Lonesome Dove: Things to Ponder About

Howdy, like a lot of you, I’ve read the book and seen the movie umpteen (Texan for a large indefinite number) times. Each time I read the book or see the movie, I find some new and interesting nugget or fact.  In fact so much so, for a gift one year; Jane, my wife gave me a book of photographs that chronicles the making of the movie (okay, back on task again).

Each new excursion into the book or movie always seems to bring up more questions than it answers. Does that happen when y’all reread the book or watch the movie again? Yet each time seems to bring up more questions than answers and to me that makes the saga all the more interesting.

So, I’d like to share some of my  ponderings and hope y’all can help me out here:

  • Did Gus really cheat  for a “poke”?
  • Why did Gus have to die? (My uncle has never forgiven Larry McMurtry for this!)
  • What was it about Lippy that Lorie would not even give him a poke for fifty dollars?
  • How did that scout survive the beating Call gave him for his rude behavior?
  • Was Gus’ pistol a Walker or Dragoon?  And why didn’t he ever upgrade? His rifle was an 1866 Winchester. Most men of the day preferred to have a rifle and pistol of the same caliber.
  • What river was Clara’s orchard on?  There are several close by but I like to think it was the Guadalupe.
  • Okay, help me out here, to the best of my knowledge; don’t turkeys prefer cover and need it to survive? Just where did Big Zwey find one on the treeless Great Plains?
  • Just how long did the drive last? I mean, even making ten to twelve miles a day would have taken them months just to get to the Red River.
  • Just what brand did they put on the cattle they took from Flores? Seeing as how this saga was based on the Goodnight-Loving cattle drive, it would be cool to think it might resemble their road brand
  • Did Call love Maggie? Was that why he never took a wife? Or was there something missing in him that prevented him from loving anything?
  • Ever notice they never changed horses? I’ve worked cows and moved them. It will wear a horse out quick.
  •  Did Pocampo ever sneak any bugs into the drovers’ food? Compared to some of things that did go into the stew-pot on drives(ever see the recipe for SOB Stew)?
  • Did Clara truly hate Call or just his friendship with Gus?

Well, these are just a few of my  ponderings and I could ramble on for quite a while, but I’m interested in what y’all think. I love to ramble, but getting to discuss this kind of stuff with others really makes it worthwhile. So, don’t be shy. I’d really enjoy hearing about y’all’s thoughts and ponderings.


  1. robert anderson says:

    First off Gus’s pistol was a #hd model dragoon, His rifle was a 1866 Henry. Capt Call also carried a Henry, Deets carried a Winchester 72

  2. Tommy says:

    What did the letter from Gus to Lori say ? Never revealed in any of the books but after about 10 years, one possible and obvious answer came to mind. Any thoughts?

  3. Debbie says:

    I doubt Gus cheated and I agree with your Uncle,for me they could have ended the book/movie after Gus died pt.2 was no good.I think Lippy had a hole in stomach and we did not know if the Scout lived true he was alive after the thrashing but I like to think he later died.I wanted to know what Gus’ letter to Lorrie said so I read the entire book and it told me nothing either!!!! Still was an excellent book and the movie stayed true to it,,We loved it!!!!

  4. Tanja says:

    Did Call love Maggie? I’m not sure it was in his repertoire of emotions. He seemed to have cared deeply for her when they were together, and certainly felt protective towards her. I won’t say that Call is an emotional cripple, but considering his early life and the life he walked into in Texas, he has a limited range of emotions that are dominated by self-reliance, competence, and brutal (but in many ways elegant) simplicity. I’m not sure that he ever learned the value of an emotional kind of love, having lost his parents early on and having seen so much violence, but unlike others in that same position, he turned that vacuum of emotion into righteousness (in his own mind) – justice, an insanely strong work ethic, and no-nonsense leadership towards the ‘common good’. Gus, on the other hand, had siblings and parents, and CHOSE to leave home to pursue a different life in his early teens. I love them both dearly, and while I understand Clara’s intolerance for Call (both jealousy and contempt because of Newt), I find her contempt over the top. She took a dislike to Call from the minute he stepped into her parent’s store, and Clara does not change her mind once it’s made up. Stubborness, in this case to her discredit. She might have made a difference to Call back in the day had she accepted him as her paramour’s buddy, but she chose to be spiteful.

    • Yvonne Jocks says:

      I agree with you on every count, Tanja. I never could warm up to Clara, in part because of her intolerance of Call–and how she chose to express it. As for whether Call loved Maggie… as much as he could have loved a woman, I think he came as close as possible with her. But when he had to face the possibility, when he spoke her name, he couldn’t take that finally step and commit himself to her, so he left her instead (LD version; Comanche Moon is retroactive continuity). If she hadn’t had the moral stain of prostitution, perhaps he would have married her… but he never would have gotten so close to her, in that case. If she had been a stronger woman, perhaps she could have put her foot down and convinced him to marry her… but if she’d been a stronger woman, he’s unlikely to have felt quite so protective of her. Their tragedy seems inevitable.

