Here’s the intro to my reviews of Candace Fleming’s Presenting Buffalo Bill and William Grill’s The Wolves of Currumpaw in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review.
Learning about a country’s real past is a fraught activity; once mythological versions become embedded in the public consciousness they are tough to dislodge. Take the American West. Those of us who came of age in the last century did so with movies, books, television shows, toys, games and school curriculums that told us of wide-open and empty spaces, of buffalo and land free for the taking, of sturdy and stoic white settlers, of adventurous cowboys, and of fierce and frightening indigenous people. This romanticized notion of the so-called Wild West is remarkably resistant to correction and stubbornly enduring, as evidenced by those who can’t see why American Indian sports team names and mascots are offensive. As for who was responsible for the myth in the first place, many names could be suggested, among them Buffalo Bill Cody and Ernest Thompson Seton — as young readers of two new books will discover.