Dead Man’s Walk
This was the first chronologically and the third book in order of publication. It takes place in Texas, as they all do, mostly, in 1845, in the Republic of Texas just before statehood. Texas needed peace officers, mostly to fight the Comanche, and so the Texas Rangers were formed. McRae and Call, who are just boys, sign up and find themselves on an extremely ill-advised invasion of New Mexico. (Based on fact, but it happened in 1841.) It is led by a fairly crazy man named Caleb Cobb, played by F. Murray Abraham. The problem is, the Mexicans don’t think of it as “New” Mexico, they maintain it is part of Mexico. The Dead Man’s Walk is the Jornada del Muerto, a brutal stretch of land with no water at all. Even the Indians avoid it. I’ve driven through it, and it’s so forbidding you hesitate to even get out of the car. The rangers are taken prisoner and marched through it. Most of them die before reaching El Paso.
Along the way they are harassed by a Comanche named Buffalo Hump, who will appear again in Comanche Moon. He is the father of Blue Duck, who is also in that one, and in Lonesome Dove. He is accompanied by his friend Kicking Wolf, the best horse thief in the Comancheria. They steal most of the horses and then set the prairie on fire, killing all the others and some of the men. And then it just keeps getting worse, and worse, and worse …
The few survivors, including Keith Carradine as Bigfoot Wallace, a real Texas Ranger, and Harry Dean Stanton as Shadrach, a scout, end up at a convent and leper colony, where they are forced to draw lots for their lives. The Mexican authorities have decreed that some must die, and some can live. Finally, they accompany an aristocratic opera singer with leprosy back to Texas. They aren’t bothered by Buffalo Hump and Kicking Wolf because, in a wonderful scene, the lady takes off her clothes and sings an aria, totally freaking them out.
The big question is who plays Gus and Woodrow, and how do they do? They are David Arquette and Johnny Lee Miller, and they are both quite good. I don’t think it’s fair to compare them to Duvall and Jones. It’s enough to say they do a good job, and are believable. You can imagine them growing into the proprietors of the Hat Creek Cattle Company (We Don’t Rent Pigs!) on the drive to Montana with Deets and Pea Eye and Newt and Dish.