Monday, November 14, 2005

The Colonel and Little Missie -- Larry McMurtry

I've heard about Buffalo Bill for most of my life, maybe because of the name. I had a book about him when I was a kid, but I don't remember anything about it. My parents talked about him occasionally, and because I was called Bill, I identified with him from my earliest childhood. But I never knew much about him until I read The Colonel and Little Missie by Larry McMurtry.

The book isn't a biography. As the subtitle says, it's about "Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and the Beginnings of Superstardom in America." But biography or not, there are a lot of facts about Bill Cody's life here, or at least something resembling the facts, since we'll probably never know that truth about some things. Too many versions of the same story were told by different people. Still, it's apparent that Cody was a pretty good guy. Nearly everyone liked him, he was generous to a fault, and he was loyal to his friends. He was a drunk, sure, but not a nasty one. Like a lot of superstars, he couldn't sustain his popularity, and his last years weren't good ones, but he remained an optimist to the end.

Annie Oakley is more of an enigma. Besides being a great shot with a rifle or shotgun, she was a very private person. McMurtry isn't able to tell us much about her, aside from the obvious historical facts, but that doesn't mean she's not interesting.

McMurtry's style is easy and informal. He repeats a lot of things (I didn't even try to count the number of times he said that Cody was really good-looking and a superb horseman), but that's okay for a guy with a memory like mine.

One thing the book did, with all its talk of endurance shooting matches, was make me want to re-read Brian Garfield's Wild Times, a wonderful book about that kind of thing.

1 comment:

Pat B. said...

Interesting post, Bill. For about 40 years I lived down the road from a descendant of Cody. Nice guy, everybody liked him, so personality must have been in the DNA. He used to go to Cody family reunions. I never got around to asking him about those. Drat.

Now he's dead and I'm not in California any more anyway. Too soon old and too late smart.