Western Movies

On the Trail with Gus and Call

A celebration of Lonesome Dove the novel and of the miniseries inspired by McMurtry’s masterpiece.


When Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove was published in 1985, virtually every review included the term “epic.” “Deeply affecting” was a close second in the flow of praise for what one critic called “the Great Cowboy Novel.”

Its critical success was capped with the Pulitzer Prize and its mass popularity with a television miniseries graced by a rare combination of fine acting and high ratings. By then, Lonesome Dove was being called a Western classic. And it is, although not for reasons that would gladden every fan of Louis L’Amour and Zane Gray.

Lonesome Dove is most impressive as a literary balancing act. Its characters are comfortably familiar sorts who suddenly do the unexpected—and who always speak with the most wonderfully original blather. The story moves languidly for long stretches, then suddenly ignites in gun battles, stampedes, and gut cuttings to satisfy the most demanding action fan. Above all, for history students, McMurtry keeps Lonesome Dove centered between myth and anti-myth.

The story begins in the late 1870s in Lonesome Dove, a sunbaked speck of a town on the Texas-Mexico border. The turmoil during and immediately after the Civil War has subsided, and with it the need for aging former Texas Ranger captains like the book’s two primary figures, Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae. With Pea Eye, Deets, Lippy, and others in the Hat Creek Cattle Company, they pass time in and around the town’s one saloon, the Dry Bean, where the prostitute Lorena conducts her business. Enter the handsome Jake Spoon, another ex-Ranger, who persuades the restless Call to drive a herd of three thousand cattle northward twelve hundred miles to the grassy valley of Montana’s Yellowstone River, nearly to the Canadian border. The long drive and its adventures consume most of Lonesome Dove.

For readers after historical accuracy, Lonesome Dove is mostly accurate, at least in the term’s narrowest sense. There are a few anachronisms and startling omissions. The Indians who send Gus to his deathbed with a rotting leg are presumably Blackfeet, who in fact were mostly in Canada by this time or starving on what remains today one of America’s bleakest reservations. It’s hard to imagine that the Hat Creek outfit sees no farmers; in western Kansas alone, sixteen counties were created during the 1870s, with more land broken to the plow than would have fit into Connecticut and Delaware combined. And where are the railroads? Every historical development in the novel’s background—cattle trailing and ranching, buffalo hunting, and the Indian wars—was either spun off directly or facilitated by the first transcontinentals built during the previous decade....

The full text of this article is available to registered users of TrueWestMagazine.com. Register now!

Registration is FREE and takes only a few seconds to complete. If you are already registered on TrueWestMagazine.com, please log in below.

Already Registered?

SUBSCRIBE today and save!

Get instant access to subscriber content on TrueWestMagazine.com!

When it comes to keeping the lore of the West alive, nobody does it better. True West readers get the no-holds-barred, straight shootin' facts about the West from our staff of experts and historians.

Save up to 67% off the newsstand cover price!

1 year (12 issues) - only $29.95
(Newsstand cover price--$71.88)

For even greater savings:

2 years (24 issues) - only $49.95
(Newsstand cover price--$143.76)

3 years (36 issues) - only $69.95
(Newsstand cover price--$215.64) BEST OFFER!

After subscribing, just come back here and register with us by clicking on the register link below.

True West Site Guide


True West captures the spirit of the American West with authenticity, personality and humor by linking our history to our present. Whether you call it the Wild West, the Old West or the Far West, America's frontier history comes to life in True West, the world's oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine.

Western movie fans, re-enactors, history buffs and road warriors, we got your history covered: outlaw, cowboy, Indian, lawman, gunfighter, fur trapper, miner, prospector, gambler, soldier, entertainer and pioneer. Check out these True Westerners now!

Product of the Month

The Illustrated Life and Times of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

"Your book is fascinating, coupling your powerful illustrations [and] tracking...from birth to Tombstone to the legend [Wyatt] had become;...even Wyatt would approve." --By Hugh O'Brian, of the TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

"Hands down the definitive books on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday." --By Allen Barra, New York Newsday