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Monday, 30 March, 2015 10:13:06 pm Issue Date: July 28, 2011
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This is Texas History Month. Be a Texan!
Cornyn's Texas Times: Molly Goodnight
... The Darling of the Plains
Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn ♦ July 29 2011 10:19:07

Known as the "Mother of the Panhandle," this month marks 141 years since the marriage of Mary Ann "Molly" Dyer to one of Texas' most famous ranchers, Charles Goodnight. Married on July 26, 1870, the couple spent a seven – year stint ranching in Pueblo, Colorado, before a number of unfavorable conditions resulted in their relocation to the Palo Duro Canyon. According to historical accounts, Molly, as she would be regarded by cowhands throughout the years, considered Texas to be much more civilized than Colorado and was particularly disturbed when two men were found hanged to death on a telegraph pole nearby. This lack of civility, coupled with the ensuing drought and the Panic of 1873, resulted in the Goodnights relocating to the Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle.

Charles found a financial backer in John George Adair, a wealthy Irish landowner, and the two men and their wives started the JA Ranch in the Palo Duro Canyon. The Goodnights convinced the Adairs to select this location because of the plentiful grass for grazing, a steady water supply, and protection for the cattle during the winter by the canyon walls.

The group moved a herd of 100 Durham bulls and four wagons stocked with provisions to the site in May of 1877 and built a two – room cabin. Soon the Adairs left the management of the ranch to Charles and Molly, signing a five – year contract that guaranteed Charles one – third of the ranch's interest and a $2,500 annual salary. Charles began what would become an 11 – year career with the JA Ranch, growing the herd and expanding the ranch, which at its peak spanned 1,325,000 acres. Faithfully by his side was Molly, who not only carried out the duties of homemaker but also served as his helpmate on the ranch. Charles designed a two – horned saddle to make it easier for Molly to navigate the ranch on horseback. She quickly learned the ins and outs of ranch life, including the often long and lonely periods when few visitors would cross their path and the nearest neighbors lived 75 miles away. It's said that when a cowboy gave the Goodnights three chickens as a token of appreciation – intended for a Sunday supper – Molly made the chickens her personal pets to help pass the time.

Over the years, Molly earned the respect and admiration of the cattlemen for the compassion she showed them and the natural remedies she developed for wounds and fevers. She often gave parties for the cowboys, mended their clothes, and taught a number of them how to read. For this, she was soon regarded as the "Mother of the Panhandle" or the "Darling of the Plains."

Molly also extended her compassion to orphaned buffalo calves who were left to die after commercial hunters killed their mothers on the range. By rescuing the orphaned buffalo and bottle – feeding them, Molly established an impressive buffalo herd, soon known around the world as the Goodnight Herd. Many credit her efforts with helping to prevent the extinction of the southern buffalo.

As the Panhandle became more populated, Molly donated her time to various philanthropic efforts. In 1898, she and Charles helped establish Goodnight College through the donation of 340 acres. Molly passed away in April 1926. A fitting tribute to her life, her gravestone was inscribed: "Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight One who spent her whole life in the service of others."

Today, visitors can catch a glimpse of Molly Goodnight's life in various exhibits at the Armstrong County Museum in Claude, Texas. The museum is also working to restore the Goodnight home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and develop the Charles Goodnight Historical Center. To learn more (–Click).


Senator Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Agriculture and Budget Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.
U.S. Senator: John Cornyn's Web Site

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