BUFFALO BILL: The Noblest Whiteskin by John Burke

BUFFALO BILL: The Noblest Whiteskin

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KIRKUS REVIEW

With no regrets Burke cuts the bigger-than-life frontier hero down to size, shooting the legend of Buffalo Bill full of holes. The William Cody who emerges from behind all those tall, tall tales -- hardly ""the noblest whiteskin"" -- is a tough, shrewd trooper who belongs more to the Selling than the Winning of the West. It's just as well too, for as Burke realizes, the old mythical Bill -- Indian-killer and ecological villain -- is no longer an acceptable idol to young folk who tend to view Powder River and Wounded Knee as genocidal massacres a la My Lai. Thus we have Burke's assurance that Buffalo Bill's claim that he had ""waded knee-deep in Indian blood"" was largely meretricious -- about all that was truly heroic about him was his liquor consumption. Burke, who slogged through a pile of frontier newspapers to verify all those Indian scalps and buffalo hides Cody is supposed to have collected, comes to the conclusion that most of his bloody feats were invented by Ned Buntline and other dime novelists who produced, at last count, some 1,700 books devoted to his exploits. The real Cody, by the time he was 25, was already capitalizing on his own legend. A born exhibitionist, he assembled a Wild West Show which enthralled the effete East and left the crowned heads of Europe, including the elderly Queen Victoria, begging for more. Furthermore once he'd stopped killing Indians he began employing them, including Red Fox and Sitting Bull, to be massacred nightly for pay and audience applause -- and doesn't that prove he must have been a basically decent, genial guy? Without staring it in so many words Burke manages to suggest that Buffalo Bill was exploited to vicariously satiate the blood-lust of White America. Debunking biography which, somewhat inadvertently, provides uncomfortable insight into the racism and violence which streak American pop culture.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1973
Publisher: Putnam