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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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The point of view switches here from the Hat Creek Cattle Company’s drive north to Fort Smith, Arkansas, the town where Jake had accidentally killed the dentist. Here, July Johnson, the town sheriff and the dentist’s brother, is recovering from a bout with jaundice and dealing with the pressure people in the town are putting on him to find Jake Spoon. He has just gotten married four months before to Elmira, who has surprised July with her nagging and impatience. His other problem is his sister-in-law, Peach, the wife of his dentist brother. She persists in pushing him to go south to San Antonio and find Jake. On the other hand, Elmira doesn’t want him to go and lectures him about it in front of her son and his stepson, Joe Boot, whom she lectures constantly as well. As a result, July and Joe become allies and July develops a real fondness for the boy.

July’s deputy, Roscoe Brown, thinks July ought to just forget about Jake Spoon, because he has two of the best Texas Rangers as friends. However, July doesn’t feel the need to find Jake, because he killed his brother. Instead, he feels a responsibility to the town, because he is their sheriff. Furthermore, even though he feels some leniency towards cowboys who pass through his town, he has no time for the likes of men like Jake Spoon. Jake is a gambler and that designation offends him. So, he had warned Jake out of town, but he didn’t go and then, the shooting occurred.


It’s interesting that the author chooses to switch the point of view. Our only view of the sheriff who might come after Jake has been seen through Jake’s mind and fear. Now we see him as an ordinary man, living in a small town with big feelings of responsibility when it comes to Jake. July Johnson is no one to mess with, but he’s also a man who has been sick, has a new wife that is unhappy, and has a sister-in-law who is a formidable adversary in her own right. If July goes after Jake, we will see a confrontation and we may be reluctant to take sides. Jake didn’t kill the dentist deliberately, but July doesn’t necessarily see it as a mistake and feels duty-bound to correct the problem



When July arrives home, he is reminded that he brought his bride to a cabin with a dirt floor. It pains him to think of doing that, but he doesn’t earn enough to make it a wooden one. Furthermore, he is pained that his wife doesn’t eat with him and Joe and prefers to sit in the loft with legs swinging over the edge. She cooks for them but she barely speaks to them at times. Along with her lectures, July is not sure how to respond to his bride.

Once she is over her silence, Elmira finds reason to be mad about even the slightest thing. When she nags July, Joe often takes up for him, but that only makes her angrier. He tells her this night that he’s decided to go after Jake Spoon now that he’s over the jaundice. Elmira insists it was an accident, and that July should just leave Jake alone. He doesn’t know that Elmira has a history with Jake: she had known him when she was a sporting girl in Dodge City. She decided to marry July when the buffalo hunters treatment of her convinced her she needed to change her way of life. She notes to herself that Jake’s amusement at her decision to marry would not have been so funny had he seen the dirt floors July had brought her to.

Unfortunately for Elmira, life since then has been very boring. She can’t help but remember the old days in Abilene and Dodge with men like Jake. Everything July does is irritating to her, this in spite of the fact that he has come to love her very much. So, July tells Elmira that if he goes after Spoon, he can be back in about a month. She gives in and tells him to take Joe with him, because the boy, who is just twelve, needs to see the world.

Elmira feels such bitterness toward July, because she is with child. She doesn’t want the baby, but she’s afraid she’ll die if she tries to abort it. She doesn’t want to go through child-rearing all over again, and she doesn’t want to live with July Johnson. He was just a means to escape the buffalo hunters. She just wants July and Joe to be gone so she doesn’t have to deal with them any longer. It even occurs to her that once they’re gone, there’s nothing to keep her from leaving, too. She thinks that while July is tracking one gambler, she’ll track another: Joe’s father, Dee Boot, a man who could always make her laugh.


This chapter develops the character of Elmira, Sheriff July Johnson’s wife. She was once a sporting girl and her memories of Joe’s father, Dee Boot, fill her mind. He had left her alone with little Joe and taken off, even though he loved her. He wasn’t the marrying kind and at the time, neither was Elmira. However, now, as she lives this boring sameness with July Johnson, she feels the need to run away and find Dee. She is a woman who is very selfish and doesn’t fit easily into the role of a frontier wife. She will willingly leave her husband and son to pursue a life where the men are amusing and the life is full of surprises. She is July’s complete opposite in that he follows his duties at home and work everyday with the same dogged determination, while she wants the high life he can’t give. It is sad that she loves her husband and son so little, because they love her so much.

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