When a man wakes up in Ogallala, Nebraska, which I did this morning, it’s almost impossible (or for me, impossible) for thoughts to not turn to Lonesome Dove — the greatest Western movie of all time and one of the best Western books of all time as well.
Ogallala is where Dee Boot is jailed and eventually hung, where Elmira rejects July, her husband and the father of her infant son, who she also rejects. She leaves Ogallala with Zwey, and they’re both killed by the Sioux.
It’s where Clara has settled with her dying husband Bob and her two surviving children, both beautiful little girls. Clara (played brilliantly by Angelica Huston) winds up adopting Elmira’s son, as well as July.
And Ogallala is where Gus McCrae (played by my favorite actor, Robert Duvall) finally shows up, dragging Lorena, Call and Newt to visit with Clara and her family. Clara, not surprisingly, winds up adopting Lorena, who is still recovering from being abducted and raped by Blue Duck and his murdering band. She takes an instant liking to Newt and reignites a longstanding feud with Call.
But most important, Clara and Gus rekindle one of the great romances found in any Western novel. It is a heartbreaking story of bad timing, misunderstandings and lost opportunities, and for each, the other remains their long lost love. Clara, far more pragmatic and honest with herself — and with Gus — than he is with himself, tries to get him to understand why it didn’t work out so many years ago and why it won’t work out again this time.
Gus, one of the great romantics, reluctantly, though perhaps secretly with relief, accepts her rejection and her love and moves on to Wyoming.
At the end of the book/movie, when Call is dragging Gus’ body from Wyoming for a burial in a little Texas pecan grove — where Gus has his most fond memories of Clara — he stops for one last visit in Ogallala. He and Clara have one last battle when he refuses to bury Gus on her property. Clara spits out with venom that she wasn’t going to fight Call for Gus all her life and even now, at the end, Call is taking Gus from her.
It is poignant and brilliant and seared the word “Ogallala” in my mind forever. Anyway, today I explore Ogallala, hope to pick up a kitschy T-shirt or two, and I imagine, as soon as I get home from this road trip, I’ll sit down with my son and watch all six hours of Lonesome Dove — and enjoy every minute of it.