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Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove
First edition
Author Larry McMurtry
Country United States
Language English
Series Lonesome Dove series
Genre Western
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 843 p.
OCLC 11812426
813/.54 19
LC Class PS3563.A319 L6 1985
Followed by Streets of Laredo, Dead Man's Walk, Comanche Moon

Lonesome Dove is a 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning (1986) western novel written by Larry McMurtry. It is the first published book of the Lonesome Dove series, but the third installment in the series chronologically. The story focuses on the relationship of several retired Texas Rangers and their adventures driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana.

McMurtry originally developed the tale in 1972 for a feature film entitled The Streets of Laredo (a title later used for the sequel), which would have been directed by Peter Bogdanovich and would have starred James Stewart as Augustus McCrae, John Wayne as W.F. Call, and Henry Fonda as Jake Spoon. But plans fell through when Wayne turned it down, leading Stewart to back out, and the project was eventually shelved. Ten years later McMurtry resurrected the 75-page screenplay by purchasing it from the studio who owned it, then expanded it into a full-length novel, which became a bestseller and won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[1]

After the novel won the Pulitzer Prize, the idea of turning the novel into film came up again. Both John Milius and John Huston each attempted to adapt the novel into a feature film before Suzanne De Passe and Bill Whitliff decided to adapt the novel as a mini-series. It was then made into the four-part TV miniseries, which won seven Emmy Awards and was nominated for twelve others.[2] It spawned four follow-up miniseries, Return to Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo, Dead Man's Walk, and Comanche Moon, and two television series, Lonesome Dove: The Series and Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years.[3]


  • Origins 1
  • Plot 2
  • Characters 3
  • Historical references 4
  • Adaptations 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9


The original Lonesome Dove story had been written as a movie script for a 1970s film to be directed by Peter Bogdanovich and star John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda. Wayne turned down the part on John Ford's advice and Stewart backed out as a result, so the movie was abandoned. McMurtry later purchased the screenplay back from the studio who owned it, then turned the script into a full-length novel. The novel was then developed as a television miniseries with Tommy Lee Jones in the Wayne role, Robert Duvall in the Stewart part, and Robert Urich filling in for Fonda. James Garner had been offered the role of Augustus McCrae in the original miniseries but had to turn it down for health reasons. Garner later played Woodrow Call in the sequel, "The Streets of Laredo".[4]

The basic story is a slightly fictionalized account of Charles Goodnight's and Oliver Loving's cattle drive. In particular, Loving (Gus) was attacked by Indians, and died several weeks later of blood poisoning with Goodnight (Call) at his side. Goodnight honored Loving's dying request to be taken back to Texas for burial.


It is 1876.[5] Captain Augustus "Gus" McCrae and Captain Woodrow F. Call, two famous ex–Texas Rangers, run a livery called the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium in the small dusty Texas border town of Lonesome Dove. Smooth, charming and easy going, Gus loves women and women return the sentiments, but he's twice a widower and he never marries the love of his life, Clara. Although he had proposed many a time, she had rejected him every time because, in her words, Gus is "a rambler," and she despises Call because she feels jealous of the years Gus spent with him instead of her. She needed to settle down and have a family and a good life; he was brave and a dead aim, but was lazy and prone to wandering away for another adventure.

While McCrae is warm, good natured, and understanding of people, Captain Call, Gus's best friend and partner, is the opposite: a workaholic taskmaster who hides in his work, emotionally cut off. He is afraid "to admit he's human," according to McCrae. He loved only one woman, a prostitute named Maggie, who gave birth to a son, Newt. Though both Call and McCrae know (or at least strongly suspect) who Newt's biological father is, Call refuses to admit it and give Newt his name. He is hypercompetent at his work to compensate for his complete failure at human relationships. He is cold and driven by pride and honor, not love. Even when he drags the body of the only human who ever understood him and loved him anyway over 2000 miles across the Great Plains, suffering ridicule and hardship, he claims he is doing it for duty, not friendship. He is the Western version of Captain Ahab whose reckless stubbornness ends in tragedy.

