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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Review: Wild Bill Hickok, The Man and His Myth

Wild Bill Hickok: The Man and His MythWild Bill Hickok: The Man and His Myth by Joseph G. Rosa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wild Bill Hickok is one of those Old West icons whose real personality has been shrouded in generations of fiction. The reality, as is often the case, is far more interesting. Hickok was a scout, Indian fighter, Civil War spy, lawman, gunfighter, gambler, actor, and much more.

In this book Joseph Rosa, the leading authority on Wild Bill, tries to separate the man from his myth and nail down just how various untruths and exaggerations about him got started. What really launched his fame was his 1865 shootout with David Tutt, one of the few standup, Western-style gunfights that really happened. The national magazine Harper's sent a hack out to Missouri to interview Hickok, and the result was a blood and thunder tale in the dime novel tradition. The article is reproduced in full in this book.

While Rosa does a good job separating fact from fiction, this book is terribly organized. It jumps around in time and place and never gives a full overview of the man's life, instead looking at a few key incidents. Even these aren't in chronological order. This makes the book confusing and frustrating.

For those looking for a standard biography, I recommend Rosa's earlier book, They Called Him Wild Bill. While written 30 years earlier and not as fully researched, it's much more readable.

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1 comment:

  1. I've heard said that history is written by the historians, not necessarily by those who were there. It must be a big job trying to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    But, this is American history and western history in particular fascinates most of us who were born in the States.


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