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Western Art

Charles Goodnight

A Texas Legend

Painting historical scenes from one of America’s favorite real-life stories can mean you don’t get a lot of leeway in how you depict things. Lee Cable was approached by Jim Parkman about painting a series of pieces depicting the life and accomplishments of Charles Goodnight, a hero among Texans and cattlemen of all kinds. Goodnight found a way to drive cattle to market that exposed the drive to the smallest amount of hostilities with Native Americans and outlaws. He also pioneered the marketing of longhorn cattle, which could survive the rough conditions on the trail through Texas and up through New Mexico to Fort Sumner. He invented the concept of the chuckwagon.

But when an artist depicts a historical figure, some hard decisions need to be made. The biggest question is how much of a stickler for factual detail the painter will be.

In the case of Charles Goodnight, much is written, but not much is illustrated. That meant Cable had to read journals, letters, and other research material carefully to determine what Goodnight probably wore, rode, and saw on his historic cattle drives. But it became clear to Cable that he was going to have to invent much in the paintings. That suited him fine.

Parkman asked Cable for some ideas for paintings, and Cable came up with 95 of them.  They decided to shoot for 25 concepts.  The first seven paintings went on view at the Museum of Western Art in Kerrville, Texas.  Cable admitted to being a little nervous before the opening.

This is a pictorial interpretation of our view of his life.  It is historical.  I want the focus to be on Charles Goodnight.  That’s why we are doing this series.  Most people just know “Lonesome Dove”, the miniseries based on Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving.

“This is my concept of what I read”, says Cable.  “People will be hard pressed to say that it didn’t happen the way I depicted it, but still, it is my conjecture of what happened.  There weren’t any photos on a cattle drive in his time!”

{Excerpts taken from an article by Bob Bahr for the SKB Foundation]