Working with them are Joshua Deets, who is an excellent tracker and scout from their Ranger days, Pea Eye Parker, another former Ranger who works hard but isn't all too bright, and Bolivar, a retired Mexican bandit who is their cook. Also living with them is the boy Newt Dobbs, a seventeen-year-old whose mother was a prostitute named Maggie and whose father may be Call.

The story begins in the small town of Lonesome Dove, as Jake Spoon, a former comrade of Call's and McCrae's, shows up after an absence of more than ten years. He is a man on the run, having accidentally shot the dentist of Fort Smith in Arkansas. The dentist's brother happens to be the sheriff, July Johnson. Reunited with Gus and Call, Jake's breath-taking description of Montana inspires Call to gather a herd of cattle and drive them there, to begin the first cattle ranch in the frontier territory. Call is attracted to the romantic notion of settling pristine country. Gus is less enthusiastic, pointing out that they are getting old and that they are Rangers and traders, not cowboys. But he changes his mind when Jake reminds him that Gus' old sweetheart, Clara, lives on the Platte, 20 miles from Ogallala, Nebraska, which is on their route to Montana. Captain Call prevails. They make preparations for their adventure north, including stealing horses in Mexico and recruiting almost all the male citizens of Lonesome Dove.

Ironically, Jake Spoon decides not to go after all, being selfish and undependable and because he promises the town's only prostitute, Lorena Wood, known as Lorie, he'll take her to San Francisco.

Ogallala also happens to be the destination of Elmira, the wife of Sheriff Johnson, as she runs away to meet up with her true love, Dee Boot. So the three groups head north. They encounter horse thieves, murderers, hostile Indians, inclement weather, and a few inner demons.


  • Captain Augustus "Gus" McCrae — Co-owner of the Hat Creek Cattle Company and a former Captain in the Texas Rangers, Gus considers himself the brains of the outfit. Generous, humorous, and lazy to the point of eccentricity, he serves as a foil to the more serious, practical Call. When not working (which he does as little as possible, preferring to sit on the porch), Gus pursues his three chief interests in life: women, alcohol, and cards. He is well known in the territory for his loud voice, superior eyesight, and accuracy with his old Colt dragoon pistol.

Gus has white hair, which turned that color in his late twenties. He considers himself to be very good looking. Gus always wears spurs, even though in Lonesome Dove he seldom rides a horse except down to Mexico on a raid every now and then. He likes to prop one foot on the other knee and jingle his spur rowel with his hand. He tells Lorena, "Them is the only instruments I ever learned how to play". Gus uses many colorful phrases throughout the book, most notably "The older the fiddle, the sweeter the music", which he says whenever anybody makes a comment on his age.

