For the film Lonesome Dove, key action scenes told through storyboarding include the horse theft, the cattle herd crossing the river, the stampede and Gus’s fatal buffalo chase. Except for examples like Jack Bailey’s journal, few first person accounts of cattle drives survive, yet stories of stampedes triggered the imaginations of many writers and artists.
In the Lonesome Dove novel, author Larry McMurtry described a lightning storm in which Newt “saw that the cattle seemed to have caught the lightning—little blue balls of it rolled along their horns.” Stampedes were particularly dangerous as running horses might be bumped by cattle causing men to fall and be trampled. Unseen hazards such as prairie dog holes could catch horses’ feet causing both horse and rider to fall. Cowboys had the option of allowing the cattle to run long until they tired or to try to turn the leaders. Turning the leaders caused the herds to “pinwheel,” or turn into themselves. Eventually, the circle would tighten to the point that the cattle would have to stop running.