Leaving Cheyenne by Larry McMurtry

TitleLeaving Cheyenne
AuthorLarry McMurtry
FinishedMay 1, 2021


  • This includes spoilers, hey, the novel was written in 1962, so you’ve had a fair chance to read it.
  • I read this as part of the “Thalia: A Texas Trilogy”, so page number citations will not match up with the standalone novel.


When Larry McMurtry died earlier this year I decided to re-read some of his earlier works. Leaving Cheyenne is his second novel and I was struck by two things: 1) I remembered very little about the story. I thought I knew the plot but as I read it it struck me that I only recalled about the first third from my first reading over 40 years ago. 2) This story is another telling of the classic Larry McMurtry theme of a strong-willed woman and a strong-willed man (think Augustus McCrae and Clara Allen in Lonesome Dove.)

This novel covers the lives of Gideon Fry, Johnny McCloud, and Molly Taylor from their  youth in the 1910s to their old age in about the 1960s or so. Like other early novels by McMurtry this story takes place near the mythical town of Thalia, Texas (based on McMurtry’’ hometown of Archer). The novel is made up of three chapters; one in each of the main characters’ first person voices.  Both Gid and Johnny love Molly; while Johnny is content with his occasional dalliances with Molly, Gid loves her and wants to marry her – but she refuses his offers. Gid’s father agrees with his son that Molly is a great woman but advises Gid against marrying her.

“If you stay loose from her, she’ll make you the best kind of friend you can have. If you do marry her, you’ll have ninety-nine kinds of misery.”

p 253

Nevertheless, Gideon wants to make Molly his wife. But with Gid focused on running his ranch, Molly sees that no matter how much he loves her, his heart and mind will be divided.

“‘Molly, what do I have to do?’I said. ‘’You drive me half-crazy, don’t you know that?’
‘I wish I could drive you all the way,’ she said…
‘Oh, Gid,’ she said and tears come in her eyes, ‘I don’t want to hurt you. I just want you to turn loose of yourself for a minute, so you can hold me. That’s the only thing I want.'”

p 311

She knows she could never have all of Gideon. It reminds me of why Clara wouldn’’ marry Gus in Lonesome Dove. Here she is talking with Cal after Gus has died.

”I loved Augustus McRae, but I wasn’t willing to share him with you every time you decided to ride off on some adventure. I despised you for what you were then, Captain Call; and I despise you for what you’re doing!

Dialog from Lonesome Dove mini-series

Clara and Molly demanded everything from their loves; because neither Augustus nor Gid could do that they had to live their lives apart. Though Gid has a longer, closer relationship with Molly than Agustus did with Clara.

I enjoyed re-reading this novel to see how McMurtry treated this – and other – of his common themes over time. McMurtry is a great storyteller and does a wonderful job with dialog. He makes the scenes come alive. If you are a Larry McMurtry fan but haven’t read his earlier work, this is a good one. Though, Horseman, Pass By and The Last Picture Show are better novels.

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