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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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The novel, Lonesome Dove, is set first in Lonesome Dove, Texas, and later in various states the characters pass through on the cattle drive, including Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, as well as Arkansas when July Johnson first appears in the story. The final setting is Montana. The time period is approximately 1875 through about 1878.


Major Characters

Woodrow F. Call
He is part owner of the Hat Creek Cattle Company along with Augustus McCrae and is the hardest worker of the two. Like Gus, he is a former Texas Ranger and because of his leadership role in the outfit, he is often called the Captain. He is a taciturn man who believes in completing his duties above all else, living an ethical life, and responsibly caring for those whom he employs. However, he lives in denial about what’s really important and often hurts those for whom he cares the most.

Augustus McCrae
Also a former Texas Ranger who won a merit award from the Governor of Texas for his courage under fire, he is the more sensitive and understanding of the two partners, although as Call says, he’s also the laziest. He has a deep understanding of what makes life work, and yet he, too, often makes mistakes that directly impact on people he least wants to hurt.

Lorena Wood
She is the “sporting woman” of Lonesome Dove and has such an impact on the men who live there that much is blamed on her when things go wrong. She is the prime example of a woman of the Old West who ends up always dependent on some man while seriously pining for the right to her own independence.

Jake Spoon
He is a former Texas Ranger and a dashing gambler who lives a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” life until he runs across Lorena Wood. His relationship with her will have a seriously adverse effect on the decisions he makes and as a result, he will lose his life as a young man.

Clara Allen
The former lover of both Gus McCrae and Jake Spoon, she is now married to a comatose husband and is keeping their horse farm together. One of Gus’ motivations for going on the cattle drive is to find her again and see if there’s any hope for a future with her. She is a strong, opinionated woman who has a keen eye for the needs of those she loves, but is often frustrated by the choices she made in life.

Newt Dobbs
A seventeen year old boy who has lived for ten years with Call and McCrae, he desperately desires to know who his father is and to be taken seriously as a cowboy. He goes on the cattle drive with the two men and learns that Call is his father, but never hears the man publicly admit he’s his son. He grows up in a bitter way on the long drive north.

Josh Deets
A black man and an excellent hand for the Hat Creek Company, he has known Call and Gus since their Ranger days. He is probably more competent at his job than any of the white men in the company, but dies on the long drive north. Gus laments after his death that there were many things they had not done for the man while he lived, and he leaves his award of merit on Deets’ grave in his honor.

Pea Eye Parker
The most loyal member of the Hat Creek Cattle Company, Pea Eye is not the smartest of the group, but he would die for Call and Gus if they asked him. He has a hard time with change, but turns to his work whenever he feels confused about the loss of what he comes to know best.

July Johnson
The sheriff from Fort Smith, Arkansas, he goes in search of Jake Spoon for killing his brother. However, he finds his attention diverted to finding Elmira, his wife who runs away as soon as he is gone. His is rather innocent in many ways and also feels too passionately about her when she has no desire for him. His search takes him across the path of the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Clara Allen.

Elmira Johnson
A former “sporting girl” from Dodge City, she marries July Johnson to escape the abuse of the buffalo hunters. However, she a single-minded woman who only desires something for herself, and she allows no one to infringe on that dream, including her husband and her children. Her desperate desire for independence eventually leads to a horrible death.

Dish Boggett
An extremely competent cowboy, he signs on for the drive north and is very happy when Lorena ends up on the same drive. He has a deep love for her that she spurns, but he never gives up hoping to win her.

Blue Duck
He is an evil Indian who roams the plains in search of people to kidnap, sell, or just to murder. He steals Lorena with the intention of giving her as a plaything to the men who roam with him and then to allow them to murder her. He is the ultimate symbol of evil in the story.

Minor Characters

Roscoe Brown
The deputy sheriff of Fort Smith, Arkansas, he is forced by the townspeople to search for July Johnson to tell him Elmira has run away. He is totally inept for the journey, but it’s a decision made by July Johnson, his sheriff, that leads to his death.

Peach Johnson
July Johnson’s sister-in-law, she pressures July to bring back Jake Spoon for killing her husband and later forces Roscoe to look for July to report that his wife has run away.

Lippy Jones
The piano player in the Dry Bean Saloon, he goes on the cattle drive even though he has an open wound in his stomach.

Xavier Wanz
The owner of the Dry bean Saloon, he begs Lorena to stay and marry him rather than go with Jake on the cattle drive. He later commits suicide by burning down the saloon as he sits in Lorena’s room.

The Mexican cook for the Hat Creek Cattle Company, he is obsessed with ringing the dinner bell. He goes on the cattle drive, but when his mistake costs them their wagon, he resigns, only to return to the old ranch, because he really has nowhere else to go.

Po Campo
The new cook for the cattle drive, he has predictive abilities and gains the men’s respect for his food and his advice.

A Mexican, he serves as the right hand of Clara Allen.

Allen and Sean
Two Irishmen who end up in the cattle drive, their songs sooth the O’Brien cattle, but one ends up dying a horrific death and the other longs to go home to Ireland and his wife.

Jimmy and Ben Rainey, Soupy Jones, Needle Nelson, Jasper Fant, and Bert Borum
These are other hands hired by Call to help on the cattle drive.

Big Zwey
The slow thinking buffalo hunter who falls in love with Elmira, does whatever she asks him to do, and dies with her in a Sioux massacre.

Another buffalo hunter who travels with Zwey and Elmira, Zwey has to nearly kill him to make him leave Elmira alone.

The Suggs Brothers
Three bandits who roam the plains and towns of the west seeking to steal whatever they can. The oldest, Dan, enjoys killing and is judged by Jake Spoon, who ends up in their company, to be insane.

Frog Lip
The black man who rides with the Suggs Brothers, he, like Dan, enjoys killing for killing’s sake.

Joe Boot and Janey
Two youngsters, they end up with July Johnson and later Roscoe Brown. Joe is Elmira’s son and Janey is a girl who had been taken as a slave wife by a viscous old man. She escapes him and hooks up with Roscoe for safety. Both youngsters die at the hands of Blue Duck.

Capt. Weaver and Dixon
Two members of the US military post-Civil War, they try to forcibly take horses from the Hat Creek Company and beat up Newt.

Monkey John and Dog Face
Two white men who roam with Blue Duck, they have half ownership of Lorena. Dog Face is more caring, but Monkey John is very abusive. They both die when Gus finds them.


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