Are “Dovies” the new Trekkies? Join my quest for the definitive answer to this and other mysteries of Lonesome Dove.
They come in droves, literally, to anything bearing the Lonesome Dove moniker. Their Facebook fan page has 215,620 “likes.” At the Wildcatter Ranch and Resort in Graham, Texas, they “flocked” a Lonesome Dove Weekend to the tune of $900 per couple from as far away as Toronto, Canada to hear a “Real vs. Reel” lecture, take in the breathtaking panorama on early morning trail rides and chuck wagon breakfasts, and enjoy a 3-hour narrated bus tour visiting the historic landmarks that inspired Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning work that became better known as its 6-hour TV miniseries counterpart.
What’s more, the Wildcatter’s First Annual Lonesome Dove Weekend last monthscored national coverage in the New York Times, as well as great regional reviews in the Dallas Morning News. I got to ride along on the bus tour to visit with some of the guests and experience alongside them the spine-tingling realities that inspired McMurtry’s beloved story. Driving today along paved highway that crossed what used to be the deadliest stretch of indian territory in the nation and knowing that the fastest they could go was three miles per hour was nearly as sobering a thought as the idea that all around us were the unmarked sites of hundreds of settlers’ violent demise less than 150 years ago.
“It really makes you think,” remarked Wildcatter Owner Anne Skipper,”about all the things we take for granted. We have all these tools and conveniences; they lived only by their will.” (Kind of inspired a reflective moment when we realized we were, by comparison, a “wagon” load of wimps. I even vowed to stop complaining about having too much to do. It didn’t last, of course, but I did take a break for the day!)
This tour first made a stop at Fort Belknap, drove the edges of the Loving ranch, criss-crossed the old Butterfield Stage line, viewed the box canyon where they gathered the cattle for the drive, and riveted the tour group with stories and facts far too numerous to mention here. We also learned some fascinating details of Oliver Loving’s legendary life that included his copious accounting of the cattle brands he drove north for half interest as payment from each owner . We also learned, courtesy of the gifted local historian, Dorman Holub, who narrated the tour, that Loving’s wife often used the backs of her husband’s brand books to record her recipes, once of which recommended squirrel, but said if you had to, you could substitute chicken. The grand finale of the tour took place in the Weatherford, Texas cemetery at the grave of Loving and his family, just a short stroll to the burial site of Bose Ikard, the freed slave whom Goodnight and Loving befriended and upon whose story the character of Deets was developed.
And the interest in this topic I observed from this group, it appears, is just the tip of the longhorn.
Even though the historic Goodnight Loving Trail Drive around which Author Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove was loosely based took place 145 years ago this year, and McMurtry’s Pulitzer came 25 years ago to the date of the Wildcatter weekend event, it lives on in the minds and the hearts of a huge and growing fan base that defies explanation.
“They’re like trekkies,” remarks Gail Steagall, “only more so.” Steagall who, along with her famous husband, the Cowboy Poet, entertainer and 2006 Poet Laureate of Texas Red Steagall, host each year (and it’s THIS COMING WEEKEND, October 21-23) a Cowboy Gathering in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Gail also happens to be a friend and “Spa Sister” of mine, so of course I picked up the phone to ask her what she thought about this fascinating social phenomenon.
“Oh it’s HUGE!,” she affirmed without hesitation. “They come to the Gathering dressed as their favorite Lonesome Dove characters, they watch that 6-hour miniseries several times a year, every year. They know every character and can quote every line. It’s really pretty amazing that something like this has lasted so long — and just keeps growing!”
The Steagalls’ annual Cowboy Gathering is a special draw for Lonesome Dove buffs, partly because Red once narrated an outstanding introduction of a Lonesome Dove related cassette, but perhaps even more in the way that Steagall’s timeless and beloved portrayal of the real American cowboy brings this world back to life each fall in the Fort Worth Stockyards through music, poetry and authentic cowboy experience devoted to preserving the memories and heritage of the American West.
Interestingly, the continued growth Gail Steagall speaks of is also reflected this year’s Cowboy Gathering’s Wagon Train and Trail Ride from Jacksboro to The Fort Worth Stockyards (and in close proximity to several historic sites related to the Goodnight Loving Cattle Drive that in part inspired the Lonesome Dove tale). Serving as a four-day opening event to the Cowboy Gathering each year, the 2011 Trail Ride and Wagon Train showed a marked increase (almost triple last year, to be specific, and the even is still weeks away) in numbers of registered riders.
What is the continuing draw of this 1986 Pulitzer story? What is the personal connection both men and women feel to this story that still makes it such a pop culture interest-bordering-on-obsession shared by people from all walks of life? What continues to make these characters come to life in peoples’ minds in such a way that they talk about them as if they’re close personal friends rather than the products of an author’s history-laced imagination? What makes this depiction of the Old West and the Western Lifestyle rise above all others to inspire this Trekkie-style fanaticism?
This is something that I am willing to get to the bottom of. I’m planning to attend this year’s Cowboy Gathering (and of course I’ll have The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses for sale there, so stop by and say hello!), and I’m hoping to ride along on the trail to interact with some of those folks and listen to what they have to say on this subject. Judging from the age group of those most drawn to the Lonesome dove saga of heroism and friendship, I’d be willing to bet my digging will reveal yet another “empty nest quest,” a grander (if a little grimier) facet of the midlife gemstone.
Meanwhile, however, I’d love to hear from you! Do you have an emotional connection tot he Hat Creek Cattle Company? Are you considering (or have you already yielded) to having a pig for a pet? Have any of your friends asked you to drag their dead body 1400 or more miles to keep you from being buried on “foreign” soil? (meaning, I suppose, anywhere but Texas, right?) Do you even have any friends who would do such a thing for you?
Let us hear your “Dovie” Story . . .either here in the form of comment or post your observations and photos on our Facebook page, or tweet your favorite “Dove” phrase and see how many will answer your “Dove” call with one of their own! Or, if you have a story you’d like me to write as a future post, drop me an email and we’ll talk!