  • Captain Woodrow F. Call — Gus's partner in the company. Less verbose and chatty than McCrae, Call works long and hard and sees no reason why others should not do the same. A former Texas Ranger who won a merit award from the Governor of Texas for "courage under fire", he served with Gus when both were young men. Though Call has utter disdain for lazy men who drink, gamble, and whore their lives away, he has his own failings, in particular his unwillingness to admit he is Newt's father. Call pushes himself and everyone else to the breaking point multiple times on the cattle drive, particularly during the eighty-mile dry drive. Call prizes his dapple gray mare (named the Hell Bitch by Pea Eye) above all other horses, even though she tries to throw, kick and maul him multiple times.
  • Pea Eye Parker — The
  • Jake Spoon — A former comrade-in-arms of Gus, Call, Pea Eye, and Deets. Jake is, if anything, lazier than Gus, but without the latter's redeeming virtues. A gambler and drinker, Jake prefers living in luxury and ease and shirks work with a passion, which irks Call mightily. He is, however, a man of great personal charm and is seldom unlucky in love.
  • Dishwater "Dish" Boggett — A cowboy of great skill, "Dish" is the top hand for Call's cattle drive. His main aspiration is to win the love of Lorena Wood. His nickname derives from having swallowed dishwater, being so thirsty that he could not wait for the water barrel.
  • Lorena Wood — A kind-hearted young woman who was forced into prostitution by her lover, she was then abandoned in Lonesome Dove. Lorena is taciturn, strong-willed, and intimidating, refusing to submit meekly to her various admirers. Discontent with her line of work, "Lorie" hopes to leave the dead town and find her way to San Francisco.
  • Blue Duck — When Gus and Call quit Rangering, Blue Duck was unfinished business. The son of a Comanche war chief and his Mexican prisoner, Blue Duck leads a band of renegade Indians and buffalo hunters. He is feared across the plains as a murderer, rapist, and slaver.
  • July Johnson — The sheriff of the town of Fort Smith, Arkansas. July is a kind, long-suffering young man, recently married to a woman he knows little about and who is utterly disdainful of his attention. After his brother, Ben, is accidentally killed by Jake Spoon, July's domineering sister-in-law Peach bullies him into setting out in pursuit. July is accompanied by his young stepson, Joe, and his incompetent deputy, Roscoe. (In the 1968 film Bandolero!, the sheriff, played by George Kennedy, is named July Johnson and his deputy, played by Andrew Prine, is named Roscoe.)
  • Roscoe Brown — The deputy sheriff of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Roscoe is a timid man who spends his days playing dominoes and occasionally bringing in the local drunk for an overnight stay at the jail. After July is sent off after Jake Spoon, Roscoe is coerced by July's sister-in-law, Peach, into tracking down July who left to track down Jake Spoon who killed Peach's husband in Ft. Smith. Roscoe is also afraid of wild pigs. He, Joe, and a girl named Janey are later killed by Blue Duck. Roscoe's sidearm is a Colt Patterson 1836.
  • Clara Allen — A former love of Gus, she declined his marriage proposals years ago. She lives in Nebraska, married to a Bob Allen, a horse trader who is comatose, having been kicked in the head by a horse. They have two girls, though she is afflicted deeply by the death of her sons. Though separated from Gus by many miles and years, she still holds him fondly in her heart. In contrast, she has utter contempt for Call.
  • Po Campo — Cook for the Hat Creek Cattle Company on their cattle drive. Picked up on the way during a stop in Austin (San Antonio in the miniseries). He is most notable for his use of "exotic" ingredients and his refusal to ride animals. Po had a wife that, in his words, "lives in Hell, where I sent her." His sons were previously killed by the renegade half-breed outlaw, Blue Duck.
  • Elmira Johnson — July's coldhearted, pregnant wife. Shortly after July departs to track Jake Spoon, Elmira flees town in search of old flame Dee Boot. She finally gets to Ogallala just before Dee is hanged for murder. Along the way she travels on a whiskey boat, enlists a couple of buffalo hunters in her quest, and gives birth at Clara Allen's ranch then abandons her baby there. She and one of the buffalo hunters, Big Zwey, are killed by the Sioux shortly after leaving Ogallala.
  • Peach Johnson — July Johnson's sister-in-law. She pressures July to bring Jake Spoon back for killing her husband. A week after July and Joe leave, she pressures Roscoe to find July and tell him his wife has run off and is pregnant.
  • Bolivar — The cook for the Hat Creek Cattle Company. A former Mexican bandit / rustler who, in his retirement years, became a cook, a more relaxing, less dangerous occupation. (Nevertheless, his ability to provide goat meat for dinner — an animal that the Hat Creek Cattle Company does not raise — seems to point to the fact that he keeps himself in shape by still practicing some rustling on the side). He is obsessed with loudly and unnecessarily ringing the dinner bell to call the company for dinner, much to Gus's annoyance.
  • Hugh Auld — Former trapper and friend of the Blood Indians who cause Augustus' death; finds Augustus as he's trying to reach Miles City and lends his horse so that Augustus can make it. Later joins the Hat Creek outift as they winter on the ranch.
  • Jimmy and Ben Rainey, Bill and Pete Spettle, Soupy Jones, Needle Nelson, Jasper Fant, Bert Borum, Lippy Jones, Sean and Allen O'Brien — Other hands hired by Call to work the cattle drive.

Historical references

According to McMurtry, Gus and Call were not modeled after historical characters, but there are similarities with real-life cattle drivers Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight. When Goodnight and Loving's guide Bose Ikard died, Goodnight carved a wooden grave marker for him, just as Call does for Deets. Upon Loving's death, Goodnight brought him home to be buried in Texas, just as Call does for Augustus. (Goodnight himself appears as a minor but generally sympathetic character in this novel, and more so in the sequel, Streets of Laredo, and the prequels Dead Man's Walk and Comanche Moon.)

