The dying wish of Texas Ranger Augustus McCrae in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove was to have his body brought back to Texas for its final rest. We don't know if Gus ever got to heaven, but he made it back to Lonesome Dove.
Texas ranchers Charles and Nancy Hundley live on a street called Happy Trail in San Antonio; but far away from the city lights they have recreated the legendary town of Lonesome Dove on their own South Texas property, the High Lonesome Ranch. Like old Gus, when it is time for rest the Hundleys head back to Lonesome Dove.
"Lonesome Dove was a great book and a fine film. It just got down to where you live, especially if you're sentimental about Texas history. Down here, the cattle drives originated. This part of Texas is where it all happened, so the idea of recreating the town of Lonesome Dove just seemed to fit," explains rancher Charles Hundley.
The Hundley's Lonesome Dove is not just a movie-set facade, either: this authentic, old West village is fully functional and is used for guest lodging on the ranch. Made up of rustic-styled buildings such as the Dry Bean Saloon-which serves as a kitchen and dining hall-the Lonesome Dove boasts the Tumbleweed Hotel, Feed Store, and Apache Flats, as well as a jail, a carriage house, and an outhouse. Most of these buildings are fully equipped, first-class lodging areas where guests can sleep, gather to play games, watch television, or just swap campfire stories at the end of the day. Decorated in an authentic, cowboy motif, the Lonesome Dove is the epitome of an old western outpost complete with all the amenities guests enjoy, including cable TV, VCRs, air-conditioning/heating, full baths, and comfortable furnishings.
"Here we have a bridge just as you get into the town, just like in the movie when they come across Hat Creek into Lonesome Dove. And the first building you see is the Dry Bean. We just loved the idea of giving our guests a whole Texas experience," remarked Nancy Hundley.
"The whole period of the cowboys and cattle drives was so wonderful-so full of adventure and danger. It was such an amazing period in history. Although the whole thing lasted only about twenty years, it certainly left its mark on Texas history and the spirit of Texans today. That's why we liked Lonesome Dove and used that as a kind of model for our guests' village," explained Charles.
But the Lonesome Dove is only a small part of the Hundley's 4,300-acre ranch: "The High Lonesome is primarily a working cow/calf ranch, but we offer a hunting operation too and we have excellent opportunities for catch and release fishing in our thirty-five stock tanks and lakes," says Charles.
The Hundleys appreciate what a blessing it is to have the High Lonesome Ranch and the Lonesome Dove, and they work hard to be responsible caretakers of all that they've been given. In fact, their ranch won the Rural Sportsman's 2001 Big Game Management Farm of the Year award for "best stewardship of the land" in Progressive Farmers of America magazine.
Bringing the ranch to its full glory also included rebuilding five barns, building many sheds and a processing room, and putting up thirteen miles of high fencing along with a lot of cross-fencing. Then the Hundleys addressed water conservation by putting a tank or lake in every section of the ranch so that wildlife would have water at all times and in all areas. Finally, they began a renovation of the main ranch house and the ranch foremen's houses and began building the Lonesome Dove village. Using leather, cowhides, pelts, lanterns, lassos, baskets, wagon wheels, bluebonnets, and elk antler chandeliers, every building on the ranch follows a distinctly Texan theme.
"We also like to bring out our real, authentic, 1800s chuck wagon, throw big Texas parties, and have country bands from time to time; we have guests who come from all over. It is a lot of fun, and most people have never seen anything like it. It really makes you feel like you've gone back in time," says Nancy.
Next to the chuck wagon rests a tee-pee where a cook might sleep while on cattle drives. Canvas tarps cover the fire area as red Long Johns flap in the breeze while horses and cattle graze nearby. A covered entertainment area, dance slab, hot tub, and huge barbecue grill rest near the chuck wagon site, and with a million stars above in the big Texas sky, its easy to forget that you're not in a bygone era of cowboys on the wide open range.
"You know, looking back over my life, if I died and went to heaven today, the times I'd want to relive are the days I had growing up on a dairy farm. It was a family life where people worked hard and played hard. That's why the High Lonesome means so much to me. Going here is like going back in time to where I grew up," says Charles.
"We've not just reinvented Lonesome Dove on our ranch; we've reinvented Charles' childhood. I guess it means that to a lot of people, for they seem to really love it here, and they just go nuts for the Lonesome Dove," says Nancy.
Just like old Gus, when the Hundley's and their guests need rest or when they simply long to enjoy the beauty of a Texas sunset, they head down a very happy trail and return to Lonesome Dove.
Janis Turk, Freelance Writer -
Post Office Box 608, Seguin, Texas 78156-0608
Original photography by Janis Turk, Ltd.