Published December 13, 2017
In “Blood Brothers,” UC Riverside’s Deanne Stillman explores the complicated relationship between two icons of American mythology
RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA — One was a revered horseman who rode for the Pony Express and served in the Civil War; the other, a Lakota Sioux chief and holy man whose role in the Battle of the Little Bighorn made him an American legend.
The unlikely alliance that developed between two icons of Western mythology, Buffalo Bill Cody and Sitting Bull, is at the heart of a new work of narrative nonfiction by the University of California, Riverside’s Deanne Stillman.
Stillman, a member of the core faculty at UCR’s Palm Desert Low-Residency M.F.A. program, spent eight years crisscrossing the Great Plains to conduct the research and develop the manuscript that would eventually become “Blood Brothers: The Story of the Strange Friendship Between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill,” published in October by Simon & Schuster.
Her account focuses on the moment the two men’s paths crossed in 1885, the year Sitting Bull appeared in Cody’s popular Wild West show for four consecutive months. The experience allowed Sitting Bull temporary relief from the relative imprisonment he and other Native Americans faced at Fort Yates, an isolated military post in the Dakota Territory under the control of Major James McLaughlin.
Launched in 1883, Cody’s equine extravaganza was a glorified retelling of settlers’ experiences on the American frontier. The showman’s pursuit of Sitting Bull, Stillman explained, served to satisfy a hunger among audiences for “communion with Native Americans,” particularly members of the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes, who were considered “the holdouts, the rebels, the ‘last ones to come in.’”
“Warrior to warrior, Sitting Bull and Cody seemed to respect each other,” Stillman said. “During interviews, they spoke to reporters about each other with words of praise, although of course they were interviewed together while touring because they were celebrities and former adversaries — ‘foes in ’76 and friends in ’85,’ as the publicity slogan referring to them in a series of iconic photos stated.”
“Blood Brothers” received a starred review in Kirkus, was cited by various publications as a “must-read for fall,” was named by Barnes & Noble as a “best new history book,” and historian Douglas Brinkley called it “a landmark achievement in American history.” Stillman’s other books include “Twentynine Palms” (2001; updated edition, 2008); “Joshua Tree” (2006); “Mustang” (2008); and “Desert Reckoning” (2012).
To learn more about the book and Stillman’s work, click here.