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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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Augustus observes that the coming storm will determine if they were meant to cowboys. The idea of it has Call worried, too, because he’s never been in a major storm driving a herd of cattle. However, he feels himself fall into a moment of passivity just like his Ranger days. Then, when he couldn’t come up with a solution to a problem, he would find himself becoming quiet for a moment and then would find himself moving and reacting to a psychological trigger he never expected.

Call sends Newt up ahead to tell Dish and Soupy to hold up the cattle. New feels proud to be entrusted with the message, and after delivering it, he has every intention of heading for the wagon. However, he doesn’t make it before the sandstorm begins. He is immediately blinded by the sand and then finds himself caught among the cattle, but still on top of Mouse. After that, he begins to hear the popping of tree limbs, but while he is being hit on all sides by mesquite and brush, the cattle herd finally begins to slow. He hears pistol shots ahead and has to deal with a horse that won’t go into the wind, so he gives up on any attempt to reach the main herd. He also notices that the lightning brings a strange phenomenon where the light seems to dance off their horns. Deets warns him to keep away, because they’re dangerous.

Soon, along with the lightning and thunder, comes the rain, beginning with big pelting drops, followed by blinding sheets of water. Newt is once again forced to give up any control and leaves his fate in the power of his horse. They move along, both man and animal cold and confused. Once, Mouse even nearly slides backward into a gully. Fortunately, the horse regains his footing and they struggle on throughout the night as the blinding torrent changes to a constant drizzle.


The coming of this tremendous storm is told from the viewpoint of Newt, a young cowboy who has never been exposed to such conditions on the trail. However, Gus’ comment at the beginning rings true: if Newt can survive the terrible changes in nature, he can prove he’s a man. The storm then is a metaphor for the life of a cowboy on the western trail after the Civil War - life throws these men many problems to deal with and how they deal with them often is a measure of their character.



This chapter shows the storm from the viewpoint of Jake and Lorena. Jake had forgotten to hobble the horses, so at the first lightning strike, Lorena’s mare takes off. He manages to hobble his horse and the pack mule, knowing that the mare probably won’t go far. As for Lorie, she is so frightened of the lightning that she can’t bring herself to leave the shelter of a large tree, exactly the wrong decision to make. Jake finally gets her out from under it even though she strikes him in the process. He forces her down to the overhang of the bank along the river and pulls the tarp over them. They sit there shivering against each other, until Lorie opens her eyes and sees another bolt of lightning strike the very tree under which she had been sitting and split it at the top.


This chapter furthers the idea that life in Texas was hard and sometimes very dangerous, and if a man or woman made the wrong decision, it could determine the difference between life and death. Lorie was determined to stay under the tree in her fear, but had Jake allowed her to do so, she would probably have died.



When dawn finally comes, it is cloudless, and Call thinks to himself that unless there is someone who has been hit with lightning, they’ve come through it well. The cattle are docile for the time being, Soupy, Jasper and Needles have the rest of the herd a mile or two east, and even though the wagon is stuck in a gully, they soon have it freed. Newt is amazed to find himself at the rear of the herd where he’s supposed to be. Finally, all hands are accounted for except Gus, which irritates Call, because he wants to cross the river as soon as possible.

As for Dish, he has managed to turn the main part of the herd out of the worst of the brush and keep it together. Even Call is impressed with his work. The only cowboy who had had problems is Sean O’Brien. He had been walking out to catch his night mount when the storm hit and had been forced to ride the wagon all night, because he didn’t know how to rope very well.

Bolivar begins breakfast while the boys spread their wet clothes all around on the bushes to let them dry. Dish points out that there’s no point in allowing their clothes to get too dry since they’ll soon have to cross the river. That prompts the hands to wonder just how many rivers they still have to cross. Ironically, the animals seem to have suffered the least from the storm, including the multi-colored bull and the two pigs. They eye each other, but neither seems afraid of each other or the storm.


This chapter is a presentation of the aftermath of the storm. It gives a kind of list of all the characters and how they fared through the storm. Most handled the elements well, even the bull and the pigs. Only poor Sean O’Brien was unlucky in how he confronted the storm. This, as well as the constant emphasis on river crossings, is a kind of foreshadowing of the tragedy to come.


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