When we were first brainstorming ideas for what would become the Pink Pistol Sisterhood series, it seemed only natural to look to a 19th century woman famous for both her marksmanship and her femininity as inspiration. When we learned of Annie Oakley’s passion for teaching other ladies how to defend themselves, we knew we had a foundation upon which to build.
It is estimated that Annie Oakley taught more that 15,000 women how to shoot over the course of her lifetime!
My heroine, Tessa James, seeks lessons from the great Annie Oakley, and I have to tell you that writing such a legend into my story was both daunting and incredibly fun.
Since my heroine lives in Caldwell, Texas, I needed to find a way to bring Annie to the Lone Star State. The 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago had just concluded. Annie had performed alongside the World’s Fair with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This had been a long engagement, so I thought it possible that Annie and her husband Frank Butler might be in the mood for a change of scenery. Why not bring them to the south, and to Texas in particular? I found documentation that Buffalo Bill brought his western extravaganza to Texas in 1900, so perhaps this could have been an early scouting trip by one of his headliners.
Annie and Frank made their living through their own shooting exhibitions when they weren’t traveling with Buffalo Bill. So as all fiction authors do, I began asking Whatif? What if Annie and Frank decided to visit the Texas state capital and put on an exhibition while there? What if Annie agreed to give shooting lessons to any females who stayed after the performance?
Now that I had Annie coming to Texas, I needed to find a place for her to perform. My research led me to the perfect place–Hyde Park Pavilion.
Hyde Park was the first suburban development in Austin. Streetcar service made it possible for people to settle in this quiet, rural area. Before the area was developed with Craftsman houses and shady lanes, though, it was an area famous for recreation. The Texas State Fair used the area as its fairgrounds from 1875-1884. The flat terrain made it ideal for racing, so the Capital Jockey Association set up a racecourse there that became known as “the finest in the South.” The state militia used the area for training and drills during its summer encampments and drew crowds numbering in the thousands.
The State Lunatic Asylum had been built on these grounds in 1861, and during the 1870’s, they embarked on a beautification project that created 600 yards of scenic drives and a chain of lakes and lily ponds. Following this beautification, the asylum grounds became a favorite place for courting couples. Buggy drives and picturesque strolls became the norm. And when a large pavilion was constructed by Gem Lake in 1892, this became one of the most popular resorts in Austin.
The pavilion played host to concerts, plays, dances, and hosts of other entertainment. It seemed the perfect location for Annie Oakley to perform. I found a great photograph to help me picture what a turn-of-the-century crowd might have looked like at the Hyde Park Pavilion.
I had Annie perform inside the pavilion, where a crowd could watch in comfort, but the lessons she gave to Tessa and the other ladies happened on the lawn area that stretched wide on the side opposite the lake.
Who knew that the grounds of a lunatic asylum would provide the perfect setting for Annie Oakley to meet my heroine?
In Her Sights is now available for preorder and early reviews are coming in. Here is what some readers are saying on Goodreads:
This book hits all of the right notes. It was sweet, it was funny, it had likeable characters who were easy to root for, and I was grinning like an idiot almost the whole time I was reading it.
Tessa and Jackson are delightfully perfect for one another . . . Tessa’s plan to catch Jackson’s attention is priceless and I laughed at the whole scene behind the old school.
I loved Every. Single. Thing. about this novella! As usual, Karen Witemeyer hooks you from the beginning with memorable characters and a enduring storyline.
Hilarious! What a delightful, comic, and inspirational love story! Ms. Witemeyer has delivered a great story with characters I would like to know. . . Can’t wait for the next book!
If you lived in Austin, Texas at the turn-of-the-century, would you have wanted to go courting on the grounds of a lunatic asylum?
I’ve lived in the same house in a rather affluent part of my city for 35 years. In that time, I’ve seen the area grow and thrive. We have lots of restaurants and shopping, banks and office buildings. Good schools and churches. Neighborhoods are well-kept and safe.
