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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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So Call leaves Nebraska, “cut by the quirt of Clara’s contempt and seared with the burn of his own regret.” He can’t stop thinking about her accusation that he had never done the right thing. But it’s not enough to make him turn back. One night when he’s out in the country, he hears a horse carrying a man named Charles Goodnight. He has been a famous cattleman since the 1850’s. He tells Call that Blue Duck had slaughtered two families, and now they have caught him and are going to hang him in Santa Rosa the following week. Call rides there only to find they have put the hanging back a week. So he takes the time to have the buggy rebuilt, and two days before the hanging, he visits Blue Duck in his cell. The insolent Indian shows nothing but contempt for Call and declares that he’ll see him fly before he hangs. The day of the hanging, they set up the scaffold at the top of the courthouse so that everyone can see the hanging of this despicable man. Suddenly, Blue Duck makes good on his promise and breaks through one of the glass windows, flies through the air after grabbing a deputy along with him, and falls to his death three stories below. Call just climbs in his buggy and begins to drive away. But before he can get out of the crowd, he’s stopped by a newspaper reporter who declares that he needs a story from one of the most famous Rangers who ever lived. He says that Call is a man of vision to which Call replies, “Yeah, a hell of a vision.”

One day, above the Horsehead Crossing, Call is shot by a group of four Indians, and the buggy turns over with the coffin underneath some water. The Indians ride away, but Call has to remove Gus from the coffin, wrap him in canvas, and work up a kind of travois out of the sign he had been dragging with him. Then, he continues his journey. Along the way, he begins to feel feverish from the bullet wound, and like Pea Eye, he thinks he sees Deets and Gus. Then, the mule dies, but the horse he has with him carries on. Finally, he arrives at Clara’s Orchard with Gus’ corpse and what’s left of his sign - just the words, “Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium.” He lowers Gus into a grave he digs and tells him as he does that this will teach him to be careful of the promises he makes from now on. After he sets the sign on top of the grave, a group of settlers comes by thinking that the sign points to a blacksmith shop, but Call has to straighten them out. Then, he worries that the sign will just make people think something’s there that’s not. However, he decides to ride on to Lonesome Dove and let someone else worry about the sign.

Call is ambivalent about going back to Lonesome Dove, because he’s never really considered that he had a home anyway, but he rides into town to the sound of Bolivar beating the dinner bell with the broken crowbar. When Bolivar looks up and sees the Captain, he drops the crowbar in amazement. His return to Mexico had been a trial and a disappointment. He had grown lonely, and sometimes could not remember who he was. He grabs Call’s hand begins to weep in happiness and despair at the same time. The old house and barn are all shambles and filth, but Bolivar makes him some coffee while Call looks out at the town. It looks strange to him until he realizes what’s wrong with it: the Dry Bean Saloon is gone. He unsaddles his horse in the barn and heads into the town. He sees a one-legged man coming toward him and thinks for a moment, “Why, Gus . . .” However, it turns out to be Dillard Brawley, the barber, who is as astonished as Bolivar at Call’s return. Call asks Dillard what happened to the Dry Bean, and he explains that Xavier Wanz burned it down and locked himself in “that whore’s room and wouldn’t come out.” The story ends with Dillard telling Call, “When she left, Wanz couldn’t stand it. He sat in her room a month and then he burnt it.” When Call asks who Dillard is talking about, the man says, “The woman. The woman. They say he missed that whore.”


The hanging of Blue Duck is a kind of substitute revenge for Call who has wanted to go after the Blood Indians for killing Gus. However, the sense of revenge is a disappointment to him, because he feels nothing when the Indian orchestrates his own death. He just continues his promise to Gus. Even the burial of Gus is a bit of a disappointment, because people who ride by think the sign indicates a blacksmith shop ahead. No one knows it’s Gus, and the best Call can do to make the marker Gus’ own is to scratch his initials on the back. Even that is less than perfect, because Call knows the sign will soon be gone from someone pulling it up or the effects of the weather.

The disappointment continues when he realizes that he has never really had a home; he’s always been a wanderer. Bolivar is still in the old house, banging the dinner bell, but the house doesn’t pass muster, because it’s in shambles, yet another disappointment. Then there is the burned out hulk of the Dry Bean Saloon which completely changes the way the town looks. All in all, it’s no longer the home where he had lived for ten years. That’s why it was so easy for him to leave it the first time.

The end of the story is very abrupt and yet filled with meaning. Wanz had killed himself in Lorena’s old room, burning down the Dry Bean with himself inside. This is the ultimate disappointment in Lonesome Dove. The look of the town, some of the people who have lived there, and the people who are still there are examples of lives of disappointment. Xavier just reacted to his disappointment in the most dramatic way. There is a feeling of such desolation attached to these characters as a result. However, the final comment that Xavier killed himself because of “that whore” is the most meaningful, because it reflects all the regret and disappointment that runs though this story. Because of “those whores,” many of these men found themselves in situations that rule and change their lives, sometimes for the better and often for the worse. They made choices that led to regret and disappointment not just for them, but more often for the woman who love them. That makes the ultimate lesson of the story the sense of regret and disappointment.


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Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Lonesome Dove". . 09 May 2017