I’m excited to share the review I wrote for Criminal Element of Tom Clavin’s new biography, Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter.
Instead of sharing the beginning of my review, this time I’m offering you the conclusion:
There is a lot of history attached to Wild Bill’s story. How could there not be? He was where the action was in the mid-nineteenth century American West and saw first hand many of the changes the country was undergoing: the settling of what we now call the Mid-West, wagon trains heading to the far west, the final efforts of Native Americans fighting to save their way of life, African Americans struggling to make their place in a culture that ended slavery but failed to confront its racism, the lawlessness and eventual civilizing effects of law and order as frontier towns morphed into respectable cities, and so much more.
Clavin presents an exciting overview of Hickok’s life. Even though he’s tried to strip away the sensationalism surrounding James Butler Hickok’s life, the truth is, he lived an astounding life. He is both folk hero and tragic figure, and Clavin is able to give us glimpses of the flesh and blood man whose life is legendary even without any embellishments.
Clavin packs a lot of info into only 336 pages. This is one of those biographies written for a general audience that makes me want to do a deep dive into various people, places, or situations that the author only had time to briefly mention. Some of these things are the Buffalo Soldiers, Calamity Jane, Hickok’s wife Agnes Thatcher Lake neé Pohlscheider, and the many times the U.S. government betrayed American Indian tribes.
For example, did you know that when Chief Red Cloud and other leaders declined the government’s offer to buy the Black Hills that President Grant simply declared the land “purchased” and had the declined sales amount, six million dollars, put in an escrow account? That six million has grown into over one billion dollars. The Sioux continue to refuse the money and want their land back.
To read my full review of Wild Bill on Criminal Element, please click here.