Just outside of Pueblo’s city limits sits a decrepit-looking barn. Gated-off and crumbling at the foundation, the structure somehow manages to look both unwelcoming and intriguing. The Arkansas River serves as a mosquito-ridden backdrop and the view from the front of the building displays cars speeding along, to and from Lake Pueblo State Park.
No one goes inside the barn and the general public is not even allowed past the gates, which becomes abundantly clear upon reading the signs posted there. That hasn’t stopped people, though. A few curious people wandered past the gate once, when the barn’s curators forgot to close it behind them. Luckily, they just looked around and no harm was done on the occasion, but it is sort of difficult to blame them.
After all, the barn is one of the most important historical structures in the American West.
The Goodnight Barn, as unwelcoming as it may look today, was once part of a thriving homestead and a vital headquarters for the Goodnight-Loving cattle trail.
Built in 1871 by prominent rancher Charles Goodnight, the rest of the homestead once included a house, a stone corral, two silos, and a pigeon cote. No one today knows what the house looked like or where it stood on the property, as it burned down in a fire, and the only remnants of the two silos exist in old pictures.
A bit of the stone corral’s foundation still lies adjacent to the barn and the pigeon cote was removed in 1995.
Conversely, the old barn still looks curiously grand and beautiful for a structure that has either been vacant or undergoing some form of alteration in the hundred-plus years it’s been since Goodnight left.
There was a restoration effort in the mid-90s that resulted in the removal of the pigeon cote, the roof and the second floor of the structure. Today, the walls of the barn appear to be tilting outward at the top, which makes it seem as though removal of the second floor did more harm than good, and the replacement roof is inauthentic to the original architecture.
It was converted into a dairy barn in the 1920s and remained in that capacity until the ‘70s when Valco Incorporated, a sand and gravel company, used it for storage. Regular maintenance and activity helped the barn avoid deterioration and vandalism.
Even amid the crumbling foundation and sizable cracks that are forming in the walls, the barn has an air of significance. The entrance to the hayloft–which sits above the main entrance–has an artfully crafted lintel above it, which is unusual for a barn.
The entire barn was built from hand-hewn stone found around Pueblo, along with other local materials, many of which are still part of the barn. Part of the reason the barn has been standing so long is the unique attention to detail in the architecture and the local material.
As much as the original architecture has worked in favor of the barn’s longevity, decay is proving to be inexorable.
“We know the barn is not going to last much longer without some help” said Laurel Campbell, co-chairperson of the Goodnight Barn Preservation and Fundraising Committee.
A restoration effort is underway and the committee is making a hopeful attempt to revive a structure that has become part of one of the most regaling tales of the Old West.
Much of what Charles Goodnight did was unusual.
His father died when he was five and his mother remarried a farmer before moving the family from Illinois to Texas.
Goodnight only had about six months of formal education and then became consumed with farming and ranching. He carried this passion with him when moved away from his family to northwest Texas, where he was introduced to moving cattle.
He joined the Texas Rangers and eventually fought with the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Strange for the time and circumstance, his head ranch hand was Bose Ikard, a freed slave whom he trusted implicitly with various tasks, most significantly his banking. Ikard proved to be an invaluable trailblazer, and a man that Goodnight came to admire. “He was ahead of his time,” said Linda Crawford, co-chair of the restoration committee.
Both men became so prominent in the West that they have still-existing elementary schools named after them. Goodnight Elementary is here in Pueblo while Bose Ikard Elementary is in Texas.
A large chunk of Goodnight’s prominence came from his innovative spirit. “He basically redesigned a Studebaker wagon to fit a cowboy’s needs,” Crawford said. Out of this came the invention of the chuck wagon. He was also one of the first ranchers to use barbed wire and irrigation.
Most of Goodnight’s fame, though, came from driving cattle across the Goodnight-Loving Trail with another man he trusted and admired.
He left Texas in 1866 with his partner Oliver Loving to start what would become one of the most traveled-upon trails in the West.
Goodnight and Loving exemplified what it meant to be a cowboy. Nearly everything about them was tough–even their cattle. The men chose to drive longhorn across their trail because of their ability to travel long distances without water.
This choice, however, meant that they could not stop moving for more than 80 miles at a time because it was impossible to get the cattle to stand after a period of rest.
In true cowboy fashion, Loving eventually died on the trail after being shot with an arrow by a group of Indians. He suffered a wound in his arm and could have healed after an amputation, but he refused to take the measure. Goodnight honored his last wish by taking him home to Texas to be buried.
Their story was so authentically Western that it inspired Larry McMurtry’s iconic novel and eventual television series Lonesome Dove. Many of the story lines correspond directly with those of Goodnight and Loving.
After Loving’s death, Goodnight bought part of the Nolan Grant and a piece of Colorado land. Here, he built the Rock Canyon Ranch and an unusual, albeit sturdy barn.
“Pueblo can lay claim to that significant western story and legacy,” Campbell said.
Goodnight only stayed in Pueblo for six years but that was enough time to leave a lasting impact on the community.
The restoration committee hopes to raise enough money and awareness to authentically restore the barn and preserve that legacy. Full restoration will include three phases and potential success will require a combination of fundraising by the committee and funding from the state.
In order to accomplish this, the committee is putting on a fundraising event on September 13. The event will include a gunfight, an art and jewelry auction, appearances by two longhorns and of course, a chuck wagon dinner.
The committee is seeing an outpouring of community support and a growing number of artists have come forward to donate art for the auction. A signed copy of Lonesome Dove will be available, along the chance to spend a day on Vold Ranch with rodeo stars Harry and Karen Vold.
Photos of the artwork are available at Facebook.com/goodnightbarn and tickets to the event are available at HistoricPueblo.org.
“It’s too large of a tale to keep to ourselves,” Campbell said. “It needs to be preserved and shared.”
If the committee reaches its goal of full and authentic barn restoration, they hope to open it to the public. Perhaps one day the unusual barn won’t be crumbling anymore, and any wandering people will be welcome.
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