  5. Dennis Colligan says:

    The first time I saw LD on TV I was shocked that Gus died. I then read the book. It was so ironic to me & possibly a departure too wide to reconcile with gus’ character that he would commit such a foolish error and be killed by indians after they had “whipped ‘em all down here” in south Texas. On the other hand, I have, over time , come to believe that his death was perfectly fitting to his character. He took a chance for the fun of chasing buffalo because he was an adventurer & a fun seeker. “Fun is my department” (which is a reference which is inaccurate because “my department” is a term originating from the advent of ‘department stores’ in the 1920s not the 1860s.) I agree with Gus , I would not like to see him as a useless has-been with no legs degrading himself for a shot of whiskey. Besides, how would he kick a pig ?

  6. Tommy says:

    I am going to take a guess at my own question about what the letter from Gus to Lori said. The one thing that Lori always wanted was to go to San Francisco. I think that Gus left her the money from his share of the cows and the letter told her that if she decided to leave Clara’s that he left her enough money to go to San Francisco. (Remember that he promised her that if they ever got to Denver he would buy her a ticket to San Francisco).

  7. Joe says:

    My own thought is that Clara’s ranch is on the Platte River.

  8. John V says:

    Great questions! Too many to answer all, but the most intriguing was Call and Maggie. I think he DID love her, and never doubted that Newt was his – or if he did, realized he had enough chance of being responsible to look after him. I think he loved her, but didn’t allow himself to commit due to her profession. It’s the flip side of how Gus would lend $2 to a kid he new was going to go hire Lori, yet was perfectly fine spending his life taking care of her… makes his love to Clara all that more in focus.

  9. Now I always wondered why New kept riding the same horse. Clara gave him one & in the book Jake gave his to him. Yeah, I think Gus cheated for a poke….don’t know how..I wondered where Big Zwey found a turkey in the middle of nowhere. I also don’t understand Call’s & Maggie’s relationship. I wish he had acknowledged

  10. Julie M says:

    1, I think Gus did cheat at cards for a poke. 2. Gus died because there are safer ways to approach a hill, as Woodrow said. It was realistic, if heartbreaking. 3. Lippy was disgusting and had a wound in his stomach that leaked and would never heal. Would YOU sleep with him even for $50? 4. All we know about Dixon, the scout Call beat, is that he was alive when they hauled him away. He might have died later. 5. Someone else has answered about Gus’ Dragoon. 6. I have no idea what river it could be. 7. Maybe the turkey was lost? 8. It’s been a while since I read the book, but I believe the drive started in late April or early May, and lasted about 5-6 months. 9. I believe the brand was a combination of the letters H and C (for Hat Creek) 10. I believe Call did love Maggie. He was ashamed of the need that she had for him, and the need he felt for her. Not a sexual need, but a deeper need. He saw it as a weakness. His reasons for not acknowledging Newt are very well explained in about 3-4 paragraphs in the book, when Newt is leaving and when Call gives him the Hell Bitch. 11. They didn’t change horses in the movie, but then again, we didn’t see them every single day in the movie. The book mentions several times about the different horses in the remuda that they would ride. 12. I don’t think Po Campo would “sneak” anything. He didn’t seem devious in that way. 13. I think she hated Call partially because of who he was, and partially because of his friendship with Gus. She said she thought they ruined each other, and it galled her that Call got so much more of Gus than she did.

    • Josh says:

      Clara dispised Capt. Call because because he got so much of Gus’ time over the years and she didn’t. And she dispised him for not burying Gus in her family cemetery even after he told her he told Gus that very thing but Gus didn’t want to be buried next to that “dumb horse trader” who was so dumb he couldn’t even walk through a door without bumping his head. I would like to know what the note said to Lorrie myself, I’ve watched that move at least 50 times, it’s my all time favorite. I believe I could quote every line, and it looked to me like when Bid Sway beat up ol Luke and had that turkey that there were some trees and woods in the background, maybe not much though, not 100% on that though. But Clara dispised him then for what he was and she dispised him then for what he was doing by not burying him close to where Lorrie was living because she knew how Lorrie felt about Capt. Agustust McRae. Just my opinion though, haven’t read the book but seen the move since I was a boy and it’s been my favorite ever since. Gus in my opinion was my favorite, I wish he wouldn’t have died so soon but it did make it a good movie.

  11. Robyn Kammerer says:

    Gus had to die because Mr. McMurtry was drawing on fact for this story. Google the Goodnight-Loving saga. I hated the fact that Gus died as well but admire the author for staying true to real storyline.

  12. JC Cameron says:

    #1 According to the Goodnight-Loving story they wintered thier stock in the Pao-Duro Canyon of the Texas panhandle, thus taking several months to reach Montana. #2 There have always been large numbers of turkey on the Great Plains, they were normally near to the timber along rivers and creeks for what there was. #3 Often times a drover would change horses 2 or 3 times a day. #4 I believe Clara despised Call for his vanity and the fact that Gus was so loyal to him. He knew Newt was his but had to much pride to admit it. Lets say he was not the warm and fuzzy type. #4 PI Parker and Joshua Deetz were based off real people and what Call wrote on Deetz grave marker was exactly what Chls. Goodnight wrote on the real Deetz marker. With out a doubt a super mini-series.

