Dead Man’s Walk by Larry McMurtry

One of my goals this year is to read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove series. It’s a four-book series, or a tetralogy, as exacting bibliophiles say. I plan to read one novel per quarter.

The Lonesome Dove series

I was captivated by McMurtry’s novel, Lonesome Dove, when I first read it in the 80s or 90s. I had no idea it is part of a series. Book blogger Liz Dexter is re-reading some of her favorite McMurtry novels this year which prompted me to look at his oeuvre (as fancy bibliophiles say).

Lonesome Dove, the novel, is set in the 1870s and was published in 1985. The novel and its subsequent movie adaptation were huge hits. In 1993 McMurtry published a sequel, Streets of Laredo, which is set in the 1890s. I gave my sister a copy of the book when she moved to Laredo in the ’90s, but I don’t remember reading it.

After Streets of Laredo, McMurtry turned his attention to earlier time periods. Dead Man’s Walk is set in the 1840s and was published in 1995. Comanche Moon, set in the 1850s-60s, was published in 1997.

The series ordered by time period:

  1. Dead Man’s Walk (1995) – set in the early 1840s
  2. Comanche Moon (1997) – set in the 1850-60s
  3. Lonesome Dove (1985) – set in mid-to-late 1870s
  4. Streets of Laredo (1993) – set in the early 1890s

I’m usually a stickler for reading things in publication order, but in this case I’m opting to read in the chronological order of the fictional storyline.

The series revolves around Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call.

Dead Man’s Walk

In Dead Man’s Walk Call and Gus are young men, green and raring to go on adventures and do important things. The novel revolves around the Texas Rangers’s expedition to annex Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico from Mexico. Translation: They attempt to further colonize the continent by means of war against another nation on Indigenous land. This fictional expedition is inspired by a failed historical expedition by the Republic of Texas in 1841.

I was curious about borders during this time period and located an 1839 map, digitized by the Library of Congress. You can really zoom in on the details over on their website. (Advice: it might be wise to set a timer for yourself because you will get sucked in.)

1839 map (Source: Library of Congress)

Dead Man’s Walk includes extreme hardship and violence, including torture. It was one of those reading experiences where eventually I wanted the book to be over, but I didn’t want it to end. Do you know what I mean?

The first two-thirds of the book were full of character introductions, battles/skirmishes, environmental obstacles, and deprivation. There is some humor and warm feelings. Then it took a turn toward describing scenes of brutality, including torture and rape. McMurtry does not go into great detail, but one scene in particular was so horrific I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget it.

Yet, I enjoyed the main characters and was curious about how it would all turn out. In addition to Gus and Call, there’s a wonderful cast of characters like Matty, a “whore” known as “The Great Western;” Bigfoot Wallace and Shadrach, two older experienced scouts; Buffalo Hump, a Comanche chief; Kicking Wolf, a warrior who is a such a skilled horse thief its almost like he has an invisibility cloak; and Captain Salazar of the Mexican Army, the only competent military leader in the novel.

The novel took a very odd turn in the end that I’d love to discuss with someone who has read the book. Imagine Downton Abbey meets the Wild West in a leper colony. The climatic scene is almost fantastical. Had this been written by a less experienced writer, I would have assumed they didn’t know how to “get out of” the story.

Next up is Comanche Moon which I plan to read in May.

7 comments

  1. I am interested to hear your persepective. When I read LONESOME DOVE, I did not know it was a tetrology. My anal tendencies would have prevented my reading out of order had I known.

  2. Nice library! And thank you for joining in my challenge with your read of this series – I’ve linked to this one on the project page. I don’t do so well with his very historical novels so it’s lovely to be able to share other people’s reads of them.

    • That’s my town’s public library, back in the biography section, which is usually quiet. Thanks for linking my post to the project page. I look forward to reading what other folk’s are writing about McMurtry’s work. I still have not watched the movie Terms of Endearment because I want to read the book first. Perhaps I can do that by next year, which will be the film’s 40th anniversary. 😱

  3. Also a McMurtry fan – Terms of Endearment – Lonesome Dove – Texasville had me laughing out loud. Thank you for highlighting this artist – XOXO

    • Hi, Brenda, thanks for your comment. It’s nice to hear you had some good laughs while reading McMurtry. There wasn’t much humor in Dead Man’s Walk, at least not as much as what I remember from Lonesome Dove. I’m actually pleasantly surprised to hear about humor in Terms of Endearment. I haven’t yet read the book or watched the movie and just recall friends saying how much the story gutted them.

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