Safe, most of all.
Until recently, that is.
Several weeks ago, less than a mile away from my home, one of the banks I frequent was robbed. The two thieves pistol-whipped a bank employee, roughed up and dragged a pregnant employee by the hair, and injured a bank customer. They got away with $350,000. Luckily, the police found them early the next morning. One of the robbers had red dye staining his face, pretty strong evidence of his guilt.
Last week, unbelievably, a young, heavily-armed man walked into my Target store a mere block from the same bank. 250 people were in that store. Once he started shooting, people fled into bathrooms, fitting rooms, and out the back door. By the grace of God, he didn’t kill anyone. Dozens of police cars from all over the city and surrounding towns raced to the store. Six minutes after the first 911 call, one brave police officer took care of the situation, saving those 250 lives.
Sure makes you want to lock up your house and never come out, doesn’t it?
But of course, we can’t live that way, and in the time since, I wondered about the men and women who lived in the far reaches of our country when it was yet new and unsettled. No 911 calls. No speeding policemen. No high-tech databases. No cell phones to keep frantic families informed.
Sure, they had sheriff posses and organized groups like the Texas Rangers. The men were dedicated and tough, but they were helped along only by their horse, word-of-mouth, and possibly the occasional telegram from neighboring county law enforcement that might have news about an outlaw’s whereabouts.
The Pinkerton Agency’s detectives were a little more sophisticated in their sleuthing. Record-keeping was perfected, criminals and their methods were studied, and even the cleverness of working undercover produced positive results in preventing crime and catching criminals. But speed wasn’t their strong suit.
And then there were the citizens themselves who often took matters in their own hands when law enforcement was nowhere to be found or too far away to help. Vigilantes, too, who enacted justice with the help of a rope and a long-branched tree.
Thank goodness those days are gone. Justice was hard and slow. Sometimes it didn’t happen at all.
Unfortunately, crime still thrives, the acts far more sophisticated and deadly than ever before. I’m afraid the outlaws of yesteryear would never have thought of the crimes being committed today.
I’m grateful to say I’ve never been a victim of one. I’ve never had a car broken into, or my house robbed, or my purse stolen. My neighborhood–knock on wood–remains very safe, and hopefully will for a very long time to come.
Have you ever been a victim of a crime? Did the modern-day outlaw fall to justice?
Are you up for a little history today? We haven’t had any in while. I found this article about Samuel Walker that interested me.
Walker arrived in Texas six years following the War for Independence. He would only live five more years but in that time, he left an indelible mark. Such as defend San Antonio from Mexican forces, invade Mexico four times, escape from a Mexican prison, and help design one of the most famous guns in Texas.
In 1843, he was captured and put in a Mexican prison. Instead of killing all 176 Texas militiamen, they made them draw beans from a pot. Whoever drew a black bean would die and the ones with the white beans would live. Walker drew a white bean and was marched 800 miles across Mexico’s most brutal deserts.
He eventually escaped and made it back to Texas where he joined the Texas Rangers in 1844.
This photo taken by Mathew Benjamin Brady is in the Library of Congress under Public Domain.
When General Zachary Taylor (who later became president of the U.S.) asked for volunteers for a dangerous mission, Walker raised his hand. It seems danger was something he thrived on. He led the battle for Monterrey and hoisted the American flag.
Have you ever heard of the Walker Colt revolver? In 1846, Samuel Walker met up with Samuel Colt and together they designed the heaviest military sidearm ever issued. It remained the heaviest for 88 years. It had a nine-inch barrel and a .44 caliber round and an effective range of 100 yards. That’s the length of a football field. Impressive.
The only drawback was that it weighed 4 ½ pounds, far too heavy for most men to hold with one hand. A lot of users made a scabbard and kept it on their horse, only using it when the need arose.
