Review of Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West

Fleming_presentingBuffaloBillstar2 Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West
by Candace Fleming
Middle School, High School    Porter/Roaring Brook    259 pp.
9/16    978-1-59643-763-0    $19.99    g

Fleming (Amelia Lost, rev. 3/11; The Family Romanov, rev. 7/14) sets her sights on two connected myths of American history: William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s life story and the American frontier in the nineteenth century. Cody, a bodacious storyteller, embellished his autobiography with colorful additions to such events as his involvement in the 1857 Mormon War and claims that he rode for the Pony Express and killed Chief Tall Bull. In multi-paged sidebars Fleming addresses each incident, pointing out how his stories often differ from the historical record. Frequently, in “Panning for the Truth” (as she titles these sidebars), she does not find definitive conclusions but, like a conscientious mathematician showing her work rather than simply stating an answer, offers a tutorial for evaluating historical sources. Exploring these exaggerations is important because Cody’s version of his life became the basis for his international show “The Wild West,” seen by thousands in the United States and Europe. More than entertainment, this show created a romanticized Western frontier full of excitement, hostile Indians, sharpshooters, and brave scouts that defined a piece of American culture for decades. Underscoring that link, Fleming begins each chapter with a scene from the “Wild West” show, using the theatrical production to introduce a time period in Cody’s life, which, unadorned, is still fascinating, as this man with a hardscrabble childhood makes and loses several fortunes over his lifetime. Frequent period photographs, a bibliography, source notes, internet resources, and an index (unseen) complete this clear and informative biography.

From the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Betty Carter
Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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