The horse and wagon scene is Woodrow F. Call taking his friend Augustus McCrae back to Texas, so he can be buried in a site by the river that’s very special to him. The scene in the movie; as it is in the book, is very powerful. Even in the experience of near-death Augustus continues to pick at, and tease, Woodrow. The bond of friendship, however, is very clear. The emotions demonstrated by these two long-term companions are very powerful, with relatively few spoken words:
Woodrow : “Your one –of-a- kind –Augustus. We’re gonna miss you.”
Augustus: Even you?
Woodrow: Even me.
Not a lot of words ,but a lot of history,shared experiences,and emotion.
Woodrow is a taciturn man in the classic style of the Western cowboy. But you can tell from his expressions , and his body language, how much Augustus means to him. Of course hauling a body back from Montana in 1876 to Texas was no small matter, and no small challenge. The struggles that Woodrow goes through to take the body back to Texas, the Western scenes that he goes through to get there, the images of a small band of Indians watching his campfire,all demonstrate that the old ways are going. His best friend Augustus has died; the Indians are no longer powerful,cities and towns have grown up , the Frontier West is passing.
I don’t think that there is any doubt that Lonesome Dove is one of the best Western books ever written, and I feel the same way about the movie. I think Tommy Lee Jones, and Robert Duvall did a tremendous job in bringing Woodrow and Augustus to life, and out of the pages of the book. I’m truly impressed with the talent and skill involved ,in being a top level actor.
I rank Lonesome Dove with the very best Western novels of all time. I think is easily the equal of Shane, The Virginian ,Riders of the Purple Sage. The book not only is fascinating from the adventure point of view, and the hardships that the cowboys faced on some of those initial cattle drives to Kansas, Colorado and Montana; but it’s even more interesting from the standpoint of friendship.
Woodrow and and Augustus couldn’t be more different. Woodrow is a man of few words, nonstop work, opposed to gambling and excess drink, and uncomfortable around women. IAugustus is just the opposite, he avoids work if he can ,gambles and womanizes, when the opportunity arises. Yet their close friends. Why is that? First, I think regardless of what they say it’s very clear that they respect each other. Woodrow knows that Gus is lazy, but he also knows he’s 100% reliable in a fight, and a loyal friend that he can count on when the chips are down. Recall that it’s a Gus who keeps Call from killing the Army scout trying to take their cowboy horses in Ogallala. Augustus understands Woodrow ,and is there to help him when needed. More often he’s there to explain Call’s behavior,put it in context, and humanize him. Gus clearly respects Woodrow for his character, braveness ,and leadership. So their friendship is certainly based on respect, but I think ultimately they know ,that they can count on each other with 100% confidence. Essentially they are there for each other, and they know it.
So for me, although it’s a great adventure book, it’s even more interesting in its study of friendship.
Obviously, I love Lonesome Dove. What I didn’t realize until several years ago was how much of the book, the author, Larry McMurtry, had taken from the real life of cattlemen Charles Goodnight. In the following paragraphs I will give just a few examples:
The personality of Woodrow Call is very similar to Charles Goodnight. Charles Goodnight grew up in frontier Texas. He was a Texas Ranger, he developed, along with partner Oliver Loving, the Goodnight- Loving Trail that took cattle from Texas, and drove them up to the forts in New Mexico ,and to the new cities of Denver and Cheyenne. He was a man of few words, would absolutely not accept gambling,or drinking, among his cowboys,and was a tireless worker. He did not tolerate rustlers or horse thieves.
As alluded to above, in the book one of the main stories is when Augustus rides ahead of the herd and is ambushed by Indians. He manages to survive the attack although wounded. and sends Pea Eye back to the herd for help. Gus eventually dies of his wounds, and Woodrow, arriving just before his death, agrees to take his body back to Texas for burial.
In real life, however, a virtually identical scenario played out for Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. Goodnight and Loving were driving a cattle herd from Texas up into New Mexico. They had faced many trials and tribulations in getting the herd nearly out of Texas, and up the Pecos River. Loving was anxious to get ahead to Santa Fe to secure contracts on the herd. Goodnight was uneasy about the plan, because Comanche Indians were active in the area. His good friend and partner however, assured him that he would be careful and ride only at night to avoid being seen by the Indians. Nevertheless, a few days into the journey Loving got anxious and decided to ride ahead during the daylight hours , thus easily exposing himself to Indians who could see him on the plains to Santa Fe. He was ambushed, along with the man accompanying him ,”One Armed” Bill Wilson. On a dead run Loving and Wilson managed to make it to a creek, with the sandbar, and hold off the Indians, just as in the book Lonesome Dove. Loving was wounded and could not escape but he sent one armed Wilson back down the river to try to connect with Goodnight and the cattle herd. Wilson barely survived, and when Goodnight finally found him, was hardly coherent. His feet were swollen beyond all recognition and bloody. It took an hour of hydration and food to even get him coherent enough to explain the situation. Goodnight and a few men rode ahead, found the site of the battle, and eventually found out that Loving had worked his way to Fort Sumner. Loving had survived, but eventually gangrene set into his wounded arm. A reluctant Dr. finally did amputate the arm. Loving hung on after the surgery, but eventually died. His request, as in the book, was for Goodnight to give half the herd to his family, and to arrange for him to be taken back to Texas for burial. Loving was buried in Fort Sumner in the winter of 1867, and then taken back to Texas by a devoted cowboy crew for final burial in the spring of 1868. Thus except for a few minor details this tale of Woodrow Call and Gus McCrea is virtually identical to the real life story of Charles Goodnight and his friend Oliver Loving .
In the book a black man by the name of Joshua Deets has ridden with Woodrow and Gus for many years, going all the way back to their days as Texas Rangers. When Deets is killed, Call carves a moving epitaph on his grave stone.
In real life the black man by the name of Bose Ikard, a former slave, served off and on with Goodnight for 50 years. According to Goodnight, Ikard was an exceptional night herder, with unsurpassed endurance and stamina. “There was a dignity, a cleanliness, and reliability about him that was wonderful. He paid no attention to women. His behavior was very good in a fight, and he was probably the most devoted man to me that I ever had. I have trusted him farther than any living man he was detective, banker, and everything else in Colorado, New Mexico, and the other wild country I was in.”
Bose Ikard died in 1929 just a few months before Charles Goodnight. Below is his inscription :
“Served with me four years on the Goodnight- Loving Trail, never shirked a duty, or disobeyed an order, road with me in many stampede’s, participated in three engagements with Comanches, splendid behavior.”
The best book on Goodnight is Charles Goodnight cowman and plainsman by J Evetts Haley. Haley had a chance to interview Goodnight over several years, and also had a chance to interview a number of Goodnight’s contemporaries. Of note, the legendary cowboy and law man Charlie Seringo, Suezo,and long time Goodnight cowboy John Rumans. I enjoyed this book very much ,as I’m sure Larry McMurtry did.