Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane Review

Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane: Deadwood Legends by James D. McLaird

I got this book from Librarything's Early Reviewers program months ago before I had my blog but I thought I would post my review for it because it is part of the South Dakota Biography Series as is Seth Bullock: Black Hills Lawman by David A. Wolff which I reviewed recently.

From the back of the book:

'Although Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane spent only a few weeks in Deadwood at the same time, their fame and fate have become intertwined and their relationship legendary. James D. McLaird examines the contemporary accounts that turned these two Wild West wanderers into dime-novel and motion-picture stars.
Contemporary novelists and journalists created an astonishingly strong legacy for both Calamity Jane and Wild Bill, accounting for much of their notoriety. Gun fights, scouting missions, and daring escapes from enemies filled stories about the dashing pair; even their day-to-day existence seems to have been fraught with danger and excitement, teetering on the brink between lawful and unlawful.
McLaird traces the role that writers and the city of Deadwood itself played in the legacies of the infamous couple. Fact and fiction have become so woven together that a definitive picture of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill is almost impossible. Their brief friendship and subsequent burial next to each other in Mount Moriah Cemetery simply added to their legendary status and made them stalwarts of Wild West pop culture and Deadwood mythology.'

Mclaird does a good job of separating the facts from the legends that have been built around these two people. Although the story of their lives is a lot different than the popular myths about them they are still very interesting people in their own right and the author gives you a chance to see how they really were. Mclaird also explored the fantastic stories that were circulating about them and it was interesting to see how the legends and the stories started and grew even long after both had passed on and how those legends affected them during their lifetimes. The book is in two parts, first looking at Wild Bill and then Calamity Jane. It is very well documented and you feel that it is very well researched. I loved all the quotes from contemporary sources like newspapers and diaries. Mclaird carefully stays away from embellishing the stories but the writing doesn’t get dry or dull. I learned a lot of things that I never knew before about both of them and had a good time doing it.

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