The Colonel And Little Missie: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and the Beginnings of Superstardom in America

Written by Larry McMurtry
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

Larry McMurtry recounts the life stories of two 19th century American icons in this short, easy-to-read work of narrative nonfiction. Starting with funerals, and then skipping around in time, McMurtry lovingly polishes Buffalo Bill Cody’s legendary adventures: the tales of the Pony Express, of the scalping of Yellow Hand, of Cody’s work as an army scout and buffalo hunter. All are examined in detail to determine not only what really happened, but also to speculate on how Cody fictionalized the events for use in his shows. Every once in a while, McMurtry mentions Annie Oakley, too. But this incredible sharpshooter was one act among many, and her modest, sober personality fades in contrast to the exuberant, often drunk, and frequently philandering scout. Much like Buffalo Bill himself, who was vague about his own history, this book contains nary a single footnote, and the author frequently makes offhand references to events without specifying dates or places. Yet this very feature is what makes the book so compelling: reading it is like sitting across a campfire from a grizzled old scout telling war stories – completely out of order, frequently interrupted by tangents, and with many a subplot left dangling. You just can’t help but lean forward, eager for more.