Lonesome Dove (miniseries)

Lonesome Dove

VHS poster
Written by Larry McMurtry (novel)
William D. Wittliff (teleplay)
Directed by Simon Wincer
Starring Robert Duvall
Tommy Lee Jones
Danny Glover
Diane Lane
Anjelica Huston
Composer(s) Basil Poledouris
Country of origin USA
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 4
Producer(s) Dyson Lovell
Suzanne De Passe
Cinematography Douglas Milsome
Editor(s) Corky Ehlers
Running time 384 min.
Production company(s) Motown Productions
Qintex Entertainment
Distributor Sonar Entertainment
Original network CBS
Original release February 5 (1989-02-05) – February 8, 1989 (1989-02-08)
Related shows Return to Lonesome Dove
Streets of Laredo
Dead Man's Walk
Comanche Moon

Lonesome Dove is an American epic Western adventure television miniseries directed by Simon Wincer. It is a four-part adaptation of the 1985 novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry and is the first installment in the Lonesome Dove franchise. The series stars Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. The series was originally broadcast by CBS over four nights in February 1989, drawing a huge viewing audience, earning numerous awards, and reviving both the television western and the miniseries.

An estimated 26 million homes tuned in to watch Lonesome Dove, unusually high numbers for a Western at that time. The western genre was considered dead by most people, as was the miniseries. By the show's end, it had earned huge ratings and virtually revamped the entire 1989–1990 television season. A favorite with audiences, as well as critics, Lonesome Dove garnered many honors and awards. At the 1989 Emmy Awards, the miniseries had 18 nominations and seven wins, including one for director Simon Wincer. Lonesome Dove also won two Golden Globes, for Best Miniseries and Best Actor in a Miniseries (Robert Duvall).


Captain Augustus "Gus" McCrae (Robert Duvall) and Captain Woodrow F. Call (Tommy Lee Jones), two famous former Texas Rangers, run a livery in the small dusty Texas border town of Lonesome Dove. Gus loves women, but he's twice a widower, and Call is somewhat of a workaholic. Working with them are Joshua Deets (Danny Glover), a black tracker and scout from their Ranger days, Pea Eye Parker (Tim Scott), another former Ranger who works hard but isn't very bright, and Bolívar (León Singer), a retired Mexican bandit who is their cook. Also living with them is Newt Dobbs (Ricky Schroder), a 17-year-old whose mother was a prostitute named Maggie and whose father may be Call.

Part I: Leaving

The story begins in the small Texas town of Lonesome Dove, as Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), a former Texas Ranger and comrade of Gus and Call's, shows up after an absence of more than ten years. He reveals that he is a man on the run, a fugitive, after having accidentally shot the dentist and mayor of Fort Smith, Arkansas, in a bar-room gunfight. The dentist/mayor's brother happens to be the sheriff, July Johnson (Chris Cooper).

Reunited with Gus and Call, Jake's glowing description of Montana inspires Call to gather a herd of cattle and drive them there, attracted by the notion of settling pristine country. Gus is less enthusiastic, pointing out that they are getting old and that they are Rangers and traders, not cowboys. But he changes his mind when he realises Lonesome Dove has little left to offer him by way of excitement, now that much of the land has been "civilized".

At the continued insistence of the dentist's widow, Sheriff Johnson sets off in pursuit of Spoon, accompanied by his young stepson Joe who travels at the request of Joe's mother and Sheriff Johnson's wife Elmira (Glenne Headly). Once her son and husband have left for Texas, Elmira leaves Fort Smith for Ogallala, Nebraska, to meet up with her first husband and Joe's father, Dee Boot. Sailing up the Arkansas River on a whiskey boat, she falls in with a group of buffalo hunters.

Meanwhile, the men of Lonesome Dove make preparations for their adventure north, including stealing 2,500 horses and cattle from across the Rio Grande in Mexico, befriending two lost Irish immigrants, Allan and Sean O'Brien, and being joined by nearly all of the male citizens of the town. Before leaving, Gus returns to fetch his livery sign and say farewell to his pigs, who end up following him anyway.

Back in Fort Smith, Peach (widowed from Jake's shooting) insists that Roscoe (July's timid Deputy) has to find July not only to inform him that his wife's run off but that she is pregnant.

