Cowboys & Indians

Reluctant Legend

LARRY MCMURTRY ISN’T AN EASY MAN TO ARGUE WITH. NOT ONLY IS he one of the most well-read people you’ll ever meet, he’s more than happy to unload a terse opinion or three. And he doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

This doesn’t stop me from trying to convince the legendary Texas author of a simple fact most of the world accepts as obvious — that his 1985 epic Lonesome Dove is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, western novels ever published. I’ve got facts in my corner. These include numerous page citations highlighting brilliant literary passages, bank-busting sales figures, and the Pulitzer Prize the book was awarded in 1986.

McMurtry weighs the evidence. But he isn’t convinced.

“I just sat down and wrote it. I think the Berrybenders series is better, and a masterpiece,” he says, referring to his own collection of four novels about a calamitous 1830s hunting expedition published between 2002 and 2004. “Lonesome Dove was a good try.”

No matter how much I try, it just isn’t possible to get McMurtry to acknowledge that the book that introduced the world to retired Texas Rangers Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call — inspired by the lives of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving and the West’s most famous cattle drive to Montana — amounts to much more than a pleasant way to pass some time.

“I wrote Lonesome Dove in the main to try and understand my father, who was as fine a cowboy as I’ve ever known.”

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