On the Trail the Pecos Trail, Part I

Posted by on Jul 8, 2013 in cattle drive, road trip | 5 comments

Unlike the Chisholm Trail, the Goodnight-Loving/Goodnight/Pecos Trail is not very well marked or celebrated. It’s not even well-mapped, as I discovered to my dismay when I started trying to match the few places mentioned in my research sources with modern maps. In fact, most maps you can find on Google are drawn wrong. So I was starting practically from scratch in trying to figure out where exactly this trail went.

(and if you’re wondering why I use three different names for this trail, it is because it was not until the early 20th century, when J. Evetts Haley’s biography of Charles Goodnight was published, that the trail was referred to as the Goodnight Trail. Goodnight may have proved the trail could be profitable, and some of the upper extensions were of his making, but he was not the first to trail cattle up the Pecos River into New Mexico.)

This is the list I started with:
Horsehead Crossing. On the Pecos River. My story starts north of this crossing, so I didn’t research the section of the trail from Fort Belknap to Horsehead. This is where most maps show the trail shifting to the western side of the Pecos.
Pope’s Crossing. What didn’t make sense is that most books say that the trail crossed again to the west side here. So somewhere between Horsehead and Pope’s the trail must have crossed back to the east side.
Delaware River
Black River
Loving’s Bend. Somewhere near modern Carlsbad.
Bosque Grande (“Big Timbers)
Fort Sumner, NM

That’s not much to make a map with, especially since many of these places no longer exist or have shifted locations.

I finally came across Patrick Dearen’s excellent books on the Pecos River. He’d already done a great deal of footwork and research using primary sources, and his books Crossing Rio Pecos and A Cowboy of the Pecos gave me actual distances and modern placements. So I was able to flesh out my sites to something like this:
Horsehead Crossing. The trail touched the Pecos here, but did not cross! Instead, it continued up the east side of the river, only dipping in from time to time to access one of the very few safe watering places along its twisted course. These were (from south to north) :

  1. Dagger Bend--about 5 miles west of modern Grandfalls on a sharp crook in the river
  2. Pecos Falls–where the Reeves/Pecos county lines intersect the Pecos River
  3. Adobe Walls–18 wagon miles up from Pecos Falls, 1 mile downstream from where the river turns west again
  4. Texas Bend–large bend about 16 miles north of modern-day Pecos
  5. Narbo’s Crossing–10.5 miles southeast of modern-day Orla, at the end of a northeast trending draw called Narrow Bow
  6. Sand Bend–another 12 miles north from Narbo’s, on a sharp west turn of the river

After Sand Bend, the trail leaves the Pecos and heads about 10 miles northwest to Pope’s Camp.
Pope’s Crossing. Another 3 miles northwest of Pope’s Camp and about 1 air mile south of the New Mexico border. Both are now hidden under Red Bluff Reservoir.
Delaware River Crossing. The crossing was about 100-200 yards from where the Delaware River meets the Pecos.
Red Bluff. Another watering place about 3.5 miles north of the Delaware.
Black River Crossing. About 300 yards upstream from the Pecos River, and about 1.6 miles northeast of present-day Malaga.
Loving Bend. Also known as Wildcat Bluff. A watering place and crossing where the Dark Canyon Draw meets the Pecos.
Patterson’s Crossing. About 2 miles downstream from where the Seven Rivers meet and flow into the Pecos. This crossing is impossible to pinpoint as the place where the Seven Rivers flows into the Pecos is now beneath Brantley Lake.

From here the map gets vague again. Carlsbad to Fort Sumner there are only three sites mentioned. These are:
Lloyd’s Crossing. About where the US-70 bridge crosses the Pecos.
Bosque Grande. 14 miles up from Lloyd’s. Hard to pinpoint, but there is a Bosque Draw in that area, which is as good a choice as any.
Fort Sumner. 47 miles from Bosque Grande. The fort itself is slightly south of the town that has its name.

So now I had a pretty good idea what the first section of the trail looked like. In Part II and III I’ll share the trials of trying to figure out the trail from Fort Sumner to Trinchera Pass, and then from Trinchera Pass to Cheyenne, Wyoming. And, hopefully, I’ll have a real map made up soon to share with you!



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  1. Very interesting!! Thank you for sharing your discoveries with us.

  2. All very interesting! So, are there two Delaware Rivers??? Or does the Delaware River flow all the way from Delaware to Texas?? I really can’t wait to see that map because then things will make more sense for my very visual mind 🙂

  3. Thanks for your work. I searched and searched for the site of Bosque Grande, and only when I ran into this study was I basically sure of its location. I write and study John Chisum now and then. I live two blocks from his grave in Paris, Texas. See my books at my site on Amazon.com

  4. You helped me add markers on my maps. Thank you!

    • You’re very welcome 😀

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