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.)