Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call are living legends. As Texas Rangers they cleared the borderlands and made the area safe for white settlers. After that work was done they settled into life as co-owners of the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium, where there days consist of breaking in wild horses and raising cattle. It’s hard work but the men are well-suited to it, especially the preternaturally driven Call. While Augustus might enjoy whiskey and afternoon naps, his talents as a Ranger and a horseman commands Call’s begrudging respect.
Their prime long past them, Call and McCrae might well have spent the rest of their lives in the quiet Texas town of Lonesome Dove, with it’s one bar and it’s one whore, a lovely blond named Lorena. But the return of their old Ranger pal Jake Spoon plants a wild idea in Call’s head. Spoon has been to Montana and says the land there is perfect for ranching. With the recent defeats of the native tribes the area is newly safe for settling and the land is ripe for the picking.
Thus Call and McCrae launch an epic undertaking, leading a drive of hundreds of cattle and horses from Texas to Montana. Along for the ride are their colorful employees Pea Eye and Deets, their young charge Newt Dobbs (whose unacknowledged parentage is a key element of the plot), Jake Spoon and the newly retired Lorena, and seemingly half the male population of Lonesome Dove. Along the way they encounter harsh weather, dangerous wildlife, hostile Indians, and their own personal demons. Lost loves, past sins and regrets are dredged up and re-examined. Some lives are lost and all of the men are irrevocably changed by the experience, wondering if anything could be worth all this trouble. It’s a question McMurtry resolutely leaves unanswered.
Lonesome Dove’s epic scope is daunting but ultimately rewarding. McMurtry wrangles his massive cast of characters as ably as McCrae and Call wrangle cattle. The result is an American classic.