It was an awesome weapon. Several years ago I had the opportunity to hold one and I had to use both hands to pick it up and even then I could barely raise it to aim.
I’m not a gun advocate but I do admire the workmanship of this. I also admire Samuel Walker and the large life he lived, the mark he left on history, in just 5 years. A Texas Ranger Captain and officer of the republic, he died in 1847 in battle. A fitting end to a legend.
I’ve put the Texas Rangers into some of my stories but never as the main character. I may have to remedy that.
Do you ever find that a piece of history just leaps out at you? That happens to me all the time and I go chasing a rabbit down a hole.I’ll have a new book out in March called Winning Maura’s Heart. CLICK HERE to preorder. Who is the mysterious man known only as Calhoun?
Texas ranching has a long and storied history. Its roots go back to 1493 when Christopher Columbus made his second visit to Hispaniola. He brought with him several head of cattle, who were the ancestors of the Texas Longhorns bred throughout the state today.
The 16th and 17th centuries saw cattle ranching advance through Mexico and into modern-day Texas. The first cattle ranch was found in the El Paso region, where several thousand cattle were raised. These early ranches were formed by Spanish missionaries; private ranches would arise in the mid-18th century.
The Mexican War of Independence destroyed the Spanish missionary ranches. The Austin colony was formed at the end of the war, attracting Anglos to come stake a claim on the land and the cattle on it. They brought their eastern cattle to breed with the Spanish cattle, and the result was the Texas Longhorn.
The U.S. annexed Texas in 1845, and it spread out land for railways and new settlements. There was plenty of land to go around, and the demand grew high for beef. The cowboy system we’ve come to hold so dear began around this time.
It wasn’t just men who worked on the ranches; women were important to ranch operations, too. One woman, a former slave named Julia Blanks, helped with roundups, planted crops, raised up animals, and helped with the cooking during roundups on the Adams Ranch.
Her daughters followed in her footsteps — “My oldest girl used to take the place of a cowboy, and put her hair up in her hat. And ride! My goodness, she loved to ride.”
The first woman who led a cattle drive was Margaret Borland. After her husband passed, she became the sole owner of the Victoria ranch and 8,000 longhorns. Six years later, she had 10,000 cattle in her care. In 1873, she became the first female trail boss, leading 2,500 longhorns, her three children, and several cowboys up the Chisholm Trail into Kansas.
In recent years, ranches have had to adopt newer ways of bringing income, as the cost of cattle and maintaining the land has risen. The historic YO Ranch let its land for hunting and outdoor recreation. The Matador Ranch soon followed suit.
This past spring, the last ‘grande dame’ of the Texas ranching world was laid to rest. And last month, one of the few remaining ranching ‘empires’ went on the chopping block.
I call it a chopping block because here in Texas, far too many of our great and historic ranches have been sold to the highest bidder (usually someone residing outside the country, let alone the state) and chopped up into smaller pieces, the land and its resources plumbed until nothing worth anything remains, and a vital chapter of our Texas heritage and history has been wiped clean.
This sad fate of a place I consider to be a bit of Texas heaven inspired this story and this series — the Texas Heritage series.
In the first book, The Texas Cowboy’s Proposal, we meet the two granddaughters of Sarah McNamara Burkitt…Laurel Annabella and Samantha Josefina. The heroine of this first book will be Samantha, aka Sammi Jo. She has just been handed a hard blow when her older sister shares the finer points of their grandmother’s will.
Stop a minute and comment about a piece of your heritage that still impacts your life today.
One lucky commenter will receive a free copy of The Texas Cowboy’s Proposal!
Research. Authors tend to be in two camps where it’s concerned: those who love it and those who hate it. I’m firmly in the first category. I love learning new things about the time period and location I’ve chosen for my books, but – and this is a big but – there’s a problem. All too often I uncover tidbits that I find fascinating but that won’t fit into my stories. Since I hate to have them languish in my research folder, I thought I’d share ten of them with you today.
