By Christopher Harper
Larry McMurtry provided an opportunity for my father and me to get to know one another a lot better.
In 1989, McMurtry’s novel, Lonesome Dove, became one of the most-watched series in television history.
It’s difficult to summarize a nearly 900-page book, but Texas Monthly did a pretty good job of it: McMurtry wrote his novel about “two retired, hard-bitten Texas Rangers in the forlorn [Texas] border town of Lonesome Dove.
“The ex-Rangers, Augustus ‘Gus’ McCrae and Woodrow Call, lead a cattle drive to Montana with a ragtag team of cowpokes, which includes a black cowboy, a bandit turned cook, a piano player with a hole in his stomach, a young widow, a teenager who is Call’s unacknowledged son, and a prostitute. On their journey, the group encounters psychopathic outlaws, vengeful Indians, buffalo hunters, gamblers, scouts, cavalry officers, and backwoodsmen. They endure perilous river crossings, thunderstorms, sandstorms, hailstorms, windstorms, lightning storms, grasshopper storms, stampedes, drought, and a mean bear. There are plenty of shootings and a few impromptu hangings. The prostitute, Lorena, is gang-raped. In the end, after McCrae is mortally wounded by Indians, he asks Call to bury him in a little peach orchard by the Guadalupe River near San Antonio, where he was once in love with a woman. Call dutifully carries his partner’s half-mummified body back to Texas.”
My father spent much of his early life in Rawlins, Wyoming, as the son of a man who worked the Chisolm Trail as a cowboy and later became a sheriff who died after a gun battle. His mother then married another cowboy.
Just before I was born, my family moved out of Rawlins to Idaho, then crisscrossed flyover country from Idaho to Colorado to South Dakota.
Like the folks from Lonesome Dove, we were constantly on the move.
Somehow, Lonesome Dove reminded my father of the better days of his early life, and he shared the memories of hunting and fishing and country life.
He wanted to get his family out of Rawlins to build a better life—much like Gus had wanted for his friends from Lonesome Dove. Along the way, our family didn’t suffer as those from Lonesome Dove. But the wandering from place to place took its toll.
Near the end of my father’s life, Lonesome Dove provided him and me the opportunity to talk about his adventures and discuss the tough times, including my mother’s death when I was 13, in a way he could never have done before.