The Cattle Trail Drive

The Cattle Trail Drive
Photograph by Justin Carrasquillo

ROUTE: Fort Belknap to Red Bluff 
DISTANCE: 505 miles
WHAT TO READ: J. Evetts Haley’s Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman

In the rolling country northwest of the Palo Pinto Mountains, nestled along FM 61, stand the barracks of Fort Belknap. It was from this outpost, in 1860, that a hastily assembled group of soldiers, including a young scout named Charles Goodnight, set out to punish Comanche raiders. In the ensuing Battle of Pease River, Goodnight would help recapture Cynthia Ann Parker, the most famous captive in Texas history. Explore the restored powder magazine and a small museum that features a fascinating collection of antique pistols and long rifles. Then head north on FM 61 before turning west on U.S. 380.

In less than three miles you will cross the Brazos River, where, in 1866, Goodnight assembled a mixed herd of two thousand cattle with his partner, Oliver Loving. In one of the first major drives after the Civil War, they planned to move their livestock across the open range to Fort Sumner, in the New Mexico Territory, nearly four hundred miles to the west. Goodnight, however, dared not take the direct path, which led straight through Comancheria. Instead, he would swing southwest along the abandoned Butterfield Overland Mail route.

To retrace his approximate path, continue west to Throckmorton. The landscape features dramatic views to the south studded with nopalito and cattle, which graze safely behind their fences. Turn south on U.S. 283, which runs near the site of the old Camp Cooper, where Robert E. Lee assumed his first command. Goodnight would have crossed the highway just north of FM 209. Continue south to Albany, then west on U.S. 180, where the land flattens out. Turning south on FM 600, you stumble upon the ruins of Fort Phantom Hill, which were already a ghostly sight when Goodnight saw them. Push south through Abilene on FM 89 toward Buffalo Gap, where the drama returns to the landscape. This is the Callahan Divide, a

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