Jake decides not to travel with the herd, mainly because he promises to take the town's only prostitute, Lorena "Lorie" Wood (Diane Lane), to San Francisco via Denver. Some time later the group survive a huge dust storm, but Sean (Bradley Gregg), one of the Irishmen, is attacked by water moccasins while crossing the Nueces River.

Part II: On the Trail

The young Irishman soon succumbs to his numerous snakebites, dies, and is buried. While travelling through a forest in east Texas, Roscoe (Barry Corbin), Sheriff Johnson's deputy, is joined by Janey (Nina Siemaszko), a young girl fleeing from an old abusive "owner". As they travel together they are robbed, when luckily Sheriff Johnson happens to catch up with them. Meanwhile, Johnson's wife Elmira arrives by boat at Bent's Fort, Colorado, and sets off overland across the plains with two hunters she has befriended.

Meanwhile, the camp's cook refuses to continue, and Gus and Call head into San Antonio in search of a new cook, Po Campo (Jorge Martínez de Hoyos). On the way back, they catch up with Lorie, whom Jake has abandoned in order to go gambling in Austin. Before he returns, Gus and Lorie encounter Blue Duck (Frederic Forrest), a notorious Mexican/Indian bandit from Gus and Call's Ranger days. Blue Duck knocks Newt unconscious, kidnaps Lorie, and attempts to sell/barter her to a gang of Comanchero bandits camped on the Llano Estacado.

Knowing that Gus is in pursuit, Blue Duck asks the Comanchero bandit gang to kill Gus when he arrives - the reward of doing so being Lorie. Gus and the bandits engage in a brief gun battle that quickly turns into a stalemate. Gus, having killed his horse, is pinned down by the bandits' gunfire until nightfall, when Sheriff Johnson's party arrives and scares them off. Sheriff Johnson, despite Gus' protests, joins Gus in the rescue of Lorie. The pair then ride to a hilltop above the Comancheros camp. After a brief one-sided gunfight, in which Gus kills all of Blue Duck's gang, Lorie is rescued.

But while Gus and Johnson are away, Blue Duck uses his knife to kill deputy Roscoe, Janey, and Joe. He then steals their horses and escapes. The tearful Sheriff, with the help of Gus, buries them all. Gus and Lorie ride north to rejoin Call and the herd. After being severely traumatized by her capture, Lorie now regards Gus as her primary protector. Meanwhile, in a saloon in Fort Worth, and oblivious of Lorie's ordeal, Jake Spoon falls in with a gang that are headed north to rob banks in Kansas.

Part III: The Plains

As they ride through the bush, Spoon and the robbers come across a group of horse wranglers. They shoot most of the wranglers and steal the horses. They then travel to a sodbuster's farm, two of whom the leader kills, hangs, and burns for no apparent reason. Although Spoon disagrees, the gang leader bullies Spoon into submission. When one of the dying wranglers is rescued by the cowboys, Call leads a posse to search for the thieves. Gus and Call quickly capture the robbers and prepare to hang them. With his last words, Jake Spoon admits that it is better to be hanged by his friends than by strangers.

By chance, Elmira and the buffalo hunters arrive at the home of Gus' old sweetheart, Clara (Anjelica Huston), near the Platte River in Nebraska. Clara's husband is an invalid, having been kicked in the head by a horse. Elmira gives birth to a son, but abandons the child with Clara and goes to Ogallala in search of Dee Boot. She finds Dee Boot in jail, where he is shortly hanged for a murder. Two weeks later, Sheriff Johnson also arrives at Clara's house and sees his abandoned son. Later in Ogallala, Sheriff Johnson encounters Elmira, who is still recovering from childbirth. That night, Elmira secretly departs east for St. Louis with the two buffalo hunters, but all three are soon killed by the Sioux. Sheriff Johnson returns to Clara's house and is offered a job. Clara, having lost her own three sons to pneumonia, is quite fond of Johnson's newborn son, and names him Martin.

