Who's Afraid of 'Interposition'?

Those who are mystified by the political concept called “interposition” can find a very compelling tutorial in a vignette from Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove.

Led by former Texas Rangers Augustus McRae and Woodrow Call, the men of the Hat Creek Cattle Company left their village of Lonesome Dove, Texas to drive a herd of cattle to Montana. During a brief stop to replenish supplies and give their horses a rest, the cowboys encounter a small party of soldiers. Their commander, one Captain Weaver, approaches a Hat Creek Co. employee named Dish Boggett and explains that he seeks to “requisition” Boggett’s horse, along with any others the soldiers find suitable.

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After Boggett replies that his horse isn’t for sale, Weaver tries to intimidate the man and his friends by saying that defying the U.S. Army is “treason” and that they could be hung. Once again, Weaver demands the animal, and once again Boggett refuses to sell it.

At this point, Weaver lets Dixon, his Army Scout, off the leash. The malodorous wretch beats Boggett to the ground and moves to steal his horse. This prompts young Newt — a teenager who more than carried his weight in the company — to intervene, grabbing the reins of Boggett’s horse and reminding the scout that the animal, an item of private property, was not for sale and not the government’s to take by force.

Newt’s act is a form of peaceful interposition in defense of his friend’s property rights. His reward is to be assaulted by the infuriated scout, who repeatedly lashes the young man with a quirt. From across the plaza, Woodrow Call — who had been shopping at a dry goods store — spies the assault on Newt, his only son (a fact not known to the young man).

After quickly saddling up and dashing on horseback the length of the town, Newt’s infuriated father knocks Dixon from his horse. Woodrow dismounts, kicks Dixon in the teeth — and then he gets rude.

A blacksmith’s shop nearby yields a branding iron that Woodrow wields as a club. His anger not abated, Woodrow then grabs the scout by collar and belt and hurls him, face-first, into an anvil. A pair of tongs then finds its way into Woodrow’s hands. He is approaching the battered and bloodied bully with lethal intent when he is lassoed by his best friend, Augustus, who drags Woodrow away to let his fury dissipate.

“I hate rude behavior in a man,” Woodrow politely explains to a group of stunned settlers who had witnessed the incident. “I won’t tolerate it.”