The first five come from The Texans, part of Time-Life’s The Old West series.
Although there’s no denying Stephen Austin’s importance in Texas history, colonizing the area wasn’t his dream. It was his father, Moses’s. In fact, Stephen was less than enthusiastic about the idea. But when Stephen learned that his father’s dying wish was that he ensure that Moses’s plans for Texas were realized, the dutiful son agreed. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
One of the terms of the land grant Austin (Stephen, that is) received was that he’d bring 300 families to settle on that land. Though he’d expected that to be relatively easy to accomplish, he was only able to recruit 297. No one seemed too distressed by that breach of contract, and those families were soon referred to as the Old Three Hundred.
The Mexican government had two stipulations for land ownership: settlers must become both Mexican citizens and Roman Catholics. Since most of the immigrants were Protestants, it was generally understood that Catholic rites would not be strictly enforced.
Because not all communities had priests, couples who wanted to marry but didn’t want to wait for the priest to reach their town would often have a civil ceremony. That ceremony included signing a bond that they’d have their marriage confirmed by a priest as soon as possible. In theory, the bond was legally enforceable, but unhappy couples who wanted to dissolve their marriage simply destroyed the bond and declared themselves once more single.
Speaking of marriage, Sam Houston, another legendary figure in early Texas history, had a disastrous one. Within three months of marrying the much younger Eliza Allen in 1829, they were separated, perhaps because of his drunkenness. Fortunately for him, when he married again in 1840, also to a considerably younger woman, the marriage was a longer and presumably happier one that resulted in eight children.
My second source of tidbits is T.R. Fehrenbach’s Lone Star.
You’re undoubtedly familiar with the term hidalgo, but did you know that it’s derived from the old Spanish term Fijo d’Algo, meaning “son of someone important”?
When Texas became a state, its constitution included some unusual (at least for the time) provisions. (1) No minister could serve in the legislature. (2) Married women were guaranteed property rights. (3) Private households were exempt from foreclosure. (4) Banks could not incorporate.
In 1838 Texas became the first part of America to enact homestead legislation.
Immigrants, particularly from Europe, formed a large part of the population. In fact, by 1850 European – mostly German – immigrants outnumbered Mexicans and Anglos in San Antonio.
Among the immigrants who settled in the Hill Country were a number of intellectuals who formed utopian colonies referred to as “Latin Colonies” because they conducted weekly meetings where they discussed topics ranging from politics to literature to music in Latin. While there was no doubting the founders’ education, their lack of farming experience led to a predictable decline in the towns’ fortunes.
And there you have it: ten tidbits that intrigued me. Were you surprised by any of them? Which did you find the most interesting? Can you envision a story with one of these as its basis? If so, which?
Amanda is graciously giving away a print copy of The Spark of love to one lucky commenter.
She’s determined to start a new life in the West . . . if only the old one will leave her alone
When a spurned suitor threatens her, heiress Alexandra Tarkington flees New York for Mesquite Springs in the Texas Hill Country, where her father is building a hotel. But the happy reunion she envisions is not to be as her father insists she return to New York. Instead, Alexandra carves out a niche for herself in town, teaching schoolchildren to paint and enjoying the company of Gabe Seymour, a delightful man she met on the stagecoach.
But all is not as it seems. Two men, each with his own agenda, have followed her to Mesquite Springs. And Gabe is an investigator, searching for proof that her father is a swindler.
With so much to lose—and hide from one another—Alexandra and Gabe will have to come together if they are ever to discover whether the sparks they’ve felt from the beginning can kindle the fire of true love.
Amanda Cabot is the bestselling author of more than forty books and a variety of novellas. Her books have been honored with a starred review from Publishers Weekly and have been finalists for the ACFW Carol Award, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers’ Best.
I wrote a blog here a while back about things to do around Dallas. One of those were the Fort worth Stockyards. Well, I can’t very well recommend somewhere I’ve never been, right? The grandkids were visiting from Panama (and getting vaccinated-dual citizens!), so we went on a day trip.