Gus and Call's cattle drive also arrives at Ogallala, where they relax and enjoy the town. Some U.S. cavalry soldiers attempt to commandeer the group's horses, and beat Newt when he resists, sending Call into a murderous rage. In the aftermath, Newt learns that Call is his father. Clara, although happy to see Gus, and with her husband gravely ill, makes it clear that she will not marry Gus. Instead, she invites Gus to settle and ranch on a piece of nearby property. Further, she invites Lorie to remain with Clara and her daughters, and Gus promises he will return one day to them.

Continuing their journey, Gus and Call lead their cattle drive north through the arid badlands of Wyoming Territory and into Montana Territory. Impoverished Indians soon steal a dozen of their horses for food. Gus, Call, and Deets ride after the horse thieves to retrieve the horses. Call frightens the Indians away with a gunshot. Deets takes pity on a blind Indian child left behind, and goes to assist him. Another Indian mistakes his intentions and impales Deets with a spear. He is mortally wounded and dies in Gus's and Call's arms a few moments later.

Part IV: Return

Deets is buried, then the party continues on across the Powder River, Montana Territory. Meanwhile, Clara's husband finally dies and is buried as well. Leaving the main group to scout ahead with Pea Eye Parker, Gus decides to pursue some buffalo, but is chased by mounted Indians and is badly wounded in his right leg. While trying to get back to the herd for help, an exhausted Pea Eye is guided by the ghost of Deets, whereas Gus is found by a stranger and taken 40 miles away to Miles City, Montana.

There a doctor amputates Gus' right leg. Gus knows that his left leg is septic and he is likely to die, but refuses to let the doctor remove it too. Gus tells Call (who has come in search of him) to give his money to Lorie, to bury him in Texas, and to admit that Call is Newt's father. Call arranges to store Gus' body in the town over the winter. He then leads the cattle drive to a wilderness lake where the party raises a cabin and a corral.

Call honors Gus' wish to be returned to Texas. Just before departing, Call gives Newt a pocket-watch that belonged to his own father and states that Newt will run the ranch in his absence. The moment is filled with anticipation, but he is incapable of actually calling Newt his son out loud. Call soon returns to Ogallala.

Sheriff Johnson, Clara, Lorie, and the ranch hand Dish live happily together. Dish is enamored with Lorie, but she does not return his affections. When Call brings Gus' body, she stays and mourns by the coffin all night long. Clara asks Call to bury Gus at her home, but Call declines. Clara then berates Call for the bad effect he and Gus had on each other, blaming their adventures as the reason neither of them could find happiness.

After a long journey, Call arrives at Santa Rosa, New Mexico Territory, the town where Blue Duck has finally been captured. Call visits Blue Duck in jail, where Blue Duck mocks Call's failure to capture him. While being led to the gallows, Blue Duck grabs deputy Robert Hofer and throws himself out a window, choosing a murder-suicide rather than allow himself to be hanged.

Despite blizzards, a broken wagon, and the loss of the coffin, Call finally succeeds in burying Gus after a journey of some three thousand miles. Call weeps for his friend after burying him, the first display of emotion he has allowed himself since Deets' death. After the burial, Call tours Lonesome Dove, reunites with his former cook Bolivar, and discovers that the saloon owner who once employed Lorie was so heartbroken by her departure that he burned down the saloon and killed himself. As Call walks out of town, a reporter recognizes him and tries to interview him about his remarkable feats. Call ignores the reporter's questions, aside from ironically agreeing with him that he was a man of vision. Call then walks away as the sun sets on Lonesome Dove.



  1. "Leaving" – first aired Sunday 5 February 1989
  2. "On the Trail" – aired Monday 6 February 1989
  3. "The Plains" – aired Tuesday 7 February 1989
  4. "Return" – aired Wednesday 8 February 1989


Larry McMurtry's original novel was based upon a screenplay that he had co-written with Peter Bogdanovich for a movie that was intended to star John Wayne as Call, James Stewart as Gus, and Henry Fonda as Jake Spoon, but the project collapsed when John Ford advised Wayne to reject the script.

