Agnes Lake Hickok: Queen of the Circus, Wife of a Legend

Written by Carrie Bowers Linda A. Fisher
Review by Susanne Dunlap

Agnes Lake Hickok must have been made of extraordinary stuff. She married circus performer Bill Lake in 1847 and made her circus debut shortly after. She performed on the “floating wire,” a predecessor of the high wire that was not stretched taut, and was a superb horsewoman. For many years, she and her husband appeared in circuses throughout the U.S. Although he was a well-known star, she eventually surpassed him in crowd appeal and billing.

In addition to being successful performers, the couple proved to be able entrepreneurs, eventually owning their own circuses. They had no children of their own, but “adopted” several to take part in circus acts.

Their fruitful association was curtailed when Bill was murdered by a disgruntled audience member, leaving Agnes either to sell off the circus assets or carry on alone. She chose to carry on, becoming the first woman circus proprietor. It was in this capacity some years later that she met the legendary Bill Hickok, who ended his bachelorhood to marry Agnes.

This scholarly and absorbing biography gives a nearly forgotten woman of courage and talent her place in history. Lavishly illustrated with pictures and reproductions of advertisements and circus posters, the late Linda Fisher and co-author Carrie Bowers have provided a well-written testament to a unique period in American history.