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Saturday, October 11, 1997

Last Loving living in Loving takes family name in stride

By STEVE CLEMENTS / Wichita Falls Times Record News

LOVING, Texas -- Little of the Loving legacy is left in the town named for the pioneering cattleman.

The Loving Museum, once dedicated to keeping the cattle baron's name alive, is dead, its doors locked and thick carpets of dust covering much of its scattered inventory.

Stop a Loving resident on the street and ask if any of the Lovings remain in the area, and you're liable to get a blank look for an answer.

That's why it's hard being the last Loving living in Loving: a lack of recognition from your neighbors, but lots of grief from telemarketers.

"I tell people on the phone that my name is Loving and I'm from Loving," said Laura Loving, the last descendant of Oliver Loving who still lives in the town that bears his name.

"They say, 'Wow, do you own the town? You must be mayor.' I say, 'No, but you're close. Did you ever see the movie 'Lonesome Dove'? That was kind of based on my family.'

"Then they say, 'Yeah, right,' and figure I must be a liar."

Oliver Loving helped establish the Goodnight-Loving Trail as a route for running Texas Longhorn cattle to the beef- starved North after the Civil War. Larry McMurtry based much of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Lonesome Dove," on the exploits of Loving and his partner, Charles Goodnight.

But Loving is also well-known in North Texas as one of the founders of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, which marked its 120th last week.

All of Oliver Loving's remaining direct descendants -- four great-grandsons and Laura Loving -- took part in the observance. The men all live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area: Bob sells jewelry, Steve works for a private company, Greg is an accountant and Obbie has had several jobs, Loving said.

Although they chose careers that took them out of full-time ranching, the family still keeps its spread in nearby Jermyn, where the TSCRA was originally headquartered, and runs several hundred head of cattle on the land, Loving said.

The Jermyn ranch house is popular with passing tourists, an interest that drove the family to flee the limelight, Loving said.

"When I lived there, people would stop and want to take pictures, and that got old after a while," she said. "Then they stopped asking. They just went all over the place, taking pictures, and they also got to where they would take pieces of the old wood, because it's good for frames. And they dumped trash all over the historical marker out front.

"And we lived there. I mean, that was our home. So we got kind of tired of that."

The opposite is true in Loving, she said. The streets are named for her family. There's Oliver Street. And Third Street -- named for her father, Oliver Loving III. But few people still remember their legacy.

"A lot of people that live in Loving didn't live here back then," Loving said. "There's a lot of newer people here. The people who have lived here for a while know about it, but I don't think they know that much."

The Lovings' fading history can be traced, in part, to Oliver Loving's untimely death on one of the first cattle drives, she said.

"What a lot of people don't realize is that the original Oliver Loving took Goodnight under his wing and taught him everything," she said. "(Loving) got shot in an ambush and died of gangrene, and that left Goodnight. He could tell whatever stories he wanted to tell. My family has always joked that it should have been named the Loving-Goodnight Trail instead of the other way around."

Oliver Loving III -- Laura Loving's father -- didn't take advantage of his family's good name to make money. In fact, she said, her father shied away from the notoriety, even neglecting to tell his children about their history.

That left her "ignorant about my roots and my heritage," she said, although she's trying to make up for lost time and learn more about her family.

"(My father) never really made much of what our family had done or our family name," she said. "But sometimes he would show some of that pride. I remember once I wore blue jeans to a church picnic and he was upset. He said I should never wear blue jeans to any kind of church event.

" 'You're a Loving and you have standards to uphold.' That's what he told me. 'When you're out in public, you're representing this family and you will dress appropriately,' or something like that. That was one of the first times that I realized what the name 'Loving' meant."

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Distributed by The Associated Press

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