Texas legend of ‘Lonesome Dove’

Texas legend of ‘Lonesome Dove’

If you have spent considerable time in Texas, chances are you have seen “Lonesome Dove,” written by Pulitzer Prize winner Larry McMurtry of Archer City, Texas. If you are a true Texan, you’ve probably seen it more than once, and you just may have seen the other three adaptions in the series. Keeping the chronological order straight is a task to be conquered with careful reading and note taking.

The son of a former co-worker of mine, Eric Brown, stirred my interest one day last week when he wrote about “Lonesome Dove,” and I dug deep and found the notes from my interview with McMurtry in Archer City. My late husband had a brother and sister-in-law who were long-time Archer City residents and were very proud of their famous son who owned much of the old downtown area.

Archer City is a sleepy little Texas town about 25 miles from bustling Wichita Falls and sits at the junction of state highways 79 and 25. It is home to a few more than 1,800 people, and ranching and oil are its top jobs. Archer City is the capitol and county seat of Archer County. If you are lucky, you can get into the local Dairy Queen for a quick lunch and enjoy the posters and writings about “The Last Picture Show” (also written by McMurtry) that adorn every inch of wall space. You will immediately recognize the various scenes from the movie and feel that you have stepped back in time into the era McMurtry brought to life on the screen.

Our local guides showed us around the entire town and ended at the home of the McMurtrys. We also spent hours in many of the famed bookstores now occupying most of the old buildings in the downtown area. At one time, it is said that you could find anywhere between 400,000 to 450,000 volumes of books in these shops owned by McMurtry. Many of the titles were old and rare. Others estimated the number to be much higher. McMurtry began his first bookstore, Booked Up, in the Washington, D.C. area, but in 1988 opened his first in Archer City providing steady employment for many of the residents. In 2012, a very large auction was undertaken and many of the volumes sold to eager buyers. McMurtry said he sold off the books to make it easier on his heirs.

A prolific writer, McMurtry said when he is working, he writes every day including holidays and what others term “off days.” He has the books, essays and screenplays to prove it, not to mention the awards and testimonies of his skill. Born to Hazel Ruth and William Jefferson McIver on June 3, 1936, in Archer City, this favorite son returned home after a career that took him to universities and big cities. He most often writes about the beloved Old West and contemporary Texas. His work has been nominated for 26 Academy Awards with 10 wins and his 1985 “Lonesome Dove” garnered him the Pulitzer, 18 Emmy nominations and seven wins. More than that, “Lonesome Dove” won the hearts and souls of Texans and those who want to be. His characters are believable and well loved and have become larger than life. Who among us has not quoted a line or two from one of these films?

McMurtry wrote “Lonesome Dove” in 1985, but did you know that there are three or four more books and screenplays in the series? In 1993, “Streets of Laredo was released,” in 1995 followed “Dead Man’s Walk,” and in 1997, “Comanche Moon.” The thing that is tricky is that the release date does not line up chronologically with the events of the books and movies. 

“Dead Man’s Walk” covers the 1840s and features a young Augustus McCrae and Woodrow F. Call. “Comanche Moon” covers the 1850s and 1860s, with “Lonesome Dove,” the absolute cream of the crop, covering the 1870s. “Streets of Laredo” covers the 1890s. Another novel and screenplay not written by McMurtry, “Return to Lonesome Dove,” was released in 1993. Written by John Wilder, it parallels the timeframe of “Streets of Laredo.”

Read more about this famous Texan and his work in another column to follow.


Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannohenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.