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The Grave of Oliver Loving

 

A little bit west of Fort Worth, Texas, in the town of Weatherford, we went looking for the grave of Oliver Loving, legendary rancher and friend of the equally legendary Charles Goodnight. The two of them together pioneered the Goodnight-Loving Trail that swung west across Texas and New Mexico and thence north to stock the northern ranges of the plains. We found Loving’s gravesite, and a whole lot more of interest, in Weatherford.

Right away we spotted a fantastic, turreted brick building complex the gateway to which read, Texas Pythian Home. Men’s lodges were vital institutions up and down the plains in the frontier generation. Men joined such organizations as the Masons not only for society but also for mutual support in time of disaster. If a man, say, died in an accident, then his brothers from the Masons, the Woodmen of the World, or the Knights of Pythias not only would be pallbearers but also would take up a collection for the widow.

The Texas Pythians took care of their widows and orphans in a big way, with this fantastic castle built in 1907. Downtown, too, is a corner brick building that was the lodge hall. Initiates into the Knights of Pythias, incidentally, were required to hold hands with a human skeleton as part of the ceremony. Mounted on the front of the lodge hall is a man-sized iron knight.

We asked about this in the nearby office of Texas Butane, something of a historic site itself, fifty years in this same office, and the lady in charge had a story about the knight on the lodge hall. It seems several local boys one night got the idea they would take the knight off his perch. Two of them on the roof were holding the legs of the third one, who was hanging down and trying to loosen the fastenings on the knight, when the town constable drove up.

The constable shouted, “Billy, does your father know where you are right now?”

“No sir, but I reckon in about fifteen minutes he will.”

Catty-corner across from the lodge hall is the French Second Empire style Parker County Courthouse, with an impressive Daughters of the Confederacy monument out front and an imposing, high-ceilinged courtroom inside. According to rules posted by the door, Judge Ben Akers runs a tight ship: no drinks, no children, no piercings, “absolutely no shorts,” no flip-flops, no caps, women’s shoulders to be covered, men’s shirts to have collars. This guy should have a TV show.

Finally, we found the gravesite for Oliver and Susan Loving in Greenwood Cemetery. The cattleman died in New Mexico from wounds suffered in an Indian fight, but was carried home for burial in Weatherford by his partner, Goodnight. If this is starting to sound familiar, it’s because you’ve seen it in Lonesome Dove, Loving and Goodnight being prototypes for the novel and film, in which Woodrow (read Charles) hauls home the corpse of Gus (read Oliver).

And if you remember Deets, the heroic black cowboy in the story, then you’ll find his prototype, Bose Ikard, in a marked site on the other side of the cemetery. His gravestonecarries a tribute from his boss, Goodnight: “Bose Ikard served with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, never shirked a duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me in many stampedes, participated in three engagements with Comanches, splendid behavior.”

Is Weatherford, Texas, unique among prairie towns for its historic features? Of course, but every town is uniquely historic. Have a look around your own.

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