If we’re going to celebrate Lonesome Dove, we should get the story straight.
I know it might not be wise to pick a fight with actor Barry Tubb.
But “Jasper Fant” is not telling quite the right story about how the greatest Western epic of all time got its name.
Sure, everybody knows the basics. Novelist Larry McMurtry was dining out and saw a bus from Lonesome Dove Baptist Church in Southlake. He noted the name, and later tagged it onto an old screenplay that had already made the rounds.
That is where the story breaks down.
Tubb, a good Texan and tough former bull rider, has told a couple of Lonesome Dove reunion audiences that McMurtry was in a Fort Worth cafe. Another online retelling from a dubious source cited in Wikipedia even puts him in Oklahoma.
That is not the way McMurtry tells it, or has told it almost from the day Lonesome Dove became a TV hit.
In Literary Life: A Second Memoir (2009), McMurtry calls that early 1980s day “a gift from the Muse if there ever was one”:
“There is a fine steakhouse called the Ranchman’s, in a tiny town called Ponder, Texas, near Denton and not far from Fort Worth.
“I have eaten at the Ranchman’s with some regularity for about 55 years. It was summer and I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I ate there again, emerging, well-fed, at about dusk.
“A few miles south of Ponder, with the lights of Fort Worth just ahead, I happened to notice an old church bus parked beside the road, and on its side was written: ‘Lonesome Dove Baptist Church.’
“If ever I had an epiphany it was at that moment: I had, at last, found a title for the trail driving book.”
McMurtry went on to explain that the “lonesome dove” in the story is Capt. Woodrow F. Call’s unacknowledged son, Newt Dobbs.
As it turns out, the actual Lonesome Dove is the church itself.
When the church was founded on the Texas frontier in February 1846, only two months after Texas combined with the U.S. and with only a few settlements and a fort nearby, the pioneers chose a fitting name.
“The church’s name came from the fact that there was no Baptist church nearer than Red River County to the north and Huntsville to the south,” The Dallas Morning News reported in a 1936 Texas Centennial story on Texas Baptists’ history.
The church’s own history describes it more poetically: “At the time of its founding, there were no other [Baptist] churches … between the Dove and the Pacific Ocean.”
Love the story.
Just as long as it sticks to the history.
(UPDATE: Tubb emailed a good-natured response: “I must have confused it with another McMurtry story about where he was sitting when he heard Horseman, Pass By was being made into a movie [Hud]. … As my dearly departed dad, Dubb Tubb, always told me, ‘Son, don't ever let the truth get in the way of a good story.’ ”)