Most Hollywood studios were at first not interested in the rights to the novel, which ended up being bought by Motown Productions, headed by Suzanne de Passe. Motown made the mini series for CBS with Robert Halmi Productions as deficit financiers. Halmi at that time was being taken over by Qintex whose head of American operations, David Evans, suggested Simon Wincer as director. CBS also suggested him on the basis of The Last Frontier and Bluegrass. Robert Duvall, who had director approval, watched some of Wincer's films and approved him.[1]

Four other actors (Charles Bronson, Robert Duvall, James Garner, and Jon Voight) were offered the role of Woodrow Call but declined for various reasons before the role fell to Tommy Lee Jones. Garner said that he was originally set to play one of the lead roles but had to drop out for ill health.[2] Duvall turned down the part of Call on the grounds he had already played that type of character, and asked to play Gus. Bronson agreed to play Blue Duck but he was under contract to Cannon Films who said he was required to make a movie for them instead.[1]

The miniseries was shot at the Alamo Village, the movie set originally created for John Wayne's The Alamo.[3]

The majority of the miniseries was filmed at the Moody Ranch located seven miles south of Del Rio, Texas. Other locations used for filming were ranches in Texas and New Mexico, and the series was shot over 90 days. Real ranch horses were used for authenticity during the filming of the movie. Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall did their own stunts in the film, except for one brief scene that required Duvall to ride in the center of a herd of bison.[1][4]

ION Television has shown a digitally remastered version of the miniseries starting the weekend of June 30, 2007 during the "RHI Movie Weekend" (RHI Entertainment are the current owners of the Lonesome Dove miniseries).


Lonesome Dove received an overwhelmingly positive reception with critics and audience alike.

The New York Times commented that:

This six-hour miniseries, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Larry McMurtry, revitalized both the miniseries and Western genres, both of which had been considered dead for several years.... Lonesome Dove earned 18 Emmy nominations and inspired a pair of miniseries sequel as well as two attempts at an ongoing television series.[5]


Lonesome Dove was nominated for 18 Emmy Awards, winning seven.[6] The series was also deemed Program of the Year by the National Television Critics Association, as well as Outstanding Dramatic Achievement. It received the D.W. Griffith Award for Best Television Miniseries, and CBS was presented with a Peabody Award for Outstanding Achievement in Drama. In a 2003 TRIO Network Special, TRIO ranked Lonesome Dove third in a list of ten outstanding miniseries, beginning from the time the format was created[7]

1989 Emmy Awards
Category Won Winner
Outstanding Achievement in Casting for a Miniseries or a Special Lynn Kressel
Outstanding Achievement in Makeup for a Miniseries or a Special Manlio Rocchetti (makeup supervisor), Carla Palmer (makeup artist), and Jean Ann Black (makeup artist)
For Part 4 ("The Return")
Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Miniseries or a Special (Dramatic Underscore) Basil Poledouris (composer)
For Part 4 ("The Return")
Outstanding Costume Design for a Miniseries or a Special Van Broughton Ramsey
For Part 2 ("On the Trail")
Outstanding Directing in a Miniseries or a Special Simon Wincer (director)
For Part 1 ("Leaving") and Part 4 ("The Return")
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries or a Special Dave McMoyler (supervising sound editor); Joseph Melody (co-supervising editor); Mark Steele, Richard S. Steele, Michael J. Wright, Gary Macheel, Stephen Grubbs, Mark Friedgen, Charles R. Beith Jr., Scott A. Tinsley, Karla Caldwell, George B. Bell, and G. Michael Graham (sound editors); Kristi Johns (supervising adr editor); Tom Villano (supervising music editor); and Jamie Forester (supervising music editor)
For Part 3 ("The Plains")
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Special Donald F. Johnson (sound mixer), James L. Aicholtz (dialogue mixer), Michael Herbick (music mixer), and Kevin O'Connell (sound effects mixer)
For Part 4 ("The Return")
Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Special Philip Leto (hairstylist) and Manlio Rocchetti (hair supervisor)
For Part 2 ("On the Trail")
Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Special Cary White (production designer) and Michael J. Sullivan (set decorator)
For Part 4 ("The Return")
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or a Special Douglas Milsome (director of photography)
For Part 4 ("The Return")
Outstanding Editing for a Miniseries or a Special - Single Camera Production Corky Ehlers (editor)
For Part 3 ("The Plains")
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special Robert Duvall
For Part 2 ("On the Trail")
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special Tommy Lee Jones
For Part 4 ("The Return")
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special Anjelica Huston
For Part 3 ("The Plains")
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special Diane Lane
For Part 3 ("The Plains") and Part 4 ("The Return")
Outstanding Miniseries Suzanne de Passe (executive producer), Bill Wittliff (executive producer), Robert Halmi Jr. (co-executive producer), Dyson Lovell (producer), and Michael Weisbarth (supervising producer)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special Danny Glover
For Part 1 ("Leaving"), Part 2 ("On the Trail"), and Part 3 ("The Plains")
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Special Glenne Headly
For Part 1 ("Leaving"), Part 2 ("On the Trail"), and Part 3 ("The Plains")
Outstanding Writing in a Miniseries or a Special Bill Wittliff (teleplay)
For Part 1 ("Leaving") and Part 4 ("The Return")
1990 Golden Globes
Category Won Winner
Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV
Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV Robert Duvall
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV Tommy Lee Jones
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV Anjelica Huston
Awards Category Won Winner
American Cinema Editors (1990) Best Edited Episode from a Television Mini-Series Corky Ehlers For Part 3 ("The Plains")
BMI Film & TV Awards (1990) Basil Poledouris
Casting Society of America (1989) Best Casting for TV Miniseries Lynn Kressel
Directors Guild of America (1990) Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials Simon Wincer
TV Land Awards (2007) Miniseries You Didn't Miss a Moment Of
Television Critics Association Awards (1989) Outstanding Achievement in Drama
Television Critics Association Awards (1989) Program of the Year
Western Heritage Awards (1990) Television Feature Film William D. Wittliff (writer/executive producer), Suzanne de Passe (executive producer), Robert Duvall (star), Tommy Lee Jones (star), and Anjelica Huston (star)
Writers Guild of America Awards (1990) Adapted Long Form William D. Wittliff
For Part 1 ("Leaving")

