Category: Cattle Drives

An Epic Western Classic: Lonesome Dove

call and mcrae

Recently Lonesome Dove was on television in its entirely, and even though I’ve seen it a dozen times or more, I watched a lot of it. It’s available on Netflix – and I have a DVD. What is it about these characters and their plight that draws us back again and again? Three-dimensional, well-drawn characters, backstories of Texas Ranger heroes and lost loves, a yearning for times long past and future hopes suck us right in. I’m still as mad today as the first time that Captain Call wouldn’t acknowledge Newt as his son.

Lonesome Dove, written by Larry McMurtry, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel and the first published book of the Lonesome Dove series. Can you imagine the daunting task that native Texan and screenwriter Bill Wittliff took on when he adapted Larry McMurtry’s novel to film? First, he needed to rein in the sprawling 843 page story while still retaining its majestic essence. Wittliff’s work was also made more difficult because, in the novel, McMurtry uses the narrator’s voice to reveal information about characters and to describe events. To provide the same information in the film, Wittliff needed to create dialogue and provide visual cues that did not exist in the novel.

See an original costume sketch below:

costume sketch

A Southwestern Writers Collection is housed at Texas State and many of the original documents he used while creating this western classic can be viewed online at:

http://www.library.txstate.edu/swwc/ld/ldexhibit.html

The web exhibit features storyboards, costumes, including Gus’s boots, and even Gus’s dead wrapped body.

The epic four-part six-hour mini-series focuses on the relationship of 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. That didn’t happen, but thank goodness, McMurtry later resurrected the screenplay as a full-length novel. It deservingly became a bestseller and won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The mini-series won six Emmy Awards and was nominated for 13 others.

Casting for this epic was pure genius. Who better to portray these multi-faceted aging Texas Rangers who to this day represent the epitome of courage, loyalty and everything we think of when we think “American West?”

Robert Duvall is Captain Augustus McCrae, co-owner of the Hat Creek Cattle Company, and 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.

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Tommy Lee Jones is 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, 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 manage unmanageable horses is also well known.

Danny Glover plays a magnificent role as Joshua Deets, an ex-slave and former Ranger. When the story starts he’s 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.

Before he hit the NY streets as a cop, Rick Shroder played Newt Dobbs, 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.

 

After watching her on the hit series SMASH, I love seeing the beautiful Anjelica Houston as Clara Allen, a former love of Gus’s. She declined his marriage proposals years ago, and now lives in Nebraska, married to 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. When Gus arrives at her ranch their reunion is bitter-sweet.

 

gus and clara

lorena

Diane Lane is the lovely young Lorena Wood, a kind-hearted young woman who was forced into prostitution by her lover, 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. Gus is her champion, and who could ask for a better one?

Secondary threads with characters of July and Almira Johnson and Blue Duck are intricately woven into the plot and throughout the journey of the cattle drive. You can’t help but be enamored by the characters and caught up in their adventures. Watching the story unfold brings laughter and tears every time. The music that accompanies the panoramic scenes does a beautiful job of enhancing the grandeur of the vast landscape and feel of the untamed west. I often listen to the original soundtrack, composed and conducted by Basil Poledouris. Lonesome Dove spawned the follow-up miniseries, Return to Lonesome Dove.

 

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Trivia facts about Lonesome Dove:

* Robert Duvall, who has appeared in over 80 movies, told CBS that Augustus McCrae, the character he played in Lonesome Dove, was his all time favorite role. We can see why.

* The characters of July Johnson and Roscoe bear the same names as the sheriff and his sidekick who track James Stewart and Dean Martin in the movie Bandolero! (1968). Also, the sequence where Stewart and Martin discuss Montana resembles a similar scene in Lonesome Dove.

* The book, and the character Gus, is mentioned in country singer George Strait’s song “That’s My Kind Of Woman.”

So, fess up. How many times have you watched Lonesome Dove? Did you think return to Lonesome Dove lived up to the first? Have you watched Streets of Laredo or Deadman’s Walk which precede the story?

If you’re a western lover and you’ve never seen this movie, well, I’m just sad for you. But your situation is subject to change. Head for Blockbuster or put it in your Netflix cue!

Leave a comment today for a chance to win a $15 e-Amazon card from Tanya Hanson.

Cowboy Cookin’

I’ve been watching episodes of Masterchef this summer, and one particular cook caught my eye and set my cowboy-loving heart to fluttering. Mike Hill from Powder Springs, Georgia. From day one of the auditions, I could tell this was a cowboy with class and with true cowboy heart. He competed in memory of his sister and always comported himself with honor. And man, but he looked good in that stetson and plaid work shirt.

Well, Mike got me thinking about cowboy cooks from the days when there were no fancy Masterchef kitchens. Or any kitchens for that matter. Not when they were out on the trail. Nope, all they had were a few cast iron pans, firewood, and a rigged up wagon to carry the supplies.

The invention of the chuckwagon is attributed to Charles Goodnight, a Texas rancher who introduced the concept in 1866, in time for his first cattle drive with fellow rancher, Oliver Loving along what would later become the famous Goodnight-Loving Trail. Goodnight modified a Studebaker wagon, a durable army-surplus wagon, to suit the needs of his cowboys driving cattle from Texas to sell in New Mexico.

He added a “chuck box” to the back of the wagon with drawers and shelves for storage space. The compartments held a variety of tin cans and wooden containers holding staples such as spices, tableware, utensils, medicines, and food enough to feed an average trail crew of ten or more men at least thirty days. A fold-down tailgate doubled as a door and a cooking surface when opened. A water barrel was also attached to the wagon and canvas was hung underneath to carry firewood.

Below the chuckbox on many wagons, would hang a wooden storage compartment known as the pan boot. It contained the heavy pots, skillets and dutch ovens, used in open range cooking. Upon reaching the campsite, the range cook would dig a trench for his fire and erect a pot rack (two tall iron stakes connected by an iron crossbar) or tri-pod, hung with several pot hooks.

Chuckwagon food typically included easy-to-preserve items like beans and salted meats, coffee, and sourdough biscuits. Food would also be hunted and gathered along the trail. On cattle drives  it was common for the “cookie” who ran the wagon to be second in authority only to the trailboss. The cookie would often act as cook, barber, dentist, and banker.

Now, with Chuck being a nickname for Charles, I thought that the chuckwagon terminology came from Goodnight’s name. However, it simply comes from the slang term for food – “chuck.” Too bad. I would have liked it the other way.

They still have chuckwagon cook-offs today, pitting rangy cowboy cooks against one another using nothing but the utensils and supplies that would have been available to their 19th century counterparts. Have any of you ever seen one of these cook-offs? I’ve watched some on the Food Network. Lots of chilis, stews, corn bread, biscuits, and cobblers. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

What kind of food do you like to eat when you’re “out on the trail”? Whether camping, having a picnic, or whipping something up on the grill – what is your favorite outdoor food?

 

What Could Go Wrong? – A Trip Up the Cattle Trail with Regina Jennings

 

Karen here: We have a special guest with us today at Wildflower Junction. Regina Jennings is a debut novelist for Bethany House, and she’s written a fabulous western romance that  features a beautiful Mexican heroine and a handsome Texas rancher. They come from two different worlds, yet both carry secret heartaches that have dictated the paths their lives have taken. Paths that suddenly cross. (By the way – I read Sixty Acres and a Bride last week and loved it!) So without further ado . . . here’s Regina!

In my new release, Sixty Acres and a Bride, a heartsick rancher returning home from the cattle trail searches for the courage to reenter society. You’d think going to church socials and attending barn dances wouldn’t be that scary, but Weston would much rather tangle with the dangers of Old Chisholm’s trail.

Today, whether you’re in Central Texas or Oklahoma the name Chisholm is as common as windstorms, oil derricks and football stars. Seeing how the cattle trails were to 1870 ranchers what the personal computer was to Silicon Valley, it’s only natural that the name is applied to everything from churches to subdivisions. The Chisholm Trail was responsible for many fortunes—and misfortunes.

Walking cattle up a trail sounds simple enough—one cowboy for every 200 cattle or so, just moseying them northwards as they ate and sunned in the mild spring temperatures.

Of course, while the spring temperatures in Oklahoma and Texas might be mild, the weather is anything but. Thunderstorms can be a weekly occurrence capable of producing hailstones the size of grapefruits, not to mention tornadoes. The cowboys had to hide in a… um… actually shelter was scarce on the Chisholm Trail. While the flat prairie was ideal for driving cattle, it left cowboys as vulnerable as a spider in a frying pan when storms struck. And if you found a tree to huddle beneath, you risked dying of a lightning strike.

When lightning did strike there was a good chance you’d get yourself a stampede (or stompede as they sometimes called it). Herds of up to 3000 cattle could run from 5 to 10 miles, trampling each other to death and anything else that stood in their way. In good times, the trail bosses paid tolls for safe passage across Indian Territory, but some stampedes were purposely started by opportunists looking to steal a few head of cattle or horses in the confusion.

Another peril our stalwart drovers faced was river crossings. Once the cattle sidestepped any quicksand they could swim across, but a branch floating downstream was all it took to turn the high-strung longhorns. Soon the herd would be swimming in circles—called milling—growing weaker and weaker until they were swept downstream or drowned. Halting a milling herd was extremely dangerous as the cowboy and his horse could easily get pulled under by the thrashing cattle before they could lead them to the riverbank.

So why risk life and limb? Because those cattle that were stripping their pastures and trampling their gardens were worth $40 a piece at the railhead in Kansas. In Texas they’d only bring $4 a head. That 700 mile trail was all that stood between a man and his fortune. Naturally the common cowboy’s pay wasn’t that good, but he had dreams of someday driving his own herd to market.

Unless a wealthy rancher like Weston wanted to make himself scarce, he most likely would’ve hired those hapless cowboys, but our protagonist needed space and there’s plenty of space available on the trail. Fortunately for all involved, Weston couldn’t hide forever. There’s a surprise waiting at home in the lovely form of a senorita who is in desperate need of a hero.

How about y’all? Do you have any stories of animals behaving badly?

Leave a comment to be entered for a chance to win a copy of Sixty Acres and a Bride.

Sixty Acres and a Bride

She’s Finally Found a Place to Call Home . . .
How Far Will She Go to Save It?

With nothing to their names, young widow Rosa Garner and her mother-in-law return to their Texas family ranch. Only now the county is demanding back taxes and the women have just three months to pay.

Though facing eviction, Rosa falls in love with the countryside and the wonderful extended family who want only her best. They welcome her vivacious spirit and try to help her navigate puzzling American customs. She can’t help but stand out, though, and her beauty captures attention. Where some offer help with dangerous strings attached, only one man seems honorable. But when Weston Garner, still grieving his own lost love, is unprepared to give his heart, Rosa must decide to what lengths she will go to save her future.