(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Lonesome Dove is the story of a cattle drive from far South Texas through the central Great Plains and hostile Indian country to virgin grazing land in Montana. Along the way, the characters either grow and change or deepen to reveal further elements of themselves.

Part 1 introduces the characters and begins the cattle drive. Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call are two middle-aged former Texas Rangers who for several years have been operating a cattle ranch headquartered in the town of Lonesome Dove on the Rio Grande River. Lorena Wood, the beautiful town prostitute, works at the Dry Bean saloon; most of the men are in love with her. Lorena herself is fond of Jake Spoon, also a former Texas Ranger and friend of Augustus and Woodrow, who has drifted into a life of grifting and low companions. Jake, who is on the run from Arkansas, where he killed a man accidentally, turns up in Lonesome Dove and renews his relationship with Lorena. Jake proposes to Woodrow that they enlarge the cattle herd and take it to Montana, where there is choice unused grazing land. In fact, Jake wants to stay on the run and be near his former ranger friends so that they will protect him if the law catches up with him. Lorena makes Jake promise that he will take her to San Francisco, and she plans to accompany the herd for part of the way. Woodrow and Augustus also have hidden reasons for going on the drive; Woodrow wants to see and conquer new territory for one more time in his life, and Augustus hopes that he will meet his great love, Clara Allen, along the way.

Woodrow and Augustus increase the number of their herd by raiding a Mexican ranch across the river and rustling the stock of a Mexican bandit who has stolen from them in the past. Among the hands who go on the trail drive are Josh Deets, a black cowboy who rode with Woodrow and Gus in their rangering days; Dish Boggett, who is in love with Lorena; the Irish immigrant O’Brien brothers; Newt, Woodrow’s son by a prostitute; and the cowhands Jasper Fants and Pea Eye. The men begin the drive with the ominous knowledge that they have a long way to go and will be beset by dangers both unknown and known (most obviously hostile Indians, including the psychopathic loner Blue Duck).

Part 2 introduces a major subplot. July Johnson, the young sheriff of Fort Smith, Arkansas, knows that the killing Jake committed was accidental; Jake fired his gun in self-defense but missed and hit the victim, July’s brother Ben. Ben was the mayor of the town, however, and his wife Peaches forces July to track Jake down. To do so, July must leave his recent bride, Elmira, who has already...

(The entire section is 1077 words.)

Lonesome Dove Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the small town of Lonesome Dove on the Rio Grande, Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae have retired from the Texas Rangers and begun the Hat Creek Cattle Company. Their employees include Pea Eye Parker, Josh Deets, the cook Bolivar, and the seventeen-year-old Newt Dobbs. Jake Spoon, a former Ranger who worked with Call and McCrae, suddenly appears and praises Montana as a cattleman’s paradise, inspiring Call to make the first drive of cattle from Texas to Montana. Jake is on the run from Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he accidentally killed the sheriff’s brother.

In the town of Lonesome Dove, the Dry Bean saloon provides the only entertainment. Owned by Xavier Wanz, it employs Lippy as the piano player and Lorena Wood as a prostitute. Dish Boggett, a top-hand cowboy, falls in love with Lorena and hires on with the Hat Creek outfit. While gathering cattle and horses in Mexico for the drive to Montana, Call finds two lost Irishmen, Allen and Sean O’Brien, who are subsequently hired along with other cowboys.

Jake begins to live with Lorena, who is convinced that he will take her to San Francisco. Against Call’s wishes, Jake and Lorena follow the herd north, camping nearby. On the drive, Gus is followed by two pigs, and he brings the sign he made for the company, which features the Latin motto uva uvam vivendo varia fit (a corruption of a line attributed to Juvenal originally meaning “a grape ripens when it sees another grape”). Gus is motivated by a desire to reunite with his one great love, Clara Allen, who has married and lives near Ogallala, Nebraska.

In Fort Smith, sheriff July Johnson sets off after Jake Spoon. July has recently married Elmira, who has a twelve-year-old son, Joe. Elmira has lied to July, telling him that Joe’s father, Dee Boot, is dead. She convinces July to take Joe with him to Texas. After they leave, Elmira boards a whiskey boat to search for Dee. Roscoe Brown, July’s deputy, reluctantly follows July to tell him that Elmira has run off. Roscoe meets an orphan girl, Janey, who then accompanies him. Elmira attracts an admirer, a buffalo hunter named Big Zwey.

While the Hat Creek group is crossing the Nueces River with the herd, Sean O’Brien is killed by water moccasins. With Lorena, Gus encounters Blue Duck, a notorious outlaw, but he does not shoot him. After Bolivar quits the drive and heads back to Lonesome Dove, Call hires Po Campo as the new cook. Gus sends Newt to guard Lorena, but Blue Duck kidnaps her. Gus pursues them, refusing to take Jake with him. July and Joe run into Roscoe and Janey.

Gus catches up to the men holding Lorena. She has been raped and beaten. Blue Duck sends his men to kill the trailing Gus, but...

(The entire section is 1114 words.)

Lonesome Dove Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

McMurtry dedicates Lonesome Dove to the nine McMurtry boys (his uncles and father) and tips his hat to Charles Goodnight, Teddy Blue, and the other cowboys of the Old West. The cattlemen helped civilize the West and, in the process, created a mythology that continues to shape the United States. That powerful American myth grew from a very brief era in United States history immediately after the Civil War, a twenty-year period of open range and cattle drives. That period and way of life gave birth to all the dominant images of the Old West.

McMurtry has his cowboys take their cattle right through the heartland of America, from Texas to Montana, along the frontier fault line between savagery and civilization. McMurtry quotes T. K. Whipple to define his theme: “Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.”

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a Western yarn in the old tradition, with cattle stampedes, Indian attacks, and the rescue of a beautiful woman by a heroic cowboy. It is exciting and funny and melancholy; the major criticism of the 850-page novel by many readers was that it was too short.

In the late 1870’s, Augustus (Gus) McCrae and Woodrow F. Call, former officers in the Texas Rangers and friends for thirty years, are running the Hat Creek Cattle Company, located near the dilapidated little town of Lonesome Dove, hidden amid the mesquite thickets of south Texas on the Rio Grande River. Life drifts there, in the harsh terrain beneath the burning sun. Call, a man obsessed with duty, has no big tasks left. Gus, who can be gallant and heroic when the occasion demands, now is content to sit on his front porch, sip whiskey, and watch his two blue pigs eat rattlesnakes. Perhaps Gus and Call would have turned into Danny Deck’s crazed Uncle Laredo if nothing had changed; however, Jake Spoon, an old friend from rangering days, arrives and tells Gus and Call that fortunes are going to be made in Montana, where the grass is deep, the water is bountiful, and the Army is about to tame the Indians.

Call decides that they should go north: There is no fun in south Texas anymore, and besides, there is a fortune to be made in Montana. Gus points out that Call never had any fun in his entire life and that he does not value money. Gus hopes the drive will be hard enough for Call: “You should have died in the line of duty, Woodrow. You’d know how to do that fine. The problem is you don’t know how to live.” Yet Gus agrees to go to Montana. There is nothing finer, he says, than riding a good horse into new country; besides, he realizes that he will get to see Clara Allen, the great love of his life, who had left sixteen years before and lives on the Platte River in Nebraska.

They gather cowboys for the drive. These include two former rangers, slow-thinking and steady Pea Eye Parker and the extraordinarily competent black man Joshua Deets. Young Newt Dobbs, Call’s unacknowledged son, goes; he will be initiated into manhood on the journey. Other young cowboys join the drive, many of whom die...

(The entire section is 1317 words.)