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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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The scene shifts in this chapter to Elmira Johnson, who has run away from her husband, July Johnson, while he searches for Jake Spoon. She has taken passage on board a whiskey boat inching its way up the Arkansas River. None of the whiskey traders speak to her, except the chief trader named Fowler. Her intent is to endure any roughness for awhile until she finds Dee Boot, her son’s father. She has plenty of time to think about her life and especially how she found July Johnson’s shyness and reticence so irritating. She really feels nothing for her son, Joe, whom she left with July. She just wants to belong only to herself again.

One morning after a full moon, a fight breaks out among two of the whiskey traders. One of the men kills the other, and Elmira learns from Fowler that they were fighting over her. The one who had died had decided to take advantage of her, but the man named Big Zwey killed him, because he wants to marry Elmira. This all makes her feel bitter, because a man she doesn’t even know has decided she belongs to him. From then on, she speaks to no one and looks on Big Zwey only with contempt.


In some ways, this chapter is an echo of the one in which Lorena is slapped by Jake. These are women who want only to have the independence of self, but are always under the control or the desires of men. Their lives are so much harder than the lives the men lead, because even though the men must deal with Indians, riding herd, or traveling by river to make money, they are at least free. For women, it’s all about what man will claim them next.



In this chapter, we see Roscoe Brown still following July Johnson to tell him that Elmira has run off. He has had nothing but bad luck since he set off. He ran into a herd of wild pigs which chased him until his horse was able to outrun them. Then, he and his horse got stuck in some mud, and Roscoe lost his boot. He makes his first camp barely ten miles from where he started his trip, and the night sounds make him so frightened that he barely sleeps.

As the sun is falling, he hears the sound of someone yelling and thinks he can find a place to sleep that’s more comfortable. He sees a farmer driving a mule to pull up stumps from the land he is clearing. When the farmer removes a big, floppy hat, Roscoe sees that he is a she. She is a very outspoken woman and reminds Roscoe of Peach. She immediately puts him to work helping her pull up the stump. Her name is Louisa Brooks, and she has outlived three husbands. She offers him just cornbread and spring water for supper and before the evening is over, she proposes that he stay and marry her. Roscoe is uncomfortable to say the least with the idea, knowing that his duty is to find July. However, after he beds down behind the house, she visits him and seduces him there on the ground. The experience is such that he tells her he might just stop by on his return from finding July. Once he leaves, he has a moment of happiness that makes him ride light in the saddle. No one has ever shown him as much concern as Louisa had. At other times, however, he can barely hold back his tears, and he doesn’t know if they flow because he’s leaving Louisa or because the journey ahead is so uncertain.


Once again, the author echoes other characters and their experiences in this chapter about Roscoe. He has always been a shy loner and feels bitter that the people of his town would force him on this unknown journey. His coming across Louisa is in many ways just like Newt and his infatuation with Lorena. Even though Roscoe is nearing the age of fifty, this is one of the first times a woman has shown an interest in him. He doesn’t even really know her, but she has been willing to accept him on a “trial basis,” and he is touched by the gesture. However, he follows through with his duty and tells Louisa he’ll be back.



This chapter focuses on July Johnson and Joe Boot. Joe knows that something is bothering July, because he doesn’t want to talk. It bothers Joe, because this is the first time he’s ever gone on such a journey, and he has many questions he wants to ask. Also, July is riding so hard and stopping so little that Joe is exhausted. July knows that Joe wants him to talk, but he finds it almost impossible, because his feeling that something is very wrong with Elmira consumes him.

They come to a boggy river and meet a man named Sedgwick who is so stuck that July and Joe have to help him and horse out. He had been systematically unloading his belongings and allowing them to flow down the river, because he says he no long needs them. He tells July and Joe that he has been traveling though the country looking for different species of bugs. He believes that when the human species finishes with the planet, the insects will take over, so he has left a thousand bugs in Little Rock for study. Now, however, he has become bored with bugs and thinks he’ll go to Texas to preach the Gospel. What makes July uneasy about the man is that he only has to look at July to see that he is troubled, carrying a heavy weight on his shoulders. He also offers to keep Joe and for a moment, July is tempted. But then he tells Sedgwick that they’ll just meet somewhere down the road. July and Joe decide the man must be crazy, but Joe is unnerved by how Sedgwick could see into his heart.


This chapter is another echo. Many of these characters are traveling with a heavy heart: Elmira, July, Newt, and Allen O’Brien, to name a few. The land is a hard place to live in the best of times, and now these characters are facing some of the worst moments in their lives. It is important to recognize that the author presents all these different strands of characters who will no doubt come together eventually.


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