Stories of legendary cattleman Charles Goodnight have been told and told again, perhaps most famously as the inspiration for Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove.”
The former Texas Ranger is recognized as the father of the Texas Panhandle, creator of the chuck wagon and co-establisher with Oliver Loving of the Goodnight-Loving Trail to get cattle from Texas to Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming, among many things.
Perhaps less well-known are his connections to southern Colorado. For about six years, he lived on a ranch west of Pueblo and became a prominent benefactor of the city.
Since 2002, the city of Pueblo and a group of historical preservationists have worked to preserve his Colorado story, and they have a grand vision of developing an interpretive center, pavilion and more at Goodnight’s former Rock Canyon Ranch along the Arkansas River near Lake Pueblo State Park.
The centerpiece is the Goodnight Barn, completed in 1871, after Goodnight and his bride, Mary Ann Dyer, moved to the ranch. It is the only original structure remaining; the ranch house was destroyed by fire in 1884, according to information from the Goodnight Barn Historic Preservation Committee.
The ranch was the northern headquarters for the Goodnight-Loving Trail, and cattle grazed and fattened there before the drive to stock markets in Denver and Cheyenne.
The stone structure withstood the test of time until the hayloft was removed and deterioration began, said Laurel Campbell, co-chairperson of the committee. The barn is listed on the national and state historic registers.
Some of the former ranchland was acquired by Transit Mix and included a quarry and batch plant. The barn wasn’t needed.
The National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas, wanted to tear the barn apart and reassemble it at its center, but in 2002, the city of Pueblo stepped in and bought the barn and 1.5 acres of land to preserve it in Colorado, said Bill Zwick, Pueblo’s capital projects manager.
The barn was reinforced to keep it intact until a complete historical renovation could occur, Campbell said. And the fundraising began.
Zwick said between grants and other fundraising, they’ve accumulated about $530,000 – enough that the Colorado Department of Local Affairs encouraged the city to apply for a matching grant of $1.5 million to get the project underway. The money would pay for the restoration of the barn, a parking lot, accessible trail to the barn and security fencing, Zwick said.
If the grant comes through in November, Zwick hopes to begin construction in the spring and be completed within a year.
But there could be more on the horizon.
The city and preservation committee are working with the state, Pueblo County and other entities on a grand vision for the future.
Because of its proximity to Lake Pueblo State Park, the Chain of Lakes area below the reservoir and the Pueblo Nature and Raptor Center, Zwick said there is an “opportunity for partnerships to make this thing dynamite-plus.”
The dream is to include an interpretive center, link trails throughout the region, provide more camping areas and build a Western Heritage Pavilion for events – such as chuck wagon dinners. Goodnight in 1866 invented the chuck wagon for cattle drives.
The state has a less dramatic master plan for the area, but the city and county weren’t involved much in that process, Zwick said.
Although the larger vision for the area could carry a $10 million price tag, Zwick said it would be a great investment. Lake Pueblo State Park draws about 2 million visitors a year, and he believes many of those people would do other things, such as stay for a chuck wagon dinner and entertainment.
They’ve had a chuck wagon dinner at the site – one of the first fundraisers for the restoration project, Campbell said.
The committee has continued that tradition for six years but moved the event to the Union Depot in Pueblo, she said, because everything – generators, water, etc. – had to be trucked to the barn site.
Sue McMillin, a longtime journalist and former city editor at The Durango Herald, is a freelance writer and editor living in Victor.