Talk about strange bedfellows: William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and George Armstrong Custer were buddies who went bison hunting together. After Custer was killed at Little Bighorn, Cody did his utmost to avenge his death. But just nine years later, Cody was courting Sitting Bull, the instigator of that battle, to appear in his Wild West show. And when the great Lakota chief was in his own final confrontation with white men, Cody tried unsuccessfully to save his life. They, too, were friends.
Enemies turned comrades, in less than a decade? Cody and Sitting Bull only worked together for a few months in 1885, but it's a fascinating chapter in the lightning-fast transition from Wild West reality to traveling circus. In her compelling Blood Brothers, Deanne Stillman, an expert on the American West, examines their lives to explore the era’s complexities.
When you delve into it, their connection seems less odd. Both were genuinely charismatic men, natural leaders with generous natures. Both also had a shrewd eye for economic opportunity. Sitting Bull was the product of a lifetime of betrayal by whites; Cody understood that, and played it straight with him.
Their ultimate symbiosis was not unique. Even as whites vilified Native Americans, they flocked to get Sitting Bull’s autograph. And Cody had no trouble hiring Native Americans. Forced onto reservations, many were destitute and eager for even the simulation of their old lives.
Stillman also shows that a third person was crucial to the relationship between the two men: Annie Oakley. Both were a bit in love with that remarkable woman, and her story is as riveting as theirs.
Cody survived long enough to try a comeback in Hollywood, making a documentary that retold Sitting Bull’s death and the massacre at Wounded Knee. It failed commercially and is now lost.