Wow, there’s something there for everyone!
First recommendation – go in early spring or fall – it gets hot there! Second, go early. We got there early enough to snag a shady parking spot, and started wandering.
Tons of shopping! Everything from tourist-trap stuff to really top end boots and attire. These guys were outside one shop, and I was tempted to take one home – instead, settled for the perfect coaster for my desk!
Then we sat on a bench beside the brick of Exchange Avenue, and waited for the cowboys to drive a herd of longhorns past! (happens daily at 11:30 & 4:00) I don’t know if you’ve ever been close to a longhorn, but they are HUGE!
They also had one saddled and standing in the shade that you could get on and grab a photo, but none of us were tempted.
We wandered, and every fifty feet or so there are stars in the sidewalk, like in Hollywood, but they’re for cowboys (and women) that helped settle the west, Western actors, even the cattle trails had one.
After a delicious lunch at Shake Shack (Didn’t know there was one in Texas!), we set off again.
Next stop, Cowtown Coliseum. They have rodeos there every Friday and Saturday night, and the kids would have loved to have seen one, but there just wasn’t time, this trip. But it’s open to the public every day, and there are still things to see there, including Sancho of the curly horns.
It’s also home to the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame – I had a blast finding all the bullriders I’ve followed for years, including the King of the Cowboys, Ty Murray. But it wasn’t only just cowboys – rodeo stock (bucking horses and bulls) are represented too!
Next stop, The John Wayne Museum. It was closed, but we went in the gift shop, and I couldn’t believe it! There was Trigger and Bullet! For you youngsters, that was Roy Rogers’ horse and Dog, from his TV show. I’d seen them at the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, Ca, decades before, and it was like seeing slightly macabre old friends!
On the way out, I couldn’t resist – I had to get on the bucking machine. Mind you, it was NOT moving. Trust me, getting up on that thing was hard enough – a sure sign I’m too old for it, but I had to get a photo!
All in all, a great, fun day – I highly recommend it! You can learn more of the details of what to do there, here.
If you make it there, send me a photo of YOU on the bucking bull!
One of the highlights of my recent trip to Waco with my daughter was visiting the Texas Ranger Museum. If you love westerns, this is the place to go. The guns alone were spectacular. I don’t own guns, nor do I like them outside of my stories, but seeing these centuries-old weapons in pristine condition was a researcher’s dream. I especially loved seeing the guns I’ve described in my stories close-up.
Reading the stories of the early Rangers and their amazing bravery and skill made me feel like Matthew Hanger and his Horsemen would’ve felt right at home.
The most interesting tidbit I learned was that most 19th century Rangers did not wear badges. The state did not provide them, so a Ranger would have to purchase his own. Instead, a Ranger carried his credentials in paper form – A Warrant of Authority and Descriptive List. It provided proof of his authority along with a physical description. I couldn’t help but wonder what could have happened if a Ranger’s credentials were stolen. Especially if he were killed and unable to report it. Could make for an interesting plot twist in a book someday.
Scattered throughout the museum were a collection of small bronze statues depicting western scenes and lawmen. I loved these! I snapped pictures of three of my favorites. The first is a Texas Ranger standing proud and ready to do battle. The second made me smile. It’s titled Free Legal Advice and it shows a man on horseback stopping to jaw with a professional man in a buggy. The third is my favorite. Nothing touches my heart more than a tough man holding a baby. In this statue titles Compassion, a man in buckskin cradles an infant. It makes my mind whirl with story possibilities. And reminds me a bit of my upcoming story The Heart’s Charge, where two of my Horsemen find a newborn and have to deliver her on horseback to a foundling home several miles away.
There were more modern displays in the museum as well, starting with Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who tracked down and killed Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s, and moving into contemporary times.
