Lonesome Dove, written by Larry McMurtry, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel and the first published book of the Lonesome Dove series. 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 was to have starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and James Stewart, and be directed by Peter Bogdanovich, but plans fell through. McMurtry later resurrected the screenplay as a full-length novel, which became a bestseller and won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
It was then made into a four-part TV miniseries, which won six Emmy Awards and was nominated for 13 others. It spawned four follow-up miniseries, Return to Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo, Dead Man's Walk, and Comanche Moon. It also spawned two television series, Lonesome Dove: The Series and Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years.
The original Lonesome Dove
story had been written as a movie script for a 1960s film to be directed by Peter Bogdanovich
and star John Wayne
, James Stewart
, and Henry Fonda
, but Wayne turned the part down on John Ford
's advice and Stewart backed out as a result, so the movie was abandoned and McMurtry later turned the script into a full-scale novel, Lonesome Dove, which eventually became a television miniseries with Tommy Lee Jones
in the Wayne role, Robert Duvall
in the Stewart part, and Robert Urich
filling in for Fonda as the cowboy regretfully hanged by his own friends. James Garner
had been offered Robert Duvall's
role in the original miniseries but had to turn it down for health reasons, and eventually wound up playing the part first portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones
and originally created for John Wayne
Captain Augustus "Gus" McCrae (Robert Duvall
) and Captain Woodrow F. Call (Tommy Lee Jones
), two famous ex-Texas Rangers
, run a cattle ranch
called the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium in the small dusty Texas border town of Lonesome Dove. Gus is a romantic figure whose happy-go-lucky nature and good fortune with women and prostitutes, especially Lorena Wood (Diane Lane
), prohibits him from doing much real work around the ranch. Call, however, is a no-nonsense, hard-working taskmaster, though his industrious nature has not rubbed off on Gus in the thirty years they've been together.
Working with them are Joshua Deets (Danny Glover), a black man who is an excellent tracker and scout from their Ranger days, Pea Eye Parker (Timothy Scott), another former Ranger who works hard but isn't all too bright, and Bolivar (León Singer), a retired Mexican bandit who is their cook. Also living with them is the boy Newt Dobbs (Rick Schroder), a seventeen-year-old whose mother was a prostitute named Maggie and whose father may be Call.
The story begins as Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), 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, and brother of the sheriff, of Fort Smith, Arkansas. 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 state. 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, which is on their route to Montana. Call prevails and they enlist the Hat Creek crew and some new hands to rustle a herd from south of the border, and then they begin the long drive north. Along the way, the Hat Creek boys revisit old regrets and losses and come to terms with their past.
- Captain Augustus McCrae - Co-owner of the Hat Creek Cattle Company, McCrae 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), 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 a revolver.
- 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 secret shame which he hides carefully from his comrade. Call's ability to "break" unmanageable horses is also well-known.
- Pea Eye Parker - The wrangler and blacksmith of the Hat Creek Cattle Company, Pea Eye served as a corporal in the Rangers under Gus and Call. Pea Eye (his real name long forgotten) is not especially bright, but he is reliable, brave, and kind. He follows Call's lead without question.
- Joshua Deets - An ex-slave and former Ranger, Deets is a ranch hand at the company. On the drive, he serves as scout. A remarkable tracker and morally upright man, he is one of the few men whom Call respects and trusts.
- Newt Dobbs - A young orphan raised by Gus and Call. His mother was a prostitute named Maggie Tilton, who died when he was a child. He knows his mother was a prostitute, and has no idea who his father might be. Most other observers, notably Gus and Clara Allen, are quite certain that Call is his father. Call eventually comes to this realization privately, but is never able to admit it explicitly.
- 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 Boggett - A cowboy of great skill, "Dish" serves as the top hand for Call's cattle drive. His main aspiration is to win the love of Lorena Wood.
- Lorena Wood - A kind-hearted young woman who was forced into prostitution by her lover, she was then abandoned in Lonesome Dove. Lorena is silent, 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.
- 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 into tracking down July's wife, Elmira, who has run away in July's absence. Roscoe is also afraid of wild pigs. He, along with Joe, are later killed by Blue Duck.
- 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."
- Elmira Johnson - July's cold-hearted, 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 the buffalo hunters 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.
- Bolivar - The cook for the Hat Creek Cattle Company. He is obsessed with ringing the dinner bell.
- Jimmy and Ben Rainey, Soupy Jones, Needle Nelson, Jasper Fant, Bert Borum, Lippy Jones, Hugh Auld, Sean and Allen O'Brien - Other hands hired by Call to work the cattle drive.
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 tombstone 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 sympathetic character in this novel, and more so in the sequel, Streets of Laredo
, and the prequels Dead Man's Walk
and Comanche Moon
Other books of the Lonesome Dove series feature more prominent historical events (the Santa Fe Expedition, Comanche raid) and characters (Buffalo Hump, King Ranch, John Wesley Hardin, 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 noticed a unique name on the side of a church passenger van that was in the restaurant parking lot. That name, which left an impression on him, came from 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.
The sidearm Gus McCrae carries in the Miniseries is the Walker Colt, designed by Texas Ranger Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker and Samuel Colt in 1847 and issued to the Texas Rangers. 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 the Gus and Call's Hat Creek Cattle Company includes the Latin motto "Uva Uvam Vivendo Varia Fit" which appears to be a reference to a proveb("Uva Uvam Videndo Varia Fit")first attributed Juvenal. Juvenal's proverb is translated as "A grape (uva)other grapes (uvam) seeing (videndo) changes (varia fit)." Some readers think McMurty's substitution of "vivendo" for "videndo" is an artifice McMurty used to underscore Gus's lack of education and unfamiliarity with Latin. That seems unlikely. When Call asks Gus about the motto, Gus jumbles it comically and does not even pretend to know what it means. Having established that, McMurty gained 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" so the effect is that the motto is changed from "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, "We are changed by the lives around us."
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, Rick Schroder as Newt, Diane Lane as Lorena Wood, Danny Glover as Joshua Deets, Robert Urich as Jake Spoon, Anjelica Huston as Clara Allen, Chris Cooper as July Johnson, and Barry Corbin as Roscoe Brown. Four other actors (Charles Bronson, Robert Duvall, James Garner, and Jon Voight) were offered the role of Woodrow Call but declined for various reasons before the role fell to Tommy Lee Jones. The miniseries was primarily filmed at various locations, including ranches, in Texas and New Mexico. Real ranch horses were used for authenticity during the filming of the movie.
ION Television has shown a Digitally Remastered version of the miniseries starting the weekend of June 30, 2007 during the "RHI Movie Weekend" (RHI Entertainment are the current owners of the Lonesome Dove miniseries). The four episodes are entitled in order: 1. Leaving, 2. On The Trail, 3. The Plains, 4. Return.
There was also a syndicated spin-off TV 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.
DVD & Blu-ray
, Return to Lonesome Dove
, Streets of Laredo
and Dead Man's Walk
are all available on DVD in the United Kingdom and the United States. Both seasons of the TV series have also been released in the U.S.
Lonesome Dove was filmed in a soft matte 1.78:1 (16:9) aspect ratio, allowing it to be cropped from the 4:3 negative, it was then released on Blu-ray Disc on August 5, 2008 just months before the film's 20th anniversary.
- McMurtry, Larry. (1985). Lonesome Dove: A Novel. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671504207