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A Geography of Rivers: An Eco-Critical Trek to 1870s Montana in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove (1985)

Authors: Charles Travis*, University of Texas - Arlington
Topics: Environmental Perception, Cultural Geography, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: Literary, Historical and Cultural Geographies, GIS, The Great Plains, more than human geographies, borderlandscapes
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 11:50 AM / 1:05 PM
Room: Virtual Track 1
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer-Prize winning 1985 novel Lonesome Dove, is a folksy and vernacular epic about a cattle-drive originating on the banks of the Rio Grande in southwest Texas that crosses the Great Plains of the 1870s, to the banks of the Milk River in Montana Territory. The paper contextualizes McMurtry’s novel with period historical, census and cartographical perspectives and a hermeneutic exegesis on works concerning the West by John Wesley Powell, Herbert Eugene Bolton, Carl Ortwin Sauer, Walter Prescott Webb, and Bernard DeVoto, among others. Borderlandscape GIS visualizations juxtapose fictional and historical accounts to map the trek of Lonesome Dove’s fictional cattle drive. By plotting the narrative journey’s passage of time, marked by a geography of river crossings, and descriptions of the changing soils, flora, fauna and landscapes as the cattle herd is driven north, the presence of great pyramids of buffalo skulls, mile deep locust swarms, and other natural and cultural features, illuminate their absences on the contemporary Great Plains, and underscore the eco-critical perceptions shaping McMurtry’s seminal counter-Western.

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