Nov 22, 2019 in Literature

The Historical Accuracy of Lonesome Dove


The representation of a historical period in literary fiction is always connected with the line of complications, which depend on the author’s personal engagement with the events described as well as the remoteness of the events from today. Thus, when the author of a text describes some events close to him/her or to his/her relatives, in some situations it may cause the misinterpretations of the historical reality through the prism of personal beliefs. Another side of this problem concerns the inability of those authors, who are not personally engaged with the events described, to provide more realistic image in comparison with the texts of those, who directly participated in the historical events or listened the relatives’ memoires concerning those times. The same ambivalent problem of a personal engagement concerns the texts that describe the relationships between the Native Americans and the Western colonists who consequently destroyed the Native American culture, society, way of life, and determined their degradation in all possible dimensions. It is clear that before the Native Americans’ assimilation with the colonists, most of the literature was created by those colonists who were personally engaged in the conflicts for the American land, and considered the Native Americans as their enemies. The same situation concerns the next epochs when the heirs of the colonists did not take part in the military conflicts against the Native Americans, but still humiliated them similarly to their predecessors. It is true, since the Native Americans’ and the colonists’ heirs still live separately in some rural regions of the USA, and the hostility between them continues to exist as inheritance from the previous epoch. In this way, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurthy is one of the texts created by the American colonist who experienced the events. His personal engagement, as said before, influences his text both positively and negatively. Lonesome Dove is based on the historically accurate information, but the information provided by the author needs the unengaged historical commentary in order to interpret the main author’s points correctly.

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The Historical Perspective

In his book, McMurtry writes about the second half of the XIX century when the Native Americans already could not effectively oppose the European colonization of America and gradually lost their culture in the conditions of the colonists’ absolute military, industrial and even populational dominance. It is clear that the primary reason for the opposition between the Native Americans and the colonists was the land. Besides, there was never enough land for the Europeans because they unstoppably migrated to America in order to steal it from the Native Americans.

In fact, the opposition between these cultures was based on the worldview contradictions that presupposed different approaches to economics and the social development. Thus, for example, the Native Americans were closer to nature and took from it only what they needed. They depended on the natural balance and tried to preserve it. Hunting and gathering were the main sources food and resources. In some rare cases, they domesticated some plants, but they did not have any large fields because their culture was not oriented on the economic growth as it was characteristic for the colonists.

The living philosophy of the colonists was quite different. The European civilization tried to get maximum from the available resources, and in this way to gain the highest profits in order to afford the further development. In this respect, the main orientation of the Europeans was the progress instead of the Native Americans’ orientation on balance. Another important detail is that the colonists did not treat the American land as their own because it was a colony and the main reason for their visits was the need for great profits. The differences in the living philosophies between the Native Americans and the European colonists are the reason why the Europeans killed all bison when they came on the American continent. It is clear that the Europeans just did not treat this land as their native and tried to maximize the profits without any regard to the consequences of their practices. The same concerned the differences in the use of soil. While the Native Americans did not need much land for their life because their settlements were temporal and they did not have a developed agriculture, the colonists needed as much land as possible for different agricultural practices, buildings and other specific ways. More importantly, the US Government used both military power and removal treaties to get the land of Native Americans. In this way, “through a combination of coerced treaties and the contravention of treaties and judicial determination, the United States Government succeeded in paving the way for the westward expansion and the incorporation of new territories as part of the United States”.

The dominance of the Europeans did not just cause migration of the Native Americans from their lands. In fact, the European colonization of America destroyed the world in which the Native Americans lived before. The Europeans killed animals, used land and all possible resources in a way that violated the traditional Native American approach. The Native American culture was rooted in the balance between society and nature, however, both culture and society degraded with the industrialization and westernization of America. The colonial authorities attempted to harmonize the interrelations between the colonists and the Native Americans (such as the famous Dawes Act accepted in 1887, according to which the state helped the Native Americans to westernize their way of life). For example, in Montana (the place descripted in Lonesome Dove) the Government used the same mechanism in order to make the native tribes more peaceful and then assimilate them. All of such attempts failed because they were based on the colonists’ inability to understand the living philosophy of the Native Americans because of their exclusive and chauvinistic Eurocentrism.

Lonesome Dove’s Historical Accuracy Evaluation

Through the information stated in the previous part of the research, the main feature of the second half of the XIX century in the USA was the degradation of the Native Americans who lost the world in which they lived before. This explanation is very important for the correct evaluation of McMurtry’s book. When he describes Indians as some bandits or poor primitive people, he is right to some degree, but he has to add that the colonists have caused such degradation of the Native Americans. For example, one the characters of Lonesome Dove under the name Blue Duck is a bandit who constantly rapes and kills people. Blue Duck was a son of the tribal leader, and the only one possible way for him to survive in the westernized America and at the same time oppose the colonists was to become an outlaw. It is clear that the Native Americans had strong reasons to hate the colonists and to wish them dead. It is also undoubtedly clear that Blue Duck, who was born in the first half of the XIX century, had no possibility for a correct Native American socialization and grew up in the perverted society.

In contrast to Blue Duck and other aggressive Native Americans in the novel, there were also passive natives, who did not become a part of the Western America and at the same time could not live by their traditions. There is a bright episode in the novel, when the Indians steal a horse, and one of the main characters wonders how people can be so plain to kill and eat such animal. The author provides the general image of Indians saying, “there were only some twenty Indians, mostly women, children and old men”. There were also, “two braves who looked to be of fighting age, and they were no more than boys”. Since there were no men and food in that tribe, the people ate the horse in order to survive. It is clear through the historical context, that the men from that tribe were dead or were fighting somewhere, or like Blue Duck tried to get some food for their families. In such a way, the described tribe was a result of the European colonists’ intervention to America. Through such a prism, the description as well as the image of Blue Duck depicts the actual historical data. At the same time, the humiliating position of both the main characters and the author means nothing more than the literary approach to show the historical period through the colonist’s perspective.


The novel Lonesome Dove provided an accurate image of the Native Americans whose culture was destroyed by the European colonists’ aggressive and unstoppable expansion. The author shows the epoch through the prism of the western people’s view and that is why the text seems to be ideologically engaged, humiliating and even chauvinistic. Besides, through the historical perspective it becomes clear that the author’s position has to be casted aside in order to get the correct image of how the Western colonization made the Native American culture to degrade.

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