Release history

Lonesome Dove, Return to Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo and Dead Man's Walk are all available on DVD in the United Kingdom (distributed by Acorn Media UK) and the United States. Both seasons of the TV series have also been released in the U.S.

Lonesome Dove was filmed in a soft matte 1.78:1 (16:9) aspect ratio, allowing it to be cropped from the 4:3 negative. It was then released on Blu-ray Disc on August 5, 2008 just months before the film's 20th anniversary.

Home Video Rights

The rights to Lonesome Dove on home video have varied for over two decades.


The score for Lonesome Dove was composed and conducted by Basil Poledouris, his first western and the first of his five scores for director Simon Wincer - Poledouris subsequently scored the director's next three theatrical films (Quigley Down Under, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Free Willy) and 2006's Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles).

In 1993 Cabin Fever Music released an album of selections from his score; Sonic Images issued an expansion in 1998, the track listing of which is below with cues premiered on the 1998 album in bold.

  1. Theme from "Lonesome Dove" 5:13
  2. Jake's Fate 2:15
  3. Night Mares (Deets, Newt) 3:56
  4. Cowboys Down The Street 2:16
  5. Statue/Deets Dies 3:04
  6. Arkansas Pilgrims (Clara, July, Lorena) 4:30
  7. Sunny Slopes of Yesterday 1:58
  8. The Leaving 3:30
  9. On The Trail 6:46
  10. Murdering Horse Thieves 1:16
  11. Gus & P-Eye - The Search 5:27
  12. Gus Dies 2:34
  13. Captain Call's Journey 7:18
  14. Farewell Ladies - Finale 5:44


  1. 1 2 3 Scott Murray, "Simon Wincer: Trusting His Instincts", Cinema Papers, November 1989 p9-12, 78-79
  2. "James Garner: You Ought to be in Pictures". Movieline. May 1, 1994. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  3. Blumenthal, Ralph (26 March 2004). "The Alamo of the Big Screen Tries to Skirt the Fate of the Original". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  4. Dave Davies (July 22, 2010). "Robert Duvall: From 'The Godfather' To 'Get Low'". Fresh Air. NPR. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
  5. Williams, Karl. "Lonesome Dove (1989)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 10, 2012. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  6. "Awards Listing for Lonesome Dove (1989)". Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Retrieved 16 August 2009.
  7. http://www.medialifemagazine.com/news2005/jun05/june27/3_wed/news3wednesday.html

Further reading

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