mad in pursuit journal


To the spoils belongs the victor

Over the past week or so, we watched all 9 hours of "Lonesome Dove," the 1989 mini-series based on Larry McMurtry's novel. It's one of those one-damn-thing-after-another epics about 2 retired Texas Rangers, Call and McCrae, who have a crazy notion to drive a herd of cattle to start a ranch in Montana. A few thoughts crystallize:

...The "Wild West" of cowboy lore was really between St Louis and Santa Fe, between Texas and Montana -- this side of the Rockies and the Continental Divide. My imagination had mapped it farther west.

...McMurtry writes that Call (Tommy Lee Jones) and McCrae (Robert Duvall) were inspired by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the first buddy novel, written back in the 17th century. Of course. The classic duo: the idealist/optimist and the worrier/protector/pragmatist. One damn thing after another as they traipse through the high desert plains of central Spain.

Reminds me of classic Jim and Susan: the fearless adventurer and his anxious but loyal companion.

Now: Obama and Biden.

We do love to mythologize ourselves, don't we?

Question. American Westward Expansion is about exuberant nation-building. The cowboy is at the center of our national mythology. But when you watch "Lonesome Dove" you wonder how we made so much glamour out of such aching loneliness. Our so-called "rugged individualism" seem more like fierce interdependence when you look back on it now. Frail networks, growing stronger out of the interplay between the crazy optimistic risk-takers and the anxious, practical town-builders.

..."To the victor belongs the spoils" is the famous quote by New York Senator William Learned Marcy (1786-1857), recited in the U. S. Senate, 25 January 1832. (link) But after reflecting on the American Experience, F. Scott Fitzgerald said: "To the spoils belongs the victor." Think about it.


Coincidentally, The New York Times today published an article on this theme: "The American Wanderer, in All His Stripes" by Michael Powell.

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