Visiting this hall of fame made me think of all the old westerns I would watch growing up. Especially shows like the Rifleman. But it also made me think of the two most famous fictional ranger heroes.
If you had to pick one favorite fictional ranger, which would you choose?
Anyone familiar with my books might think I have a thing for Texas Rangers, and they be would right. The Texas Rangers are the oldest law enforcement agency and will celebrate their bicentennial in two years. Stephen F. Austin organized the first group of 10 Texas Rangers back in 1823.
Those early Rangers had no formal law enforcement training, used their own horses and weapons, and faced some of the deadliest outlaws alone. Some even worked without pay. It was a hard job, requiring countless hours in the saddle and endless nights beneath the stars.
Some modern historians take issue with the Rangers’ “brutal force,” but times were tough and the stakes high. Historical events are often subjected to differing interpretations when viewed from modern times.
Most agree, however, that many Texas Rangers made their mark in Western history. Too many, in fact, to name here. But here are a few:
Frank started out as a blacksmith and then became a cowboy. He may have remained so had he not helped in the arrest of a horse thief. That’s when the crime-fighting bug bit.
Counted as one of the most fearless men in Western history, he is credited with killing more than 60 outlaws. In the course of his work, he sustained 17 wounds and had been left for dead four times. He retired in 1932 but, even then, no outlaw was safe. Two years after his retirement, he retained a commission as Special Investigator in the case of Bonnie and Clyde. His work ended their deadly crime spree and resulted in their deaths.
Considered by some to be the greatest captains in Texas Ranger history, McDonald’s distractors considered him an irresponsible lawman who precipitated violence and sought publicity. Most, however, agreed that he was “a man who would charge hell with a bucket of water.”
“No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’,” was his motto. Upon being sent to Texas to prevent a prizefight, he was asked by the sheriff where the other rangers were. According to legend, this was when the phrase “One riot, one Ranger,” was coined.
Texas Ranger Armstrong didn’t let anything get in the way of catching his man, not even a bullet wound to his leg. On assignment to capture notorious criminal John Wesley Hardin, Armstrong cornered the outlaw on a train. Limping aboard, Armstrong switched his cane to his left hand and drew out his gun. (Now that’s something you don’t see in movies.)
He shot and killed one of Hardin’s gang members, knocked Hardin unconscious, and disarmed the other three outlaws. Once he had everything control, the other law enforcers filed onto the train to take the men into custody.
John “Rip” Ford
Ford couldn’t seem to make up his mind what profession he wanted to pursue. He was a lawyer, doctor, surveyor, newspaper editor, teacher, historian, playwright, printer, mayor, sheriff, chief of police, city marshal, and state and national senator. But he’s most remembered as a Texas Ranger.
He was nicknamed Rip because of his habit of writing the words “Rest in peace” next to the names on the company’s casualty list, and for leading his men into successful battles.
Ira joined the Rangers in 1878 and played a central role in the Fence-Cutting Wars. Barbed wire put an end to the once-open range. Disgruntled cowboys, hustlers, and outlaws became fence clippers. Attempts to stop the wire cutters failed until Ira came up with a solution: dynamite.
He rigged the wires so if the one on top was cut, it would trigger an explosion. Word quickly spread that bombs were planted under the fence lines, effectively ending the “war.”
This past weekend, my daughter and I had a girls’ getaway weekend in Brenham, TX. Bethany is working on her PhD at Texas A&M, and since I don’t get to see her very often these days, I decided it would be fun for the two of us to have a getaway weekend once a semester. We did a lot of relaxing, reading, movie watching, and cross-stitching during our time together, but we also spend the afternoon on Saturday at Washington on the Brazos.
The town of Washington is considered the birthplace of Texas. It got its name from a group of settlers who traveled from Washington, GA into Texas and named it for their hometown. It was established along the Brazos River and became a significant trade center with its river access.
