Study Guide

Lonesome Dove Mortality

By Larry McMurtry


Let's take a look at some of the leading causes of death for cowboys and their horses:

  • Getting gored by a bull
  • Drowning in a river
  • Getting shot, accidentally or otherwise, by a bullet
  • Getting shot, probably on purpose, by an arrow
  • Hanged for stealing horses
  • Castrated
  • Scalped
  • Dying of lung cancer
  • Made into bacon

All of these things happen to the cowboys—not to mention the horses and pigs—in <em>Lonesome Dove</em>. The moral? Being a cowboy is a dangerous life. Death is always right around the corner.

Questions About Mortality

  1. Why are burial rituals important, even when the men are on the move?
  2. Were any of the deaths on the trail preventable?
  3. Why do the men choose to go on the cattle drive even knowing how dangerous it can be?
  4. Why does Gus choose to die at the end of the book?

Chew on This

People are more comfortable with death during this time period because they see it so often. Still, even if they are sometimes desensitized to death, it doesn't make it any easier when someone close to them dies.

There are many terrible things that happen in Lonesome Dove—like Lorena getting kidnapped by Blue Duck—that make death seem like a better alternative to life at times.

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