The Colonel and Little Missie : Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and the Beginnings of Superstardom in America
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From the early 1800s to the end of his life in 1917, Buffalo Bill Cody was as famous as anyone could be. Annie Oakley was his most celebrated protegee, the 'slip of a girl' from Ohio who could (and did) outshoot anybody to become the most celebrated star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
In this sweeping dual biography, Larry McMurtry explores the lives, the legends and above all the truth about two larger-than-life American figures. With his Wild West show, Buffalo Bill helped invent the image of the West that still exists today -- cowboys and Indians, rodeo, rough rides, sheriffs and outlaws, trick shooting, Stetsons, and buckskin. The short, slight Annie Oakley -- born Phoebe Ann Moses -- spent sixteen years with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, where she entertained Queen Victoria, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and Kaiser Wilhelm II, among others. Beloved by all who knew her, including Hunkpapa leader, Sitting Bull, Oakley became a legend in her own right and after her death, achieved a new lease of fame in Irving Berlin's musical Annie, Get Your Gun.
To each other, they were always 'Missie' and 'Colonel'. To the rest of the world, they were cultural icons, setting the path for all that followed. Larry McMurtry -- a writer who understands the West better than any other -- recreates their astonishing careers and curious friendship in a fascinating history that reads like the very best of his fiction.
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Simon & Schuster
April 30, 2006
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Excerpt from The Colonel and Little Missie by Larry McMurtry
Kings and potentates, and their queens and lovers, someday die and have to be entombed, interred, or consumed on splendid pyres.
So too with performers -- even the greatest among them, the true superstars. Elvis died, and Garbo, and Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra. Elvis at least left us Graceland, his Taj on Old Man River; of the others we have merely records and movies, recorded performances that allow us at least distant glimpses of their gaiety, their beauty, their gifts. Show business imposes its own strict temporality: it would still have been better to have been there, to have seen the living performers in the richness of their being and to have participated, however briefly, in the glory of their performance.
When I was eight years old, I was sitting in a hot pickup near Silverton, Texas, bored stiff, waiting for my father and two of my uncles, Charlie and Roy McMurtry, to conclude a cattle deal. I was reading a book called Last of the Great Scouts, by Helen Cody Wetmore, Buffalo Bill Cody's sister. At the time I was more interested in the Lone Ranger than in Buffalo Bill Cody, but when my father and my uncles finally returned to the pickup, my Uncle Roy noticed the book and reminded Uncle Charlie that they had once seen Cody. This had occurred in Oklahoma, near the end of Cody's life, when he had briefly merged his Wild West with the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch show. Both agreed that Cody, an old man at this time, hadn't actually done much; mainly he just rode around the arena on his white horse, Isham, waving to the crowd.
Still, there was Buffalo Bill Cody, one of the most famous men in the world, and they had seen him with their own eyes.
Sixty years have passed since that hot afternoon in Silverton. I mainly remember the heat in the pickup -- but it was true that two of my uncles, not men to veer much from the strict path of commerce, did perk up a bit when they remembered that they had actually seen Buffalo Bill Cody ride his white horse around an arena in Oklahoma. And like millions of others, they had made a trip precisely for that purpose, such was Cody's fame.