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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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Lorena begins the drying out process and the beginning of breakfast while Jake goes off to find the mare. A few moments later, Gus comes riding up with the mare from the other direction. He is amazed at how young and fresh she looks with the strain of always holding herself apart in Lonesome Dove now gone. Gus fires two shots in the air to call Jake back and when the other cowboy returns, they have their usual disagreement about whether Gus is always after every woman Jake gets. He tells Gus that he and Lorena will be packing up and moving on to San Antonio, but is very surprised when Lorena announces she doesn’t want to go. Gus tells him that would not be the best place to hang out, given that the lawman from Fort Smith will probably head there first. When Lorena announces once one more time that she doesn’t want to go to San Antonio, Jake wheels around and slaps her. She just turns and walks to the horses to complete their packing. When Jake asks Gus why he thinks Lories bucks him, given that he decides where they will go and what they will do, Gus replies that it isn’t that simple. If Jake decides to let her go, she must know that Gus will help her out instead.


This chapter continues with the development of Lorena’s independence. She’s coming to realize that she doesn’t need Jake, and he’s coming to realize the same thing. He may slap her around once in awhile, but he will never chain her, especially given that Gus is ready to step in and help her camp when she needs him.



Even though the cattle are sluggish, Call makes the hands keep them moving, because he wants to cross the Nueces River that night. They are all irritated as they arrive there by swarms of mosquitoes, and Newt is especially bedeviled by a red cow that insists on wiggling into thickets and not coming out. As he’s dealing with her, Sean O’Brien rides up, very morose and wanting to return to Ireland. Newt can offer him no relief for his sadness and irritation. Just before they cross the river, they come into a large clearing, which is a relief from the mesquite and the chaparral.

Dish asks Gus if he’s seen Lorena to learn if she’s all right. Gus says little to the younger man about her and decides not to tease him. He recognizes that the young have no sense of the swiftness of life, nor of its limits. Newt reminds him of his own love for Clara Allen, who had chosen a horse trader for a husband, and yet still wanted Gus to return to see her someday, because she wants her children to know him. He feels now like her loss was the greatest opportunity he had ever missed, but at the time, he didn’t realize the gravity of his loss. It strikes him that sixteen years later, the chance to get near Clara and her family is more appealing than following Call into the wilderness.

Finally, the hands begin to send the herd across the river and for a time, it seems as if it will be a smooth crossing, However, Newt suddenly hears a scream so terrible that it almost makes him faint. Pea Eye and the Captain are heading for Sean O’Brien who is barely clinging to his horse and continues to scream in mortal agony. He looks to be surrounded by giant worms, but then Newt realizes that the worms are a nest of water moccasins. With the greatest of effort that almost kills Pea Eye as well, Sean is brought out of the river. When they get him laid down on the Captain’s slicker and cut his shirt off, there are eight pairs of fang marks on his body. He is not conscious, and they all know he is dying.

The Captain has Gus and Deets watch Sean while the rest of the hands ride to keep the cattle from drifting. There is nothing more that anyone can do for the unlucky young Irish boy. Newt feels horrible, because he never got the chance to tell Sean, who was so homesick, that he could go back to Ireland, and no one would think any less of him. Newt cries until he vomits from the side of his horse. Gus understands this event just as he understands how little the young know about life: there are more dangers in life than even the sharpest training can anticipate; Sean was just unlucky, and his death is no one’s fault.

They bury the boy under a tall oak tree, and Allen, his brother, tries to sing one of their Irish songs to send him off. Unfortunately, he breaks down, and Gus must finish with comments about the bravery and goodness of Sean O’Brien.


This is the first major tragedy of the long drive to Montana that the Hat Creek Cattle Company must face. Sean O’Brien’s death is one of those events, unforeseeable in a land filled with all kinds of dangers. They could sit around and mourn, but life goes on. As Gus says, “If we was in town we’d have a fine funeral. But as you can see, we ain’t in town. There’s nothing you can do but kick your horse.” That very simply sums up the reality of life in the American west.


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