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American Stories: Living American History, Volume II: From by Jason Ripper

By Jason Ripper

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That often meant toiling alongside their husbands in soils gone hard from drought, driving fence posts, planting crops, and shouldering a rifle, whether to keep an unsavory character at bay or to shoot the evening’s meal. The popular image of a woman, however, included neither rifles nor farming, but rather demure domesticity: gentle humor, plenty of baking flour, an apron, and an uncomplaining endurance. Phoebe Ann Moses was not born in the far West. However, as Annie Oakley, she became one of the most famous Americans of her day, part of a Western tableau cooked up by William Cody’s imagination and her ability to remain ladylike while enthralling audiences as one of the best rifle shots on the planet.

The most numerous people on the plains—the Sioux (really a confederacy of bands known as Brules, Oglalas, Hunkpapas, and Miniconjous, all of whom were affiliates of larger groups, the Lakotas and Dakotas)—wrapped their existence around the hunt, the horse, and the buffalo. Men and boys galloped from northern Texas past the Canadian border, from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi, learning how to kill with few arrows, how to skin the great beasts with sure and easy cuts, how to eat the still-warm organs when stomachs were empty and home lay hours away.

18 Agent McLaughlin, however, had not wanted the impresario of the West either mucking things up or getting any credit for arresting Sitting Bull, which McLaughlin had thought he could accomplish. ”19 Whether or not Cody would have made a positive difference during Sitting Bull’s arrest cannot be known, but Sitting Bull’s death did precipitate a much larger tragedy than the sadness a few friends experienced at his passing. The most famous and enduring (and in this case unplanned) massacre of Indians took place at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890, only two weeks after Sitting Bull died.

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