Lonesome Dove – a western classic

call and mcraeLonesone Dove DVDLonesome 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 Wit  tliff 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.

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:


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.


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.

gus and clara

Anjelica Houston is 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.


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.


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!

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53 thoughts on “Lonesome Dove – a western classic”

  1. Cheryl, you may be surprised to learn that I have never seen Lonesome Dove. I have never even read the book. Guess I need to add this to my Netflix list.

  2. Okay, if Buffie is brave enough to confess, I will too. I’ve never seen the mini-series, never read the book.
    I remember my dad talking about the book though, he loved it.
    My only real reference point for Lonesome Dove is, when it was first on, on a Sunday night, I was at home with my three girls and very pregnant with my fourth and Lonesome Dove was on. And I was sick. Sore throat, my voice just faded away to nothing, fever. I was lying in bed, trying to ignore my other children while my husband was gone to a church meeting and my five-year-old came and crawled into bed with me and I realized she had a fever, too.
    I felt like the Lonesome Dove boys, for all the dirt they were eating on the TV screen, had it better than I did.
    The doctor wouldn’t give me hardly anything for what turned out to be strep throat because of being pregnant so I just had to tough it out.
    Maybe that set me against the show because I’ve never wanted to watch it. My throat’s better now. My unborn baby just moved out for college. It might be time to give Lonesome Dove another chance.
    PS in one of my most recent books, I have a heroine named Buffy who works with buffalo.

  3. Definitely add it to your Netflix list, Buffie!

    Mary, I’m sure enough time has passed that you can put that bad association behind you. Don’t rob yourself of a terrific experience.

    Susan, years ago I caught “the making of” on HBO and taped it. It’s almost as much fun to watch as the movie because of the actors and how much they were enjoying it. That tape is one of my treasures.

  4. I love the cast, and I’ve caught SOME of the mini-series, but not all. I’ve always seemed to miss the beginning. I’d catch parts at different times. I KNOW it’s great. I’ve heard such wonderful things about it, but honestly I’ve never seen the series all the way through!
    Love the pics you posted, Cher!

  5. Cheryl, I get hooked on Lonesome Dove everytime it comes on TV. Don’t know how many times I’ve seen different parts of it. The book is a masterpiece. I love the earthiness of it, it is so real. And I love Gus.
    Streets of Laredo was good but I don’t think anything could live up to the original. Thanks for your great post. Loved the photos!

  6. I have watched Lonesome Dove (though, I’ve not read the book), but it’s been a long time. Reading your post, Cheryl, has made me want to remedy that soon! My parents have it on DVD and I’m up for a re-watch. Thanks!

  7. Cheryl this is one of my husbands favorite movies. He fell in love with Diane Lane’s character Lorie. If I remember correctly, didn’t Gus call her Lorie Darlin’? My husband picked the “Darlin'” up (which he takes on the end of my name) from somewhere, and I’m thinking it was this film.

  8. Thanks for stoppin’ in Charlene and Elizabeth. Glad you enjoyed the photos. Charlene the trivia about George Strait’s song was for you. Have you heard the song?

    I ready to watch again, too, Andrea.

    Well, Christy Darlin’, your hubby is a smart man. LD is on of his favorite movies–and he married you. Yes, Lorie Darlin’ was what Gus called Diane Lane. Who could not love a man as good as am M&M? Tough on the outside, tender on the inside.

  9. Howdy Cheryl!
    I’ve never seen Lonesome Dove. I’d like to read the book first though. Do you have a copy you’d loan me? There’s a prezzie involved if you do. *g*

  10. I, too, have never seen or read Lonesome Dove. But I did just add it to my Netflix list. BTW, has anyone ever seen a 1999 made-for-TV movie called ‘Purgatory’? If not, I recommend that one too. According to Netflix:

    “On the run, a group of rowdy outlaws ride into the town of Refuge, a settlement in which no one carries a gun, there’s no jail, and swearing is not allowed. The desperadoes hatch a plan to take over the nonviolent town, only to discover they’re up against the legendary — and long since dead — Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James and Doc Holliday. Big guns Eric Roberts, Sam Shepard, Donnie Wahlberg and Randy Quaid star in this offbeat Western.”

    It was good and very offbeat. Worth the time to watch.

  11. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve watched Lonesome Dove and I always see something I missed. Tommy Lee Jones talks so fast that I can’t get all of what he’s saying in one sitting. The characters in this movie are what hooked me. Each one is so complex and yet they blend together with a seamless thread. It’s one of the best movies I think I’ve ever seen. Just captures the spirit of the west and fulfills something inside me. And I can’t help but be a little proud that Larry McMurtry’s home town of Archer City, Texas is only thirty miles from here. He sponsors a writing retreat on his ranch during the summer for college writers. A very interesting man.

  12. I loved Lonesome Dove and the other movies (seen them all only once, but might have to remedy that). I even watched some of the tv show they had on a while back and really enjoyed the mini-series “Return to Lonesome Dove”. I have not read the book yet though. I did buy and read Deadman’s Walk though.

