Bill May: Meat for the miners
Tales from the ranch
December 10, 2006
The gold rush to the Rockies started in 1859 after the precious metal was discovered in the creekbed sand and gravel at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River (the heart of present-day downtown Denver).
Well-established immigrant trails to the West were already heavily used, but they went around Colorado to the north and south. Well, one branch of the Santa Fe Trail crossed a corner of Colorado by following the trade route of the beaver trappers up the Arkansas River to Bent’s Fort (or Fort William, as it was known in the early days).
From Bent’s Fort, the Santa Fe Trail angled southwest to the Purgatoire River, and then on into New Mexico over Raton Pass. And the more heavily used branch of the Santa Fe Trail (the Dry Cimarron Cutoff) angled southwest from the Arkansas much farther east. That trail barely touched the southwest corner of Colorado before crossing into present-day Oklahoma. And, of course, the Oregon Trail (with its several branches such as the Mormon Trail into Utah and the various routes into Nevada and California) followed the North Platte River out of Nebraska into Wyoming.
This is not to say there were no trails into the Colorado mountains, for the Arkansas and South Platte rivers had long been principal arteries of the fur trade. But these routes were known to few people other than the trappers.
By the early 1860s, gold seekers were arriving in the foothills and in the mountains in hordes, and they were hungry. They had to be fed, but hauling supplies from Iowa or Missouri was extremely expensive. Charlie Goodnight and John Dawson were quick to recognize the potential market for Texas beef in the gold camps.
Goodnight was an experienced driver, having helped push herds up the Santa Fe and Chisholm Trails. Dawson, being five years older than Goodnight, might easily have started his driving career as early as 1846 with my father’s uncle Dan Yoacham.
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Goodnight, along with Oliver Loving, scouted a route from southwest Texas to the Pecos River, which they followed into New Mexico. Near the head of the Pecos, they struck north to intersect the Santa Fe Trail near Raton Pass.
Over the next several years, Goodnight moved thousands of cattle up this route, known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail.