Molly Goodnight heard the boom of the buffalo hunters’ loud guns and it must’ve sounded like the rattle of doom over the plains. She was a rare female witness to the slaughter of the giant beasts.
In 1878 when the guns finally fell silent, fewer than one hundred buffalo survived in Texas. One day from her home on the J.A. Ranch she heard the pitiful cries of the babies. She found them huddling with their dead mothers and heart ached for them.
Something had to be done. She rode out over the range to find her husband. At first, Charles said to let nature take her course. But Molly couldn’t accept that. She was a very persuasive woman. Before long, they had those babies at the house and she bottle-fed them.
Molly was born Mary Ann Dyer in Tennessee in 1839. She was followed by five brothers. When she was fourteen, her parents moved to Texas. She became a schoolteacher and was traveling with an escort of soldiers when Charles Goodnight rode from the brush. He already was a well-respected rancher and fearless Indian fighter. Before long, he was a regular caller.
Charles was drawn to Molly’s grace, intelligence, and smile that lit up her eyes. He courted her for five years before saving up enough money to ask her to marry him. Life wasn’t easy and she lived in dugouts and rough places where she didn’t see another woman for months and months at a time. But she never complained. Where Charles was, that’s where she wanted to be also. Her place was at his side.
Despite the solitude, she loved the wildlife and enjoyed riding over the land and seeing what was there. She studied plants and learned which made the right teas, tonics, salves, and compresses. Keeping her mind occupied was what helped her survive the lonely rigors of life on the desolate prairie.
And when they moved to their last home, a ranch in a town named for Charles—Goodnight, Texas—she threw wide the doors to the poor and rich alike. Their castle on the prairie saw a constant flow of the poor and the rich. The home became a center for cultural and social life and Molly saw her dream of opening a college finally realized.
Sadly, they never had any children of their own, but raised several others. Molly died in 1926. Charles followed in 1929 and was laid to rest beside his darling Molly. I love visiting that cemetery. To honor her as much as Charles, visitors tie colorful bandanas to the fence. The sight always puts a lump in my throat and my eyes fill with tears.
Generations of those orphaned baby buffaloes that Molly raised, are still at the Goodnight homestead today. All because of one woman whose gentle heart refused to let them die.
Can you think of anyone else (past or present-man or woman) who played such a huge role in saving animals from extinction?