  13. I have seen Purgatory, Karen. Seems it was one of those TNT movies? I watched it once and can’t remember beng thrilled with it. I may have it taped somewhere and will have to look.

    I’m with you about the characterization, Linda. How cool that McMurtry has a retreat for college students!

    I didn’t watch any of the TV show, Jennifer. How was it?

  14. I vaguely remember watching it years ago but don’t recall a lot of it. Your post has made me want to rewatch it.

  15. Great post. I read Lonesome Dove as soon as it was published and thought it one of the best books I’ve ever read. Could not put it down. It’s one of those unusual cases where the mini series lived up to the book. And to Cheryl, I did see Purgatory. Interesting film and memoriable because of its premise.

  16. Cheryl~

    I’m glad you brought this up today. I have wanted to watch Lonesome Dove for years and I’ve never gotten around to it. I haven’t read the book either, sad to say.

    I think I my interest in it first peaked when I heard Garth Brooks’ In Lonesome Dove. It references it, but I don’t think the story in his song is in the movie or book. Here are the lyrics-

    She was a girl on a wagon train
    Headed west across the plains
    The train got lost in a summer storm
    They couldn’t move west and they couldn’t go home
    Then she saw him ridin’ through the rain
    He took charge of the wagons and he saved the train
    And she looked down and her heart was gone
    The train went west but she stayed on
    In Lonesome Dove

    A farmer’s daughter with a gentle hand
    A blooming rose in a bed of sand
    She loved the man who wore a star
    A Texas Ranger known near and far
    So they got married and they had a child
    But times were touch and the West was wild
    So it was no surprise the day she learned
    That her Texas man would not return
    To Lonesome Dove

    Back to back with the Rio Grande
    A Christian woman in the devil’s land
    She learned the language and she learned to fight
    But she never learned how to beat the lonely nights
    In Lonesome Dove, Lonesome Dove

    She watched her boy grow into a man
    He had an angel’s heart and the devil’s hand
    He wore his star for all to see
    He was a Texas lawman legacy
    Then one day word blew into town
    It seemed the men that shot his father down
    Had robbed a bank in Cherico
    The only thing ‘tween them and Mexico
    Was Lonesome Dove

    The shadows stretched across the land
    As the shots rang out down the Rio Grande
    And when the smoke had finally cleared the street
    The men lay at the ranger’s feet
    But legend tells to this very day
    That shots were comin’ from an alleyway
    Though no one knows who held the gun
    There ain’t no doubt if you ask someone
    In Lonesome Dove
    Back to back with the Rio Grande
    A Christian woman in the devil’s land
    She learned the language and she learned to fight
    But she never learned how to beat the lonely nights
    In Lonesome Dove, Lonesome Dove

    I’m going to have to find out whether our video store carries it this weekend. Great post! (if not I’ll be off to order it on amazon! LOL)

  17. Cheryl– can you believe I have never seen that movie! I will mosey on over to library and check it out! I also haven’t seen Broken Trail and I need to get that one as well. Movie watchin’ weekend for me!

  18. I guess will have to rent it or see if someone has it because I don’t remember all of it so it would be a good idea to watch it again.

  19. This blog is influencing me to go get this movie! I have been missing out on what sounds like a great movie! We need a movie night..LOL!

  20. Katrina, I enjoyed Broken Trail a lot. Robert Duvall plays the crusty old cowboy he does so well.

    Hi, Beth! Only once? Brenda and Kathleen, it’s nice to hear you’ll be watching and enjoying again.

    Thanks to everyone for stopping by today!

  21. Saw parts of Lonesome Dove-will check out entirety soon- GREAT cast! Thank Heaven for google-Broken Trail airs on Encore Oct 1, 8 pm est, 7 cst; to see for first time. Cheryl & Karen, I LOVED Purgatory and read some interesting tidbits on wikipedia via google. “The Quick and the Dead” and Silverado are 2 newer favorites. The Rare Breed with Jimmy Stewart & Mureen O’Hara is 1 of 5 movies I saw with my Dad. Speaking of 3:10 to Yuma, not seen original YET but my father reminds me of Glenn Ford (just NOT in this movie- Dad is a gentle man.) I would watch ANYTHING with Glenn in it!! Can’t list ALL my fav westerns, would take too long! Annie Oakley & Rin Tin Tin on TV “back in the day” LOL
    Got to stop or I could go on & on & on.

  22. Ivan just told I have too watched Lonesome Dove. He said, “Don’t you remember Gus always talking about a ‘poke’. That did bring it back, I’m not proud to say.
    I asked him if I liked it and he said yes.
    Then I asked him if I was tired and hungry and he said yes on hungry, no on tired.
    Nice to not have to think at all.

  23. Hi Cheryl! I have Lonesome Dove on tape and have watched it over and over again. Too many times to count. lol It’s an excellent movie. I think the casting was great and the dialog is the best. One of my favorite lines from Gus is “A man who wouldn’t cheat for a poke don’t want one bad enough.”

