Texas Trails

Clay Coppedge, Southern Livestock Standard

April 4, 2024

The Saga of Doak Good

Just after the demise of the great buffalo herds and the Comanches, but before towns or vestiges of civilization popped up on the Llano Estacado, a few hardy individuals claimed that vast and lonesome land as their own. Doak Good was one of those people.

E.S. McNairy encountered Good when his outfit trailed a herd of cattle across the Llano Estacado, headed for Greer County, in 1879. The weather was bad, so they took the cattle into the Yellow House Canyon, near present-day Lubbock, to take advantage of its abundant grass, water and shelter. This was lonely, deserted country and McNairy and his cowboys were surprised to find some young cattle that did not belong to their herd wandering about in the canyon. 

Spurred by curiosity, McNairy investigated and found a very crude shack consisting of buffalo hides supported by a few poles. There were ashes, an axe, a tin can that obviously worked as a coffee pot and water bucket, along with small quantities of flour, salt and coffee. A piece of buffalo meat was tied up to the rafters. 

 “I was forcibly impressed with the squalid, forlorn appearance of the place and was wondering what manner of man or men, recluse or hermit, could so disdain civilization and the commonest comforts of life in such a wild, dreary place and inflict upon himself such scant provisions for the sustenance of life,” McNairy later recalled.

McNairy’s curiosity was quenched when a young man about 18-years-old rode up and introduced himself as Doak Good, owner of the cattle that McNairy had seen. Trail driver Jack Potter described Good as about 5-foot-8, slender, with medium brown hair. “His mustache was light and barely covered his upper lip and it was a blonde color,” he wrote. “In fact, when I first met Doak Good, you could {have} passed him off for a big, blonde nester girl.” 

Things got too crowded for Good’s tastes when somebody had the audacity to establish a ranch a mere 25 miles from his Yellow House hideaway. He left and was apparently part of, wittingly or not, the Star Route Swindle, a scheme concocted by Sen. S.W. Dorsey and others to collect money from non-existent or unnecessary mail routes. 

Good and Ben Webb were hired to carry mail between Singer’s Store (the future site of Lubbock) and Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and all points in between. There weren’t a lot of points in between and not a lot of mail going from Singer’s Store to Fort Sumner. The two men combined to deliver exactly one letter over the course of six months. 

On one of his infrequent trips to New Mexico, Good passed Portales Springs and decided the springs, adjacent lake and the absence of people made it a good place to run some cattle. He set up camp in some caves under overhanging caliche porches, later upgrading to a house and sheds made out of waste rock. He ran 300 to 400 head of cattle at the springs and tried to mind his own business. 

That wasn’t always possible. Good got crosswise with Gabe Henson (or Hanson in some accounts) after Henson and his larcenous cohorts commenced stealing cattle and turning them out on Good’s range. Doak Good did not approve. He and other like-minded New Mexico cattlemen urged Henson’s bunch to vamoose. All except Henson obliged.  

Henson said he would not leave except as a corpse, and that he would make all who had spoken ill of him eat their words or bite the dust. Good wasn’t surprised when Henson showed up at his place soon after and called for him to apologize for saying bad things about him or come out of the house and “shoot it out.” 

When Good told Henson he wasn’t apologizing and had no desire to leave the house, Henson took cover behind a shed and spent the night there, promising Good that the shooting would commence the next morning if Good didn’t apologize. Next morning, Henson began taking pot shots at Good, who returned fire with his old Sharp’s buffalo gun. The two men exchanged gunfire for the better part of the morning.  At noon, in an act of unprecedented and almost unbelievable act of chivalry, Good sent Henson some dinner. 

In an act of unbelievable stupidity, Henson ate it. 

The post-dinner portion of the gunfight continued until Henson hollered for Good to come out of the house. Good opted to stay put. Henson emerged from cover and either took a seat in front of the shed or charged the house; accounts vary but they all end with Henson dead. Some accounts say Doak Good shot Henson while others say he poisoned Henson. Nearly all accounts of the shootout from people who knew both Henson and Good include the opinion that Henson was certifiably insane. 

The St. John’s (Arizona) Herald said as much in 1886: “His {Henson’s}actions and talk would indicate that he was crazy, a condition caused probably by his having discovered a few days before the trouble that his wife was untrue to him…”

In the end, Doak Good won the shootout, but legal fees and other costs associated with the incident left him bitter and broke. He went to Arizona for a while and shows up in 1896 as a member of the Cattle Raisers Association in Roswell, New Mexico. 

Southern Livestock

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