The Cutting Off Of Gus's Legs in "Lonesome Dove"

I watched “Lonesome Dove” for the past three nights. I love that movie. Probably the best western of all time. But I have a question.

Why did the infection move to the other leg so the doc would have to amputate both legs instead of the one that got hit by the arrows?

I mean how did the infection move like that instead say like to his middle leg or his arms etc?

Also when they amputated legs back then how did they stop the bleeding? Did they pinch the veins or was using bandaged enough?


He got shot in both legs, so both legs got injured.

They probably sewed the veins shut before amputating.

No, he only got shot in the right leg. Both arrows hit around the knee area.

Well, I don’t know about how an infection would move to another leg (below the knee) without it first infecting the rest of his originally injured leg and the rest of his body.

But, re: stopping bleeding, I’d say they might have cauterized it. You know, hot iron or something. Gross but effective. Just a thought.

*Originally posted by BunnyGirl *
**Well, I don’t know about how an infection would move to another leg (below the knee) without it first infecting the rest of his originally injured leg and the rest of his body.

Exactly my thoughts it doesn’t make sense. Where are all the doctor dopers when you need em.

Ouch. Poor Augustus.

Never saw the movie, but when amputating legs, cauterization does not work as well as tying off the arteries.

Then the veins empty out, and bleeding is reduced to the point that bandaging will stop it.

If the person doing the amputation does not know how to do it, cautery would be simpler but far more dangerous (and painful). You have to burn pretty deeply before the tissue is charred enough to block an artery, especially if the blood pressure is elevated by the patient undergoing a double amputation without anesthesia.

And let me say in conclusion, ouchie.

Shodan (who is quite fond of modern medicine)

I think rather than a standard infection what Gus was dealing with was gangrene - probably gas gangrene the most deadly form of gangrene likely to affect wounds. As I understand it, it releases gas and poisons into the body quite rapidly. It spreads very quickly, and causes a rapid death. If Gus had gas gangrene it was unlikely that he’d survive regardless of how many limbs they cut off simply because his whole system was affected…probably why he opted to keep his other leg rather than go through another amputation, he knew what was coming. After all it took him a while to reach treatment.
BTW, Gus and Call were two outstanding characters. I wish more TV writers had original ideas and strong characters…

If I were told that I would die unless I had a leg amputation without anesthesia, I would simply say goodbye.

How could anyone withstand that much pain? Wouldn’t the pain alone kill them?

Ouchie is right.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, but wasn’t Gus unconscious when his leg was amputated? I seem to recall a scene where he wakes up and has to check to see what’s been done to him.

On a related topic, I was told recently that one of the effects of modern anasthetics is that they cause short term amnesia. Is this true? Does this mean that I’ve simply forgotten some of the unpleasantness in my various knee surgeries?

No, Ring, I don’t think pain itself can kill. Stress from dealing with pain can do things, like cause heart failure for someone with clogged arteries, but I am not aware of any method for pain itself to kill.

However, high levels of pain can make the person pass out. So you might not remain conscious through it all.

Curate, I have heard that morphine functions that way. It doesn’t so much dull the pain as make you not care about the pain and forget about it quickly. My personal experiences would seem to back that up. I spent a week in the hospital that I don’t really remember much of, except suffering from alternating chills and sweats, and wishing the self-dosing pump could be cranked up. "What do you mean only one press every 15 mins? :frowning: "

Oh, about Gus, he was unconscious, and wakes up to find one leg gone and the doctor wanting to take the second. The doc says something about getting tired and taking a rest, or he’d have done both while Gus was out.

Sorry I can’t contribute much to the medical side of this discussion but nice to see other dopers that share my high regarard of what may be the finest Western ever put on film. I went to college in a little Northern Montana town on the Milk River that would have been a likely spot for the Hat Creek Cattle Company ranch. Not far from Fort Benton as mentioned in the story.

Say, Bill and Yankee, are either of you involved in SASS?

Cecil has a good article on anesthesia: Do some people remain alert – but paralyzed – under anesthesia?.

There are different agents that cause amnesia, reduce pain, and induce sleep, and ideally you’ll get a mix of all three.


Well, while I love the movie, I feel obliged to point out that the book is 200% better. The movie is the skeleton of the story, but the book really fleshes it out. Especially since crucial scenes were cut from the book on the way to becoming the movie, so there are some parts that just don’t make sense.
Dead Man’s Walk, Comanche Moon, and Streets of Laredo are books you must read if you enjoyed Lonesome Dove. The first two are the prequels to the Lonesome Dove and explains a LOT. Especially about Call’s and Maggie’s relationship…
WOO! Look at me going off on a hijack. Sorry about that. Just wanted to make sure the book was done justice, while everybody was raving about the movie.

My thought was that the first amputation was done before it was realized how far the infection (gangrene) had spread.
By the time Call got there, it was too late to save him regardless. My understanding (IANAD) is that if you don’t get ALL the gangrene, it simply starts over, in it’s new location. So, it seems to me that it would be easy to underestimate the extent of the infected tissue, in the interest of saving the largest amount of leg.

Infections manifest in areas of wounds and such, but blood circulates all throught the body. The macrophages and WBC circulate but concentrate on the affected body areas. The legs involve commonly because of the valved veins. Add immobility to Gus’s infected wounds, and it’s not surprising to me that he died. He made a good choice, I think…he was doomed. I loved him and cried, liked the movie a lot, but the book was spectacular. Still, they did an excellent job with the movie–one of my favorites.

Um…I guess I’ll have to say no since I don’t know what SASS stands for. Shall I hang my head?

And, pepperlandgirl, I agree with you about the novel Lonesome Dove as well as Dead Man’s Walk, but have to say I disliked Streets of Loredo overall. Not that it was a bad book, I just didn’t think it had the power and or even the interest of the other two.

I think that was my first hijack response - - although I did answer the OP first so does this count?