Lonesome Dove, part 7. Captain Woodrow F. Call: Lover of the Light

HI 86 / LO 53, sunrise 6:22 a.m.

Lover of the Light: Captain Woodrow F. Call

I know two people who named their boys after the Captain. When I started the book, I thought this was a great honor. After all, we’re talking about the character played by Tommy Lee Jones!

I liked this man who liked to get off by himself every night and “let the country talk. The country talked quiet; one human voice could drown it out.” Like Call, I “discovered early on that [my] instincts needed privacy in which to operate.” My favorite sentence of Call’s is this one: “‘We’ll take good care of them,’ Call said, wasting words.” To Call, six words is too many.

But as the story wore on, my opinion of Call changed. His passion for work covers his blue spells:“The blue spells never came at a time of real crisis. Call thrived on crisis.” What better setting for crisis than a cattle drive to Montana? After all, the whole thing is Call’s idea.

But he’s a man of integrity, you’ll argue. He’ll hang a horsethief even if he’s a friend. Well, he’s not a man of integrity to Maggie or to his own son, Newt.

“But Captain,” the boy said. “They say you were the most famous Ranger. They say you’ve carried Captain McCrae three thousand miles just to bury him. They say you started the first ranch in Montana. My boss will fire me if I don’t talk to you. They say you’re a man of vision.”

“Yes, a hell of a vision,” Call said.

This exchange between a young newspaperman and Call occurs as the last words at the end of the miniseries (which is excellently done with an all-star cast, accurate scenery and costumes, and the kind of music you’d expect in a sweeping Western epic). I kind of like ending the story there. But in the book, that exchange happens in New Mexico, following Blue Duck’s death.

The book ends with a one-legged man who only appeared briefly in the beginning (now an omage to Gus, who died with only one leg) telling Call what happened to the old saloon. He explains that Wanz burned the place down when Lorie — “that whore” — left, just he told her he would.

“Who?” Call asked, looking at the ashes.

In this moment, Call becomes Jake—Jake, of all people! Jake, who did not recognize Lorie’s name at the end of his life. At the end of the book, Call doesn’t recognize her either, even when she’s just referred to as “that whore” or “the woman.” But that’s how he referred to her through the whole story. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

“If it’s Lorie, it wouldn’t kill you to use her name.” [Gus said]

“I don’t see that it matters,” Call said.

It does matter, Call.

Lorie’s name meant so much to her that when she receives the letter written by Gus on his deathbed, she doesn’t even mind that she can’t read the contents.

“He put my name on it. I can read that. I’ll just keep it.”

She didn’t want Clara to see the letter. It was hers from Gus. What the words were didn’t matter.

But somewhere, somewhere deep, Call knows words matter. He wrote the epitaph for Deets, and he puts together the grave marker for Gus. He uses the plank with the words, “Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium,” words which Gus wrote himself and wanted on his grave. He fastens that plank to a mesquite stick, forming a cross. Then the next day, he realizes no one will ever know Gus was buried there since his name wasn’t on the grave. So, Call climbs back up the hill and scratches Gus’s initials, “A.M.” on the other side of the board.

He wouldn’t call Maggie by name or Lorie. He never gave Newt his name. But he made sure Gus’s name — at least his initials — are written on his makeshift tombstone.


  1. You are so observant! So many have missed that about Call. Well, every good character has to have his flaws. Personally, although I do admire Call’s integrity, as a woman, I wouldn’t have given him a second glance. When a man is that closed off, that silent, he won’t have any interest in wanting to know a woman any deeper than her skin. If he did, he might have to feel something for her and if he felt something for her, he would be in conflict with what he was already married to, his work. I think that’s where he hides.