According to McMurtry's memoir, Books: A Memoir, the ultimate source for Gus and Call were Don and Sancho from Don Quixote --the crazy old knight and the peasant pragmatist. On his reading of Don Quixote, "What is important that, early on, I read some version of Don Quixote and pondered the grave differences (comically cast) between Sancho and the Don. Between the two is where fiction, as I've mostly read and written it, lives." [6]

Other books of the Lonesome Dove series feature more-prominent historical events and locations such as the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, Great Raid of 1840 and the King Ranch, and characters such as Buffalo Hump, John Wesley Hardin, and Judge Roy Bean.

Several years ago, McMurtry mentioned in a newspaper interview that he first thought of the name for his epic while at a restaurant in Oklahoma. On that day, he saw a van which was owned by Lonesome Dove Baptist Church in Southlake, Texas. Lonesome Dove has existed as a Baptist church and cemetery in Southlake since 1846. That left an impression on him. According to McMurtry, Newt Dobbs is the "lonesome dove".

The sidearm Gus McCrae carries in the book is a Colt Dragoon, while in the Miniseries he carries a Walker Colt, designed by Texas Ranger Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker, and produced by Connecticut gun-maker Samuel Colt in 1847. It was first issued to the Texas Rangers, who praised the pistol for its durability as well as its accuracy and dependability. It was the most powerful black powder revolver ever made, and became as much of a legend as the early Rangers who carried it.

The sign for Gus McCrae and Woodrow F. Call's Hat Creek Cattle Company includes a Latin motto, "Uva Uvam Vivendo Varia Fit," which appears to be a reference to a proverb first attributed to Juvenal. The proverb, "Uva Uvam Videndo Varia Fit" is translated as "A grape (uva) other grapes (uvam) seeing (videndo) changes (varia fit)." Some readers think McMurtry's substitution of "vivendo" for "videndo" is an artifice used to underscore Gus's lack of education and unfamiliarity with Latin; but later, when Call asks Gus about the motto, he is interrupted while explaining "uva, uvam, fit, double fit, ..." while pointing to the sign (or the crew, perhaps). Having established that, McMurtry gains nothing by adding a spelling error that only Latin scholars would catch. Likewise, it seems unlikely — as other readers have suggested — that the substitution was simply a typographical error. Although the substitution is ungrammatical, "vivendo" means "living," turning the phrase "A grape changes when it sees other grapes" to "A grape is changed by living with other grapes" or, since we are not really concerned with grapes after all, to "We are changed by the lives around us." The author's alteration takes on greater significance in light of the larger themes of the narrative that deal with how one leads one's own life, and with living itself. These themes are underscored by other remarks that characterize their journey, such as: (1) "you ride with an outlaw, you die with an outlaw" when Jake is found with the horse thieves; and (2) a comment Gus made to Call: "It ain't dyin' I'm talkin' about ... it's LIVIN!"; all best understood as parabolic references to the true vine and Vinedresser from Jn 15:1.


A television miniseries adaptation, produced by Motown Productions, was broadcast on CBS in 1989. It starred Robert Duvall as Augustus McCrae, Tommy Lee Jones as Woodrow F. Call, Robert Urich as Jake Spoon, Rick Schroder as Newt, Diane Lane as Lorena Wood, Danny Glover as Joshua Deets, and Chris Cooper as July Johnson.

There was also a syndicated spin-off series Lonesome Dove: The Series centering on Newt (Scott Bairstow) taking up residence in the fictional town of Curtis Wells, Montana, having adopted his father's family name of Call. Starting out as a fairly romanticized interpretation of the West, it was heavily revamped for its second season, gaining a much grittier feel and the new title Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years. Filming took place in Calgary, Alberta, and a total of 43 episodes were produced, airing between 1994 and 1996.

See also

8 Andy Adams (writer) The Log of a Cowboy is an account of a five-month drive of 3,000 cattle from Brownsville, Texas, to Montana in 1882 along the Great Western Cattle Trail.


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  5. ^ The Battle of the Little Bighorn is mentioned as a recent event. See , p. 57Postmodern Aspects in Larry McMurtry
  6. ^


  • McMurtry, Larry. (1985). Lonesome Dove: A Novel. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-50420-7

External links

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