Under Mexican rule at the time, citizens had to swear their allegiance to Mexico to live there, but since Mexico was a Republic at that time, under the constitution of 1824, the immigrants complied. However, at the next election, Santa Ana was elected president and quickly turned this republic into a dictatorship. This is not go over well with those who had immigrated from the United States. War broke out.
On March 1, 1836, Texas delegates met in an unfinished building in Washington on the Brazos to formally announce Texas’ intention to separate from Mexico and to draft a constitution for a new Republic of Texas. While congregated, they received word from William Travis about the Alamo being attacked. Many wanted to rush to their aid, but Sam Houston insisted they stay and charter their new government. Without that, they would have nothing. In the course of 17 days, they drafted a declaration of independence, adopted a new constitution, and organized an interim government to serve until a government could be elected and inaugurated. This ended up being the right choice, for by the time they received word of the Alamo’s attack, had they left to join the fight, they would have been slaughtered. The Alamo fell on March 6.
The delegates declared independence on March 2, 1836. They adopted their constitution on March 16. The delegates worked until March 17, when they had to flee with the residents of Washington, to escape the advancing Mexican Army. The townspeople returned after the Mexican Army was defeated at San Jacinto on April 21. Town leaders lobbied for Washington’s designation as the permanent capital of the Republic of Texas, but leaders of the Republic favored Waterloo, which later was renamed Austin.
The town of Washington no longer exists today. Like other river towns of this era, they made the mistake of shirking the railroad in favor of steamboats. The brick buildings that once stood tall in one of the largest towns of the area, were carted off brick-by-brick to build new buildings in places where the railroad flourished.
In 1899, a group of school children realized the threat of losing the history of what happened at this location and did a penny drive fundraiser in order to erect a monument to stand at the location where they believed Independence Hall stood. Later, archeologists found the foundation in that very location and Independence Hall was rebuilt and restored to its original specifications.
During our tour, Bethany and I got to sit around the table and listen to the story of all that had transpired in this place. Here is where the nation of Texas was born.
Do you enjoy visiting historical sites?
What was the last place you visited?
“Yesterday’s gone on down the river and you can’t get it back.” -Lonesome Dove
One of my favorite books is Lonesome Dove, which was made into a TV mini-series. Written by Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove isabout two retired Texas Rangers, “Gus” McCrae and “Woodrow” Call who drive a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning story is loosely based on the true story of Charles Goodnight’s and Oliver Loving’s cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Goodnight and Loving were close friends. Before Loving died, he asked that his body be returned to Texas. He did not want to be buried in a “foreign land.” Charles Goodnight and Loving’s son, Joseph, carried the metal casket 600 miles back to Texas.
In Lonesome Dove, Gus dies and Call (played by Tommy Lee Jones) hauls his friend back to Texas as promised. If this doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will.
McMurtry originally wrote the story as a short screenplay named the Streets of Laredo. It was supposed to star John Wayne as Call. But Wayne dropped out and the project was abandoned. 15 years later McMurtry saw an old bus with the phrase “Lonesome Dove Baptist Church” on it. He rushed home to revise the book into a novel and changed the name. (Ah, inspiration.)
The book went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. The mini-series also won many awards, including a Golden Globe. It was cheated out of the Emmy for best mini-series by War and Remembrance. Considered the “Gone With the Wind” and “Godfather” of Western movies, Lonesome Dove has sold more DVDs than any other western.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Robert Duvall as Gus, but he was actually offered the role of Woodrow Call, and turned it down. His wife had read the book and told him, “Whatever you do, don’t let them talk you into playing Woodrow F. Call. Gus is the part you should play.”
James Garner was also considered for the role, but he had to turn it down because of health problems.
McMurtry said that he wrote Lonesome Dove to show the real hardships of living a cattleman’s life vs. the romantic life many think they lived. Some think he failed in this regard. Instead, many readers and critics see Lonesome Dove as a celebration of frontier life.
What is your favorite western book, movie or TV show?