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Book Review: Blood Brothers

<i>Blood Brothers</i>

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Dakota medicine man Sitting Bull were first bound together by shared mortal combat during the Plains Indian Wars (1860-1890). The two were already embedded in American history before their living legends morphed into mythological celebrity, synchronized, and united them to create the genesis of American show business. Showman P.T.

Barnum introduced the circus to the world, but the genetic coding of the “greatest show on Earth” was essentially European, born in Rome’s coliseum with early Christians and African animals on the bill. The DNA of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was absolutely American. Rising in tandem with American prestige on the global stage, the Wild West played to unprecedented numbers of people for more than 30 years, and its memory lingers in the American rodeo.

Moreover, peaking at the birth of the motion picture industry, the psychological impact of the Wild West on the American personality continues to resonate throughout our national mythology; America has never had “Northerns, Southerns, or Easterns”; from The Great Train Robbery to Avatar and Westworld, our country’s morality play has been the Western. Deanne Stillman’s splendid Blood Brothers: The Story of the Strange Friendship Between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill eloquently explores the clash of cultures on the Great Plains that initially united the two legends and how this shared experience contributed to the creation of their ironic political alliance. Stillman searches behind the complex mythologies surrounding Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull to offer the reality of their lives and times, the social settings that shaped them, their victories and losses, their triumphs and tragedies.

A strong sense of the spiritual power of place streams throughout Blood Brothers. Stillman poetically expresses the electric feeling of standing on sacred historical ground and, nourished by deep, compassionate research into the history of that place, being able to “picture” and describe what happened there. Her focus on this spiritual aspect of the land itself offers sensitive insight into Plains Indian contributions to the success of the Wild West.

Accomplishing this, Stillman illuminates the most important connection that bound Cody and Sitting Bull: a shared love of place, the sacred American West.

Instinctively following this insight, she has done a superb job capturing the essence of these two great Americans.

Blood Brothers: The Story of the Strange Friendship Between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill

by Deanne Stillman
Simon and Schuster, 304 pp., £27

Deanne Stillman will discuss Blood Brothers Sun., Nov.

5, 11am, at the Texas Tent, Eighth & Congress.

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