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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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When Newt hears the name Jake Spoon, he is struck almost as if he had received a blow. No man had ever been kinder to him or his dead mother, Maggie, than Jake Spoon. He had been a Ranger, too, and in Newt’s eyes, he had been the most dashing of them all. After the fighting with the Indians had died down, and these Rangers had formed the Hat Creek Cattle Company, Jake left. His mother whipped him more after that, because she was so disappointed that Jake had gone. A year later, she died of the fever, and Captain Call and Augustus took him in. He came to believe that Jake might be his father even though the men told him his name was Newt Dobbs and not Newt Spoon. He had looked through the little pile of stuff his mother had left him, and there was no mention of a Mr. Dobbs. He had always assumed that Jake would come back, and that’s also why he wanted so much to ride with the outfit, because he felt he might run into Jake sooner that way.

Now Newt and the rest see two things: Deets is obviously very happy for having run into Jake, and Jake has ridden a long way on his pacing bay which has no flesh on it. They all shake hands, and Jake is amazed at how much Newt has grown since last he saw him. Captain Call makes a comment on the condition of Jake’s horse, but stops short of prying any deeper. He has run off and on with Jake for twenty years and feels that there’s something not quite right about the man. One minute, Jake could be the coolest man in a fight and the next, he could be practically worthless. As for Gus, he remains fond of Jake even though years before, they had been rivals for the hand of Clara Allen. In the end, she had dumped them both for yet another man. Call and Gus both assume that Jake would never have ridden his horse so hard if he weren’t in trouble.

Dish, who had just told Call he would be willing to sign on, feels somewhat forgotten as everyone fusses over Jake. So he repeats his offer. Call tells him that would be fine, but he needs to help dig the well for a day or two until they’re ready to go. Dish almost backs out at this decision, given that he believes his job is driving cattle, not back-breaking menial work like well digging. He changes his mind, however, when Captain Call eyes him seriously to see if he’s a man of his word.

Call becomes exasperated to find out why Jake has returned, but has to wait while the man washes up and fastidiously eats some breakfast. Call is not a man who likes to wait, but he wants to know what’s behind the hard-ridden horse. Jake, who is basically a dreamer who drifts though life and gets away with it, finally begins his story. He had been in Montana two years before doing some scouting with the army. The Blackfoot tribe had still been acting up, so he used the army as protection when he drove some cattle to the Indians. His basic job had been to scare away the buffalo. He tells them that Montana will be the place to make their fortune once the Indians are finally settled. They are surprised at this comment given that Jake prefers whores, cleans shirts, and card-playing to work. However, he insists that even he can see an opportunity when he comes across it. Then, he tells them the reason he has been on the run is that in Arkansas, he accidentally killed a dentist who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, the dentist was the sheriff’s brother. Jake also has the reputation for being a gunfighter, based on an incident of pure luck years before that made him look like a crack shot. As a result, the sheriff had asked him to leave town a week before Jake accidentally killed the dentist. The sheriff, July Johnson, then began to pursue Jake, who rode for his life. Call and Gus are both a little disgusted by Jake’s excuses for the incident, but they have always been companeros, so they’ll stick by him.

Jake then comments on how much Newt has grown and is amazed to learn Maggie has been dead for nine years. Augustus tells him that Newt has been with them ever since his Ma died, that this was the Christian thing to do to take him in, especially since Jake is likely his father.


Through the telling of his adventures, we not only learn more about Jake’s character, but we also learn more about the past history between Gus, Call, and Jake. They have lived through many scrapes together as Texas Rangers and have a deep bond that makes them watch each other’s backs. We also learn that there was evidently a greater feeling on Maggie’s part for Jake than Jake had for Maggie. It is likely that Newt is his son, and she was deeply grieved when he left them. Jake’s character is somewhat suspect, because of his dreamy nature, but he seems a good man in spite of his propensity to find trouble. The comment about Montana is foreshadowing in that, combined with Gus and Call’s desire to move their company north, it seems as if it might be a place where they’ll eventually end up. It is ironic when Gus comments that Jake might be Newt’s father, because later, we will see that he’s always known the boy belonged to Woodrow Call.


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