Mary Ann Dyer GoodnightMolly
early settler, philanthropist
Birthplace: Madison County, Tenn.
Daughter of a prominent lawyer, Mary Dyer was 14 when the family moved to Texas. After her parents died, she worked as a schoolteacher and raised her five brothers. In 1870 she married Charles Goodnight. They had no children. In 1877 the Goodnights and another couple established the vast JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. When the other couple left the area, Mary Goodnight became the only woman on the ranch, which occupied the entire Palo Duro Canyon (1,500 ft deep, 10 mi across, and nearly 100 mi long).
Goodnight became known as the “Mother of the Panhandle” because she was the surrogate mother and nurse to the area's cowboys. With long periods without much companionship, Goodnight kept three chickens as pets and devoted herself to saving baby buffalo whose mothers had been killed by hunters. Orphaned buffalo eventually produced the Goodnight buffalo herd. As the Panhandle's population grew, the Goodnights became active philanthropists, helping establish an academy in 1898 that later became Goodnight College. A town and a church were also named for the Goodnights.Died: 4/1926