Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wild, Wild West

Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight
Come out tonight, come out tonight
Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight
And dance by the light of the moon

If you're a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, you'll recognize that as one of the many snippets of lyrics that are sprinkled throughout her novels. (If you're a Springsteen fan, you'll recognize it from his 2006 We Shall Overcome CD.) While the reference to "buffalo" makes it sound like a western song, it's not; it's actually in reference to Buffalo, NY (which makes it a bit more prosaic, don't you think?).

Nevertheless, Buffalo Gals is the title of Brandon Marie Miller's immensely satisfying look on the rough, exciting, and life-changing lives of women in the Old West. We learn about the arduous journey made by covered wagon and read of some women's despair over their new home. We also discover the ways in which women fought against isolation, such as quilting bees.

Women worked as schoolteachers, ranchers, seamstresses, missionaries milliners, and in other work. In mining towns, women also worked in less respected occupations; some, such as immigrant Chinese, not always by choice. With an abundance of first person accounts, Buffalo Gals is a marvelous read.

Annie Oakley is one of the great Americana legends. The young woman who taught herself how to shoot in order to keep her family from going hungry has been celebrated in books, television, movies, and on the stage. As with many American legends, it's occasionally difficult to separate fiction from fact (since many, such as Annie Oakley, reinvented their biography). Bull's Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley is an engrossing read in National Geographic's excellent series of photobiographies. From her humble childhood to her steady and lifelong marriage to Frank Butler, her advocacy of women's shooting classes, her generous philanthropy, and her amazing shooting precision and expertise, Annie Oakley is a captivating and noteworthy character in American history. With the same stimulating text and remarkable photographs that have made National Geographic one of my favorite publishers of juvenile nonfiction, Bull's Eye is definitely a keeper.

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