    I don’t think return to Lonesome Dove was as good but I did enjoy it. I haven’t seen Streets of Laredo or Deadman’s Walk. I’ll have to work on that. Winter is coming and I’m going to need some movies to curl up with.

  24. Hi Cheryl,
    I’ve never seen Lonesome Dove or read the book either! Like Mel, I like to read a book first. Movies leave things out or change things. Books are always so much better!

  25. Hi Cheryl,

    I have seen Lonesome Dove severaltimes! When it first aired I was glued to the set every night! It was absolutely the best western I’ve ever seen. It couldn’t with the cast it had. I haven’t read the book, tho.

  26. Hi, Lou, glad you’ll get to catch Broken Trail. Did you mention you were moving before this? I *might* have missed it, if you did.

    Yup, good old Gus and his “pokes.” LOL

    Yee haw, Katrina! Let me know after you’ve watched them. Up to you how you like to watch. Like Carol and Mel said, sometimes you’re disappointed by the movie after reading the book. I did it the other way around, so I can’t say.

    Love your Gus quote, Kim!

    Hi, Martha! Long time no see, welcome to Petticoats and Pistols. Hope you’ll stop back often.

  27. I loved the movie and it’s caused a dilema for me for many years. I always want to read books before seeing movies. I had ordered Lonesome Dove through a book club years before and never got to it and didn’t realize I even had it and so I watched the movie. I’ve never gone back to read those books (2 hardbacks).

  28. It’s been a while since I saw LD…but Broken Trail was wonderful, and Purgatory definitely held my interest. I just watched the original 3:10 to Yuma last night…wow, what a great character study. Managed to catch “previews” to the Russell Crowe version full of shoot-outs and fire. So am interested in how that’s a remake LOL…anybody seen it yet?

  29. I saw Lonesome Dove when it was on the first time when I was in college and was just riveted by it. I have the dvd in my collection of westerns but haven’t watched it again yet, it was magical to me the first time and I’m not sure if it will live up to my first viewing. I have the book on my TBR bookshelves (trust me, it’s the whole thing!) but I haven’t had time to read it. Guess I’ll have to do that soon, once I get over my Harry Dresden fixation.

  30. Cheryl, GREAT blog! I love behind the scenes on movies, just like getting to know authors LOL Might borrow the HBO special sometime if I’m VERY careful? No hurry, the move won’t be til May I think, just TONS of sorting prior, 3 decades of collecting. GROAN 🙁
    Taryn, thanks for sharing lyrics, enjoy both Garth & Geo Strait.
    Michelle, may order the book you mentioned-maybe my Borders discount will apply?
    I prefer to read books first, but sounds like this one won’t matter.

  31. I saw the Lonesome Dove miniseries when it first aired and LOVED it. I went right out and bought the book. The miniseries followed the book perfectly. Everyone was cast perfectly except for the part played by Robert Ulrich (that was a bad choice) Knowing how the miniseries ended, I have not to this day read the end of the book because I did not want it to end. Danny Glover made me cry when he was helping the children. It’s a fantastic DVD to have in your collection and I am looking forward the the book of photographs coming out next month.

  32. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Lonesome Dove – a western classic, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.



  34. Hi! My future husband and I LOVE Lonesome Dove! For our upcoming wedding we want to wear the same clothing as Lori and Gus would as if they were getting married. Can you help me? I need everything that Lori would have worn and he needs everything that Gus would have worn. Lori was my favorite character.

  35. Good to see other people like LD as much as me,
    my friends and I have probably watched it at least 50 times, it’s actually out on Blu-ray now
    which looks really good on an HD T.V.

    “uva uvam vivendo

  36. Gus used a 3rd Model Colt Dragoon. It is a very powerful early cap and ball revolver. Very popular in Texas in the early days, and used by the Rangers until 1873. Still some of the old Rangers would have used them after, as there was nothing wrong with them, just they were heavier, and after 6 shots, you had problems with time in reloading. That is what he is doing in the wash-out with PI when they kill the horses.

  37. I wish I could count all of the times I have watched the movie!! The book came out the year I was born, and I was not yet four when it originally aired on television. However, LD is the first movie I ever remember watching! Growing up on a ranch, as kids most of our days were spent on horses pretending to be the characters in the movie. If I can recall correctly, I went through 3 VHS versions of the movie as I watched it to the point it ruined the tape, before getting the ENTIRE LD collection on DVD (not to mention I also have a lot of it recorded on TiVo now too)! Ironically enough, when I started receiving college acceptance letters in the mail, I couldn’t determine where I wanted to go. In turn, I opted to visit one of the schools and meet with an advisor. When I walked into the advisor’s office, on his wall was a picture of Gus! I literally looked at the picture for roughly 20 seconds and said “there is no need for discussion. I will be going to school here”. Best decision I ever made! Now I am working to pass the love of the movie on to my nieces!

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