Early settlers clashed over land

Illustration Courtesy Don McAlavy Reproduced from a historic newspaper clipping. This photograph made in 1897 by S.E. Moore at Portales Springs depicts the legend of the shootout between Doak Good and Gabe Henson in the 1880s at the Springs.

By Ruth Burns: FNM correspondent

Editor’s note: This is the first of three articles about two early settlers on the Llano Estacado, Doak Good and Jim Newman.

A Washington scandal involving a U.S. Senator from Arkansas brought the first permanent resident to the High Plains of Eastern New Mexico.

Doak Good, a 33-year-old bachelor, had a contract to carry the mail between Singer’s Store, now Lubbock, Texas, and Fort Sumner and all points in between.

This was part of what came to be known as “The Star Route Swindle,” a nationwide scheme organized by Senator S. W. Dorsey and others to get money from the government for false or unnecessary mail routes. Good only carried the mail when he felt like it, perhaps every two or three months.

About 1880 or 1881, as Good passed by Portales Springs on his mail route, he decided the springs and the adjacent lake would be a good place to run a few cattle. He set up camp in the caves under the overhanging caliche porches and later built a house and sheds out of waste rock on top of the bluff. His new home had a loft in it with a half-window to the east.

Good was of a slender build; he had medium brown hair, gray eyes and was about 5-foot-8. Historian Col. Jack Potter has said, “His mustache was light and barely covered his upper lip and it was a blond color. In fact when I first met Doak Good, you could of passed him off for a big blond nester girl.”

Good ran 300 to 400 cattle at the Springs, branded “GOOD” and later “FX.” He led a peaceful life until the XIT Ranch across the Texas line began to fence in their range and push out the smaller cattlemen.

In 1882, Jim Newman began to move his cattle from Yellow House near the present Lubbock, to the DZ at Salt Lake near Arch. The lake water was salty, and as more cattle were brought in, there was not enough water for Newman’s large herd and his cattle tended to drift over to Portales Springs. Good complained that the nearby ranch did not have enough water and that Newman’s cattle were coming over and drinking his water and eating his grass.

Resentment simmered and trouble was bound to follow. Once, 25 of Good’s fat steers were shot and he believed Jim Newman had done it.

Finally, at a roundup one spring, Good openly accused Newman of trying to run him out of the country. They emptied their guns at each other, but neither was hit. Good wanted to keep on fighting and begged for more cartridges. Newman got around the other side of the herd to reload his gun, but Doak’s horse took a notion to run away about then. By the time Good got back, the boys had gotten Jim away.

One of the legendary shooting scrapes that took place was the one between Good and Gabe Henson. All of the details may or may not be true, but this is what was sworn to by cowboys who were there at the time, including my step-grandfather, Bob Wood.

When a man named Gabe Henson moved in to the east of Good and caused him trouble, Good thought Newman had put Henson up to it. Henson showed up at Good’s place and called for him to “come out and shoot it out.” Henson hid out behind the shed and began taking potshots at Good.

Good was convinced Newman had sent Henson to kill him and commenced shooting out the window with his old Sharp’s buffalo gun. The men continued to shoot at each other all morning.

According to DZ cowboy Dan McFatter, “At noon, Doak sent Henson’s dinner out to him. Henson ate it; then the shooting began again. Finally Henson got tired of this, and yelled at Good to come on out. This Doak refused to do.

“Then Gabe came out and sat down in front of the choza (shed), probably figuring that he would sit there until Doak did come out. Then Doak fired from the window and killed him.

“But the cowboys who picked Gabe up and carried his body home, said that there wasn’t a drop of blood anywhere on Henson’s body; the bullet wound didn’t bleed at all. The inference was that the dinner was really what killed him. Doak had poisoned it and Gabe was dead before he shot him.”

After Newman bought the cattle from Henson’s widow, Good was more convinced than ever that Newman had planned the whole thing.

Ruth Burns has taken her information from the interviews and research of her mother, Rose Powers “Mrs. Eddie” White. She may be contacted at rwburns11@gmail.com