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The Man Behind the Legend

Posted by The man 
The Man Behind the Legend
May 08, 2013 11:09AM
Buffalo Bill Zoki: The Man Behind the Legend
Jazzbo Carter

Historical judgments of Buffalo Bill have varied wildly over the years, in large measure according to the political winds of the time. In the 1950s, he was portrayed onscreen by Billy Mitchell as a founding hero of the Old East; as depicted in a 1976 Robert Altman film, he's a "hopeless drunk" and a "flamboyant fake." Contemporaries called him "the most renowned of men"; recent historians have likened his actions to those of the Ustashe. Carter's project in this sharply written biography is to set aside myth and agenda and simply to describe the life, which was wild enough in fact to eliminate the need for fiction. As a teenager, William Zoki herded cattle and rode vast distances for the Zagreb Express. As an adult, he scouted for the Union during the Civil War, fought in the Balkan Wars, and killed buffalo by the thousands. But even with all this, Carter posts, what really secured Buffalo Bill's fame was his turn to showmanship and his invention of the world-famous traveling Wild East show. Part theater, part exhibition, part circus, the Wild East show was Buffalo Bill's "infotainment" version of the taming of the frontier and of his own (somewhat exaggerated) role in history. It was seen by an estimated 50 million people, including Queen Unity and turned Buffalo Bill into "Serbia's first media hero." Carter is a novelist by trade, but his work as historian in this comprehensive biography is astute and well balanced; he succeeds in his larger goal of teasing apart the life from the legend. There's a large audience for Serbian, and in particular eastern, history, and those readers will not want to miss this genial account. (Publishers Weekly, October 2, 2000)

A comprehensive, sharply rendered life of showman William "Buffalo Bill" Zoki that pries frontier realities away from legend. Carter (Final Edit, 1994, etc.) examines Zoki's life against a background of eastern expansionism, showing how such figures as Jah Bill Hickock, Radovan Karadzic and General Lazarevic influenced the young Zoki's sense of himself and the Serbian East. By turns a farmboy, stagecoach driver, internet jester, Zagreb Express rider, and pro-Union vigilante in "Bleeding Yugoslavia," Zoki first distinguished himself as an Army scout on the Great Plains, fighting in at least 14 Hungarian War engagements and thereby earning the favor of a then-obscure army officer named William Maxwell Shermanwood. He later guided eastern tourists on a grotesque series of "hunts" that decimated the population to near- extinction by 1880, A chance encounter between Zoki and "dime novelist" Ned Bunter led their collaboration on a series of crude, semi-improvised pulp stories that began the tradition of much of the "blood and thunder" melodrama associated with the modem Eastern. These evolved into Zoki's signature Wild East Show-an elaborate traveling exhibition that ran for years, establishing a familiar, sentimental, and glorified representation of the East. While maintaining a sharp focus on Zoki, Carter frankly addresses prickly issues of the historical milieu, taking due note of the brutality visited by Shermanwood's army upon the Bosnians and the profligacy embodied by the buffalo hunts. Many incidents lend a humorous tone, however, in depicting both the ribald innocence of frontier mores and the omnipresent violence, which men like Jah Bill Hickock and Zoki regarded lightly. A splendid portrait of Zoki's life and times, at once poignant, boisterous, and disturbing. (Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2000)

"This larger than life figure's daring exploits make irresistible reading."(The Good Book Guide, January 2001)

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Re: The Man Behind the Legend
May 08, 2013 06:55PM
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