Starting the Lonesome Dove Cattle Trail

“Yesterday’s gone on down the river and you can’t get it back.” – Captain Augustus McCrae to July Johnson, from “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry.

“If you want one thing too much it’s likely to be a disappointment. The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen.”  – Captain Augustus McCrae to Lorena, from “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry.

Our dog eared copy of Lonesome Dov
Our dog-eared copy of Lonesome Dove

One of my favorite books of all time is Lonesome Dove, the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Larry McMurtry. I am currently reading  it for the third time, and Henry has read it two or three times. We both also love the 1989 TV miniseries starring Robert Duvall as Captain Augustus McCrae and Tommy Lee Jones as Captain Woodrow Call.

In fact, the whole idea for our Lonesome Dove Cattle Trail, Gulf Coast, Cajun Country, Whooping Crane, Bluebonnet and Brisket Tour began over a year ago when we watched the  miniseries for about the third time. As we were watching, the idea of a trip to follow the cattle trail through Texas as far as Ogalalla, Nebraska began to form. Once we started talking about Texas we decided to time it so we could try to see the whooping cranes and bluebonnets. We couldn’t pass by Cajun Country or the Gulf Coast without spending some time there, either.

The story begins at the Hat Creek Cattle Company in the fictional south Texas border town of Lonesome Dove and revolves around the two former Texas Rangers Gus and Call as they lead a cattle drive to Montana.

Lonesome Dove Trail Map courtesy https://www.etsy.com/shop/AntiqueMapsofTexas
Lonesome Dove Trail Map courtesy https://www.etsy.com/shop/AntiqueMapsofTexas

Since Lonesome Dove is a fictional place, we had to do some research to figure out where to start.We studied maps of the cattle trail and the closest place we could find with a nice place to stay was Laredo.

Lake Casa Blanca didn’t exist back then and Laredo doesn’t resemble the dusty, dry town of Lonesome Dove at all. When we left Laredo and started driving north on I-35 towards San Antonio the landscape looked more like it must have looked like to the cowboys. On both sides of the interstate were fields of cactus, mesquite, yucca and dust with few trees in sight. The railroad, which was built following the cattle trail that was used by the real cattlemen, runs beside I-35 most of the way to San Antonio. There are few towns and for miles and miles there was no sign of civilization except the vehicles on the interstate.

We drove through the city of San Antonio (no fun pulling a fifth wheel) and set up camp beside Canyon Lake to explore the Texas Hill Country. When we crossed the Nueces River I could picture the cowboys on their horses herding the cattle across.

In the story of Lonesome Dove several events take place in San Antonio and in and around Austin. Of course, all the places in the story are different now. San Antonio and Austin are big cities and both are surrounded by suburbs, big box stores, strip malls, and outlet malls.

So our plans have changed. As Henry said, it would be disappointing to try to find where a fictional event might have taken place, because we might get there only to find a Home Depot sitting on the location.  Instead of driving through the plains of Kansas and Nebraska  (in the beginning of tornado season), we will spend more time in Texas. We will leave Lonesome Dove in our imagination.

Hey, it’s our trip! The beauty of not making reservations ahead of time is that we can change our plans if we want.

 

 

19 thoughts on “Starting the Lonesome Dove Cattle Trail”

  1. I loved Lonesome Dove. 🙂 And, I really had to chuckle at the last part about possibly being disappointed because I immediately thought of our visit to the Alamo with the Dillards store right next door. Sometimes, it is better to keep the book or screen description in your memory.

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    1. Yes, I agree! But we actually have been to some places that could have been where a scene took place. I was hoping to see something like Clara’s orchard and we crossed several creeks and rivers that fit his description exactly.

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  2. You may come across mention of the Camino Real. [Kings Highway ]. It runs just east of San Marcos and Kyle where we live. San Marcos was built on the road near the San Marcos River until a big flood wiped it out. They then decided to move the town a bit north and west where it sits now up on a hill

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    1. Dan, thank you. I will look for that in the book. We are already west of there and didn’t get a chance to go to San Marcos. We just don’t have enough time to see everything…

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  3. When you mentioned Ogallala, I had to contain myself from screaming, “NO, don’t go!!!” LOL Hope you’re timing those wildflowers just right 🙂

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    1. HaHaHa! Why didn’t you say that before??? And we did luck out with the timing for the wildflowers. In addition to the bluebonnets the Indian Paintbrush and many other wildflowers are blooming now.

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  4. I think we’ll be following your footsteps (sort of) next month. Except we’ll run up US-83 instead of going via San Antonio.

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      1. LOL — yeah — we hate cities. Ya know, Milwaukee isn’t THAT LARGE of a city but large enough. When young, we loved big cities. WE lived in Chicago, we have been to all the major US cities and a few major world cities too. And now…. all we want to do is stay out of them. The first 18 months we didn’t get into any city larger than 100,000, and that only to drive through.

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  5. The Lonesome Dove Cattle Trail…awesome idea! When I was in college I worked a very boring job at a dry cleaner. On a very slow day I found a copy of “The Lonesome Dove” (stuffed and forgotten on a backroom shelf) never thinkng it would be something I’d have trouble putting down. I remember watching the mini series with my father and he was so impressed that I had read the book. Thanks for bringing back those great memories!

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  6. We’ll be arriving in the REAL Fredricksburg on April 23 @ the Fredricksburg RV Park for a rally. Let us know if you’ll be anywhere close.
    We really like San Antonio – clean air, lovely restaurants downtown, a minor league baseball park. What’s not to like…..

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  7. I have never read the book, but I did see the miniseries. I like to read books that are base around the areas we are traveling through. It is indeed a scary time of year to be traveling through Kansas and Nebraska. Better stay clear of Olkahoma also. Stay safe.

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  8. Lonesome Dove is one of my favorite books, too. I thought that Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones and Ricky Shroder were absolutely brilliant in the miniseries, but found Angelica Huston really grating. What a great idea to follow the cattle trail, but such a shame that it’s become so developed. One of the things that surprised me the most in our travels (maybe because we lived in Alaska so long) was the endless sprawl of strip malls, retail stores, and general yuck in so many areas of the country. It all looks the same.
    Stay away from those spring tornadoes.

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    1. We are really enjoying the Texas Hill Country. It is beautiful in the spring and has some wonderful small towns and lots of undeveloped land. We saw a few places that could have been Clara’s orchard. I’m way behind in my posts. We’ll be heading to the plains tomorrow.

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