Two of the greatest literary characters in contemporary fiction are Augustus McCrae and Woodrow F. Call. They were first introduced in Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning epic western novel, “Lonesome Dove.” The book explores their relationship and adventures as the two retired Texas Rangers lead a cattle drive from Texas to Montana.
The novel would be the third chronologically in a series of books that include “Dead Man’s Walk,” “Comanche Moon,” and “Streets of Laredo.” All were successful novels and would be adapted as TV mini-series, with “Lonesome Dove” arguably the best of the genre ever to be televised. Robert Duval as “Gus” and Tommy Lee Jones as “Call” give unforgettable performances that capture the creative genius of McMurtry and bring to life an era characterized by lawlessness, brutality, and the indomitable spirit it took to brave and conquer the western frontier.
Though historical figures populate all of his narratives, Larry McMurtry denies that the principal characters were based on any specific individuals. Nonetheless, they call to mind two individuals who made such a cattle drive and whose lives, in many aspects, parallel those of Gus and Call.
In “Lonesome Dove,” during the cattle drive to Montana, Augustus McCrae will be grievously wounded resulting in the amputation of his leg, the onset of gangrene, and his eventual death. While on his deathbed he will entreat his friend to return his body to Texas, and Woodrow Call will fulfill his dying friend’s wish.
In real life, Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving launched a trail drive of over 2,000 head of cattle from Fort Belknap, Texas to Fort Sumner, New Mexico on a new thousand mile route they forged together. Historically this route would become known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail, and its success would change the industry forever.
Goodnight and Loving would make multiple trips on that trail over a three-year period, earning trust and respect for one another as well as making both men very wealthy.
On their fourth such cattle drive, however, Oliver Loving was severely wounded in a confrontation with Comanche, the wound requiring amputation of his right arm. He developed gangrene, and later died from the infection. Charles Goodnight wasn’t with him when he sustained his wounds; but once reunited, remained by his side until Oliver Loving’s death. True to his dying friend’s request, Charles personally ferried his friend’s body back to his hometown of Weatherford, Texas. – excerpt from Palo Duro.