Newt Dobbs: Good Cowboy, But Never Gaining What He Seeks

We are introduced to Newt as a teenager at the Hat Creek Ranch in Texas, working alongside the Rangers as a hand.  He has been raised by Captains Call and McRae and Pea Eye and Deets, since he was a toddler.  Newt’s mother, Maggie, a prostitute, had died when he was very young, and as Gus says, ‘There wasn’t many folks lining up to take a dead whore’s child’.

After affairs with Captain Call and Jake Spoon, that we know of,  it was obvious in the mini-series, ‘Dead man’s Walk’, that Call and Maggie did have a loving relationship for a time, and he was most likely his father.

However in ‘Lonesome Dove’, he has been raised by this whole group of men and the reality of  actually fathering Newt seems to have dimmed in Call’s mind to just a possibility.  Newt, of course, knows none of this to this point, but it is discussed among the men, particularly Gus, who reminds Call frequently that Newt IS his son.  Call does seem to be the disciplinarian in the group, such as telling Newt to go to bed early when the men are out talking one evening, so he does take on the role to that extent.

When Jake Spoon arrives, he doesn’t recognize Newt at first, then seems surprised that he is so grown up and tells him so.  But later, discussed among the men again, it seems Call considers Jake to be Newt’s father, as well.  But Newt is a friendly and affable youngster and seems to, good naturedly, take orders from any of the men.  He gets a boost in his quest for manhood that very evening, when Call allows him to finally go into Mexico with them to steal  horses for the trip to Montana, and even lets him carry a gun–the mark of really being accepted as a man, in his mind.

On this trip into Mexico, he meets and befriends Shawn and his brother from Ireland, who have gotten a bit off course in their journey.  The Hat Creek bunch saves them from most likely getting killed by Mexican bandits, and they join up with the boys to go to Montana.  Newt and Shawn become good friends ( the first good friend his age that Newt has had to this point).  They discuss many things, but one day Shawn, feeling nostalgic, shares how much he misses his mother.  Newt is caught a little off guard, as he never really knew his, but agrees that he misses his, too. When Shawn says his father was a drunkard, Newt ( played brilliantly by Rick Shroeder), a little sadly admits he never knew his.

Shawn is the first to get tragically killed on this journey, getting bit by snakes crossing a river.  It is the first real loss that Newt has experienced as a young adult, but will be the first of many on this trip.  Through the months on the trail, Newt is led to believe that Call is his father on several occasions–being told that as a fact, by Gus more than once.  But since Call, himself, can never admit it, Newt is left feeling more frustrated and alienated than ever, declaring at one point,  ” I don’t belong to nobody in this world’”.

At the end of ‘Lonesome Dove’, before Call leaves to take Gus’s body back to Texas, he does give Newt his father’s watch and his horse, the Hell Bitch, but never his name.  Newt is left empty and longing once again-but never belonging.  In “Streets of Laredo”, the last book of the series, it is revealed that Newt was killed late in the first summer on the ranch in Montana, when the Hell Bitch reared and fell back on him.  Everyone had thought that Newt was too inexperienced to ride a horse that mean, but the Captain had given him the horse and he felt obliged to ride her.  He rode her and one day she killed him. Sad end to a sad boy that just wanted to hold on to something that meant he belonged to somebody.

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