and reality to create a larger-than-life legacy, no adornment is necessary in Palo Pinto and Parker counties.
True pioneers and legends of the heady days of the great trail drives lived in and operated out of this area, chief among them Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving.
Anyone who has spent time in this area has heard the names Goodnight and Loving, or perhaps seen them cast on roadside State Historical Markers.
These cattlemen operated during the heyday of the American cowboy, during the 20 or so years of the great cattle drives – roughly from immediately after the Civil War until the railroads came to Texas.
Executing an audacious plan to supply Texas beef to northern and western markets, thereby pulling themselves and the local economy from the ruin of post-Civil War reality in the South, these men of vision established the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Along this livestock artery – which first struck out west to the Pecos Country then north through New Mexico to avoid or at least minimize contact with hostile bands of Native Americans keen on retaining control over their traditional hunting grounds in Northern Texas – the partners moved thousands of head of longhorn cattle.
The Goodnight-Loving partnership was indeed the stuff of legend. Larry McMurtry's 1985 Pulitzer-prize-winning "Lonesome Dove" is based in part on their exploits. The novel was adapted into a mini-series of the same name which won seven Emmy Awards and introduced the Goodnight-Loving story to a different, larger audience.
Local historical groups are well aware of this rich history and promote it whenever possible. One such group is the Doss Heritage and Culture Center in Weatherford.
According to a DHCC press release:
"On Tuesday, February 19, you can meet Oliver Loving or Charles Goodnight while strolling through the new Trail Drivers exhibit during the members-only preview beginning at 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. at the Doss Heritage and Culture Center in Weatherford. Copper Creek will be providing hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar along with the players from Theatre Off the Square who are providing the entertainment in the form of the two legendary cowboys."
"Trail Drivers" is the newest exhibit at DHCC and though the Feb. 19 opening is a members-only affair, it opens to the general public Wednesday, Feb. 20.
Concerning the members-only preview, the press release offered:
“It’s a great time to thank all of our loyal members and welcome new ones,” said Heather Castagna, Executive Director. “Although our exhibit openings are usually open to the public, we wanted to make this one really special. If you’d like to join us, come by the museum and sign up or become a member on our website. Memberships start as low as $25 for students or single-person memberships,” she continued.
The release added that "attire for the evening is Dressy Western and attendees must present proof of membership for free admission to the exhibit opening. Memberships may be purchased the night of the reception."
The exhibit is designed to be an informed look at the two local cattlemen.
“Parker County played an integral role in the development of the Goodnight Loving story and that legacy continues today,” said Amanda Rush, Curator. “Visitors will learn about Charles Goodnight’s chuck wagon design and how Loving’s body returned to Weatherford after he met his untimely death on the trail,” she added.
According to the press release, "Trail Drivers" will shed light on "the famous and infamous cowboys who made Texas a name known throughout the country from the end of the Civil war through 1900... and connect the story of the longhorn cattle's importance to Texas history to conservation efforts being done today to keep the breed alive."
Also on hand will be the new "Katrina Wright-Sculpted Stitches" exhibition and "Gracie," DHCC's bison skeleton discovered on a Parker County ranch in 1985.
"The Gracie bison skeleton is thought to be a ceremonially buried buffalo and will be on display with portions of the DHCC’s extensive arrowhead collection," according to DHCC.
The bottom line is DHCC is about to open yet another window to the area's colorful past and you are invited to take a look.
The Doss Heritage and Culture Center is located at 1400 Texas Drive in Weatherford. The phone number is (817) 599-6168. For more information on exhibits and activities, visit the museum’s Facebook page or the website at www.dosscenter.org.