Lonesome Dove is a thumping good read. I can’t imagine why anyone with an interest in the American West, and a taste for narrative, hasn’t read it. I read the 25th anniversary edition (it was published in 1985), with a brief preface by Larry McMurtry, in which he describes the two lead characters, Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, as an Epicurean and a Stoic. With that understanding, all the events in the book fall into place, triggered by one or the other.
It was a reread for me, but the story hadn’t lost any of its original appeal, and my first read was long enough ago for the narrative to seem fresh. What I like best about it, and what I remember most about it, is its journey from river to river, starting with the Rio Grande at the Mexican border, and ending in Montana, at the Milk River, just below Canada.
I found several maps of major rivers and cattle trails, and followed the Call/McCrae herd, with its cattle stolen from across the Rio Grande in Mexico, as they and their cowboys moved slowly from one river to the next, through Texas, the ‘unorganized’ or ‘Indian’ territory north of Texas, then Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakota and Wyoming territories, to Montana – crossing the Nueces, Colorado, Brazos, Red, Canadian, Arkansas, Platte, Powder, Yellowstone, Missouri, and Milk rivers (among others). It’s a trek as brave and unmarked as any outer space adventure.
They brought along a cook, a wagon, and two blue pigs. The pigs walked all the way to Montana, where they met their fate – one of many sad stories that evolve in the more than 850 pages of the novel – including the story of Lorena, beautiful and lost, who accompanies them through much of the journey. McMurtry winds up his preface with the words, “Life ain’t for sissies, as Augustus might have said.”
When, at last, we’re told, “The drive was over. The ranch would lie between the Milk and the Missouri,” it is not only Call, inclined to keep moving, who must accept that the long journey from the Rio Grande is at an end. The reader must accept it too, however reluctantly. It is always hard to reconcile oneself to the fact that a good novel must come to a conclusion.