Study Guide

Lonesome Dove What's Up With the Ending?

By Larry McMurtry

What's Up With the Ending?

You Can Actually Go Home

Get your tissues, Shmoopers, because the ending to Lonesome Dove is a sad one, and we're not even going to pretend it's the grit from the dusty streets of Lonesome Dove blowing into our eyes. It's just plain tragic.

The Hat Creek Cattle Company makes it to Montana more or less intact. Lorena stays with Clara in Nebraska, giving both our leading ladies a happy ending. But almost as soon as the guys are in Montana, a region supposed to be fairly isolated and safe, Gus is shot by an Indian's arrow. He manages to make it to safety, but it takes days, and a severe infection sets in.

Faced with the choice of amputating both of his legs or dying, Gus chooses to die. It's impossible not to shed a couple tears over a character you've spent roughly 800 pages with. That's like if Harry Potter died after the first three books.

With Gus dead, we're left with Call as our main character. He wasn't exactly energetic to begin with, but Gus was the life force of this pair, and now all the spirit has been sucked out of the room. Call leads the men in building a shelter in Montana, but really, by this point, it's only because he's there.

Call decides to follow Gus's dying wish—to be buried in a place he fondly remembered near the Rio Grande (he and Clara had been happy there). Call does it. We're not sure why Gus wanted to return all the way to Lonesome Dove, but he knew Call would haul his body there, because Call would do anything to honor their friendship. Maybe Gus realized how depressed Call would be without him—not that Call would ever admit it.

Basically, Gus recognizes that Call is a shark. He has to keep swimming or die.

So Call swims, so to speak, all the way back to Lonesome Dove, where Bolivar is there banging the dinner bell, just like he was doing at the beginning of the book. It's almost as though Call never left—except for the fact that all his friends are basically dead. Call finds himself back at the beginning, having to think about all the choices he's made that have led him basically nowhere.

What decisions do you think Call will make about his life? Will he stay in Lonesome Dove or return to Montana? (There's actually a sequel to Lonesome Dove called Streets of Laredo if you want to find out for sure.)

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