  13. Scoots826 says:

    1) Yes Gus cheated for a poke. He said “Any man who wouldn’t cheat for one didn’t want one bad enough”. 2) Why did Gus have to die? Hmm… probably b/c the author wanted to wrap up this saga and it went along with the lesson or dynamics of Gus ‘s character “live every day to the fullest” as opposed to Call’s “do your duty and that’s all you need to do” which Call questioned in the end after so much loss. Which Clara had thrown up in his face, too. 3) Lorie picked & chose who she liked & who she didn’t. She didn’t like Lippy & maybe b/c of the hole in his stomach, too. But I don’t think she liked how he was. She had no respect for him. 4) Don’t know if the scout survived; he was alive when they carried him off. 5) Dragoon, I think 6) Clara’s Orchard, as Gus called it, was on the Guadelupe River 7) Maybe an Indian left the turkey out there :) 8) The drive lasted 6 or 7 months. Hmm…I think Call never married Maggie because he needed to stick “to his duty”. Like Gus said, it was the only time Call was “human”. I think Call saw it as a weakness. And his “duty” in life was as a Ranger. He also felt the guilt where it concerned Newt because like Gus said, Call had a chance to be human and turned his back on it. Admitting he was Newt’s father was to admit his failure with Maggie and causing her to die of grief. Clara may have been harsh with him but she nailed it about his personality. How Call always chose “duty” over human necessities or being needed or needing anyone, etc. In the book they changed horses, even the Captain, though he preferred the Hell Bitch mostly and she could handle being ridden constantly & for miles. I think at the end, it came down to Call’s realization that his sticking to “duty” didn’t amount to anything. He lost those most important to him. It even started affecting his mind. Hanging Jake? I think that weighed heavily on him too as he saw it as his “duty”. Clara’s scathing words hung in his head, too, as she was right. She hated him because she may have married Gus had it not been for Gus’ loyalty to ranger with Call. Even following Call to Montana she blamed more on Call. I don’t think the author meant for us to know what was in the letter to Lorie. I was more disappointed in Gus’s letter to Clara. Just kind of bland & generic though he was near the end & had to hurry. I think his letter to Lorie may have just been a goodbye and good luck to her as well. Though Gus’s final tribute to Clara turned out to want to be buried at their picnic spot. And a final tribute to Lorie was his share of the cattle money that would get Lorie to San Francisco if she chose and just be secure with the money & not have to whore anymore. Those are my thoughts! :)

    • Josh says:

      I’m not sure how it works but when Call beat the hell out of Dixon in Nebraska whether he lived or not and when they hung those man burners and horse thrives with Jake I thought was out of Texas and they were retired Texas Rangers, I’m having trouble seeing how they can do that somewhere that’s not in Texas. Correct me if im wrong but can Texas Rangers do that in other states and it be ok? Gus said “all those cattle and 9/10ths of the horses were stolen and yet we were ONCE repspected lawmen.” Don’t get me wrong Gus is my favorite character I was just curious if Texas Rangers could hang and kill people in a different state.

    • Josh says:

      It’s a 8 hour movie, one of the main Characters had to go, I like Woodrow and all but Gus was a damn site more intertaining, should have Capt. Call in my opinion, but opinions opinions are like ass holes we all for one lol was gonna get killed, Gus was my favorite, I’m in Easter time zone and just finalized watching it for the 1,000 time

  14. I think Clara hated Call for the time Gus spent with him. She and Gus could have been together, she thought, if not for Call. I think she was so hateful with Call because he could never bring himself to admit his love for Maggie or Newt. She would have more respect for him if he had manned up to at least tell Newt he was his father and tried to have a relationship. She hated him for never telling Newt, and for never loving him the way a father should have. She thought he owed that to Newt and to Maggie. In her eyes, he was not worth Gus’s loyalty.

  15. Sure Gus cheated for a poke, and Lori knew he would. But it didn’t matter to her who won, she was happy for a poke from Gus. Lippy smelled bad, and Lori could never give him a poke for any amount of money. She felt guilty, because he was so nice to her, and because the cowboys didn’t smell that nice, but this was a different smell that she could not get over. As for Pocampo, I think he might have thrown in a bug or two, just to get back at them for some of their remarks, even if they were meant in jest, a little private joke of his lol.

  16. frank says:

    They were in San An the Santonio hiring a cook. Could it have beenAntonio River. the San

  17. Dennis says:

    Anyone who thinks the Great Plains are “treeless” doesn’t know much about them.

  18. Jess says:

    I like most other lovers of the story, have seen the movie many times more than I can count. And Lorie’s letter was always on my mind as well. I’ve kinda always thought he reminded her to appreciate the little things, as he tells her sitting by the river before she’s kidnapped, or maybe something about Dish, because Gus knew he really loved her but she wouldn’t ever see that.
    And I think Woodrow didn’t marry Maggie because like Gus tell him, he let her down, he was a man duty so to speak, and like the situation with Gus and Clara,

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