Literature / Lonesome Dove

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Robert Duvall as Gus MacCrae and Tommy Lee Jones as Woodrow Call

I wanna do it, Gus. I wanna see that country, before the bankers and lawyers all git it.
Captain Woodrow Call

Lonesome Dove is the name of a highly-regarded Western novel by Larry McMurtry published in 1985. It was also adapted into a 1989 Emmy-winning four-episode television miniseries. The novel was the first of a tetralogy of novels, followed up by a sequel novel, The Streets of Laredo, and two prequel novels, Dead Man's Walk and Comanche Moon. All were made into miniseries. It is also considered the first part of an informal trilogy of Westerns staring Robert Duval, with the second being Open Range and the third being Broken Trail.

In 1876, former Texas Rangers Captains Augustus McCrea and Woodrow Call run a livery in the small border town of Lonesome Dove. When their old colleague Jake Spoon arrives with tales of the unsettled territory in Montana, Call is inspired to drive of cattle there to start a ranch.


  • Annoying Arrows: Heavily averted; several people are killed by them and bow-wielding natives are considered a serious threat. In Gus's case, he sustains a "mere" hit to the leg with an arrow and subsequently dies a few days later after the wound becomes gangrenous.
  • Anyone Can Die: and how
  • Badass Mustache: Gus stands out, though he's hardly the only one.
  • Berserk Button: Do not hit Newt when Woodrow Call is around.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: When facing hanging, both Jake and Blue Duck decide to preempt their execution. Jake, who was being hanged from a tree branch, spurred his horse out from under himself before Gus could do it. Blue Duck, when about to be led from his fourth-story cell to the gallows, broke away from his guards and jumped out a window.
    • In Dead Man's Walk, Shadraq and Bigfoot Wallace warn the young Rangers to slit their own throats rather than letting the Comanche take them alive.
  • Break the Cutie: Newt, Lori, July... Frontier life is hard, and bad things happen to good people all the time.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Gus is a competent tracker, skilled in a gunfight, and generally an all-around impressive individual - when he can be bothered. Left to his own devices, he'll just drink on the porch with an occasional trip to a whorehouse. Jake Spoon thinks he's this, but he's not.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Famous Shoes, a Kickapoo Indian employed by the Rangers as a tracker. His own tribe finds him strange as hell, he walks everywhere and refuses to ride a horse, but he can track a grasshopper across a hundred miles of bare rock. He also speaks English, Spanish, and Comanche, and is very familiar with the religions, cultures, myths, and customs of the various tribes of Texas and Northern Mexico. Captain Scull describes him, without reservation, as a genius. Plus the Comanche are forbidden from harming him, thanks to a favor he once did for Buffalo Hump's mother.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Woodrow Call brings Gus MacCrae's body across the country so he can be buried in his favorite orchard.
  • Cattle Drive: the whole basis of the plot
  • Cool Old Guy: Bigfoot Wallace and Shadraq in Dead Man's Walk. Gus has become one in Lonesome Dove.
  • Generic Ethnic Crime Gang: Blue Duck's gang primarly has Kiowa Indian members, but others are white and Blue Duck is Mexican and Comanche.
  • Genre Deconstruction: McMurtry intended the series to be one for the Western genre, but feels that a lot of people missed out on this. It could have a lot to do with the miniseries' bright cinematography and adventurous score setting a tone more suited to a classic, idealistic western film, rather than the kind of gritty, desaturated style that would normally go with a story as unafraid to reflect the actual harshness of life in the Old West as Lonesome Dove is.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: When recruiting a new cook in San Antonio, Po Campo asks Gus and Call to try something he made. Call pops it in his mouth and says "Dang, that's tasty!" What exactly is it? "Grasshopper." Cue Spit Take.
  • Kill the Cutie: A lot of characters suffer violent deaths over course of the story; many of them are characters you did not want to see it happen to.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Blue Duck, as mentioned above. The prequels reveal he is the son of Buffalo Hump, a major antagonist.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The Army scout gets one from Woodrow when he tries to force Newt and Dish to sell their horses with his fists.
    Capt. Woodrow F. Call: [to onlookers] I can't abide rude behavior in a man...I won't tolerate it!
  • Real Person Cameo: Anyone familiar with Texas history will probably recognize Bigfoot Wallace, though he didn't actually die that way. Buffalo Hump (whose actual Comanche name literally translated as "Man's Hard Dick") was a real Comanche chief at the time of the story. Legendary Texas Ranger Charlie Goodnight (whose life actually inspired this story) appears briefly in Dead Man's Walk to advise the ill-fated Santa Fe Expedition to turn back.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Everyone, but especially Deets and Famous Shoes.
  • Taking You with Me: When Blue Duck pulls his high-dive, he drags a lawman with him.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Gus and Woodrow are played as teenage Texas Ranger recruits by David Arquette and Johnny Lee Miller in Dead Man's Walk, as Rangers in their late 20s/early 30s by Steve Zahn and Karl Urban in Comanche Moon, and as old men retired from the Rangers by Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in Lonesome Dove.

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