Since book buyers really do judge a book by its cover, book jacket design is a critical marketing device for authors and publishers. For Lonesome Dove, illustrator Shannon Stirnweis was given an unusual commission by Simon and Schuster. They wanted a mural-like band to wrap from the front cover to spine to back cover that included Gus on a horse, Lorena standing in front of her tent, a cattle drive and the villain Blue Duck watching the cattle’s encroachment onto Indian land. Each segment visible on separate planes of the book tells a story; Gus’s work and relationships, the brief romantic era of cattle drives, and the politically charged theme of Manifest Destiny, and together they suggest the scope of the novel.
The background is reminiscent of the expansive western landscapes by such nineteenth-century artists as Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Church. After the U.S. Civil War, paintings of dramatic western geography were used to encourage western settlement and commerce.