Book Review: Women of the Western Frontier in Fact, Fiction and Film (Ron Lackmann) : WW

Women of the Western Frontier in Fact, Fiction and Film, by Ron Lackmann, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, N.C., 1997, $45.

Ron Lackmann divides his women, for the purpose of this book, into four categories: 1) Gunfighters’ Wives and Lovers, and Female Outlaws; 2) Female Entertainers Who Toured the Western Frontier; 3) Prostitutes, Madams and Gambling Ladies of the Wild West; 4) Remarkable Respectable Women of the Western Frontier. He also has a separate chapter on Belle Starr and Calamity Jane, whose names “dominated all of the books I read and who, more than any of the others, epitomized the free-spirited women of the legendary West we have come to know and admire.” The author admits that in researching his book, he “often found it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.” Anyone who has ever researched 19th-century Westerners, male or female, can sympathize with him, but still, the format of the book (mixing fact with fiction and the real West with the reel West) doesn’t help. Nor does using a picture that he identifies as Doc Holliday’s girlfriend, “Big Nose Kate” Elder (as others have done before him), when the picture is actually of somebody else–probably a Tombstone prostitute named Nosey Kate. Although entertaining, this 209-page work is probably not for the hard-core Western historian and might leave some people wondering why Sally Field is in the book (the actress appeared in the movie The Way West and the TV show Alias Smith and Jones), but Mary Fields is not (she was an ex-slave who managed a mail route and made a big impression on the Montana frontier). The book’s title is accurate, and the author’s intention was to present “the remarkable women of the Western frontier, the way they really were, as well as the way Western mythmakers wanted us to believe they were.” And so on page 62 you will find a depiction of real-life bandit Pearl Hart, and when you turn the page, you will see Jane Fonda as Cat Ballou.

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