Bill Markley: Two Sides to Every Story


Invoice Markley has labored in Antarctica and for the state of South Dakota, traveled the South Pacific and explored the American West. As an additional on the set of the 1990 movie Dances With Wolves he “died” on the battlefield at Gettysburg and “lived” via the Indian wars. The Pierre-based adventurer now works as a contract author, making use of his analysis expertise in a dual-sided method to Western historical past. In Previous West Showdown (2018) and Standoff at Excessive Midday (2021) he and co-author Kellen Cutsforth take sides to narrate controversial Previous West tales. To this point Markley’s Legendary West sequence of joint biographies has in contrast and contrasted three pairs of historic figures—Billy the Child and Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, and Geronimo and Sitting Bull. A contributor to Wild West, the award-winning creator has additionally contributed to The Settlement of America: Encyclopedia of Westward Enlargement From Jamestown to the Closing of the Frontier (2011) and the nonfiction anthology Why Cows Want Cowboys (2021). He just lately spoke with Wild West about his method to writing.

Inform us about your first guide.
Dakota Epic is a cleaned-up model of the day by day journal I stored throughout the filming of Dances With Wolves. I fastened spelling (which I admit I’m unhealthy at), punctuation and sentence construction, however I didn’t add something to it. I had been protecting a journal earlier than changing into an additional on Dances With Wolves, so my writing concerning the day-to-day actions on the set simply naturally flowed alongside for me. Whereas we waited for use in a scene, I might write what was occurring round me—the sights, motion reminiscent of a passing horse and rider, snippets of dialog, the scent of leather-based, horses, the texture of the solar and wind.

Dakota Epic launched my writing profession. After I revealed the guide, it was 10 years after the movie had been launched. No publishing homes wished it, as a result of it was outdated information, so I self-published, and it did effectively via my very own gross sales efforts. I discovered to persevere; nothing comes straightforward in writing for me, however I keep it up to the top and get the job achieved.

‘most biographies cowl the lifetime of a single particular person, however while you evaluate two lives, it offers a broader image’

Why the twin method to iconic Western figures?
The writer TwoDot requested me to write down about Previous West characters by evaluating them aspect by aspect—the lawmen Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, the outlaws Billy the Child and Jesse James, and American Indian leaders Geronimo and Sitting Bull. It supplies a distinct perspective as to what was occurring within the nation throughout the lives of those individuals. Most biographies cowl the lifetime of a single particular person, however while you evaluate two lives, it offers a broader image of what was occurring. As an illustration, we all know the federal authorities handled American Indians terribly, however while you see it occurring concurrently with two completely different tribes—on this case the Chiricahua Apaches and the Hunkpapa Lakotas—and being achieved by a few of the identical individuals within the authorities, it makes that mistreatment much more pronounced.

Leaders of the Legendary West book cover

Which figures have you ever loved writing about essentially the most?
Sitting Bull, Butch Cassidy and Bat Masterson. The extra I dug into Sitting Bull’s life, the extra I grew to respect who he was and what he was attempting to perform. All he wished was to proceed the normal Lakota lifestyle and attempt to maintain them from shedding what little land that they had left. He was an honorable man. Of the outlaws I’ve studied, I like Butch Cassidy the perfect. Although he did commit robberies, all who knew him stated he was a gentleman and likable fellow. He tried to not get anyone killed throughout the robberies he participated in. Bat Masterson is my all-time favourite. He had a zest for all times and an important humorousness. It might have been enjoyable to purchase him a drink and hearken to his yarns.

How do you kind out reality from legend?
As everybody you wish to speak to is useless, it’s a must to decide if one thing has the ring of fact. How does a narrative match with different identified details and time strains? Many occasions you possibly can’t even belief the newspapers. For instance, Wild Invoice Hickok was “killed” loads of occasions within the papers earlier than he was truly killed in Deadwood. After I come across a narrative that has no different supply than one author and sounds fishy, I’ll inform the reader the supply and let him make up his personal thoughts.

Old West Showdown book cover

What method do you’re taking within the books co-written by Kellen Cutsforth?
In Previous West Showdown and Standoff at Excessive Midday we take controversial tales from the Previous West, and he tells one aspect of the story, and I inform the opposite aspect. As an illustration, with the Gunfight on the O.Ok. Corral (or truly gunfight again behind the O.Ok. Corral) Kellen takes the Earp aspect, and I take the Clanton and McLaury aspect. I believe analysis is similar it doesn’t matter what you might be delving into—there at all times appear to be at the least two sides to each story. After I was researching Wyoming’s Johnson County Struggle, I went to the library in Buffalo, Wyo. After I informed the top librarian what I used to be as much as, she requested which aspect I used to be researching. I stated the rustler aspect, and he or she quipped, “Effectively, there have been at the least 5 sides.”

How did you analysis Sitting Bull and Geronimo?
I got here at it from an angle of respect for the tribes’ cultures and other people, and the data that I don’t know these cultures, however I’m prepared to be taught. I’ll by no means know the subtleties of these cultures, however I attempt to do the perfect I can. It’s additionally necessary to have people who find themselves part of these cultures or are intimate with them evaluation what I write to verify I get it as proper as I can.

Author Bill Markley on Horseback

How necessary is to go to the locations you write about?
I attempt to get “on the bottom” as a lot as attainable. I’ve been to many websites. It offers me a greater really feel for what may need occurred at a location. As an illustration, American Indian buddies took me to the situation of Sitting Bull’s cabin on the Grand River in South Dakota. It’s a fantastic spot, and I can see why he wished to reside there. Creator Doug Hocking took me to many websites related to Geronimo, from the Chiricahua Mountains to the ruins of the outdated San Carlos Company, and it gave me a greater understanding of why Geronimo didn’t like San Carlos.

Which tales did you discover troublesome to verify?
Many tales about Buffalo Invoice Cody and Wild Invoice Hickok don’t have any affirmation. Each have been masters of tall tales and appreciated to tug a leg or two. Calamity Jane may additionally spin an actual yarn. Add to that every one the fiction created by Ned Buntline and different dime novelists—an actual minefield of fiction and elaborations.

I do inform a few of these tales, although, letting the reader know there isn’t a proof they really occurred. As an illustration, there may be completely no proof Wild Invoice and Calamity Jane had an affair. And the legend of the poker hand (“aces and eights,” the “useless man’s hand”) Hickok held when Jack McCall assassinated him was not talked about till Frank Wilstach included it in his 1926 guide Wild Invoice Hickok: The Prince of the Pistoleers. The legend stems from an excerpt of a letter “Doc” Ellis Peirce wrote to Wilstach. Peirce was one of many first to enter Deadwood’s Saloon No. 10 after Hickok was shot and claimed to have seen the playing cards within the useless gambler’s hand. For years, nevertheless, Peirce was identified within the Black Hills as a sensible jokester and tall story teller.

Have you ever needed to put aside any tales for lack of corroboration?
Sure, the legends of the James boys leaving treasure right here and there on this cave and that. I by no means discovered something proving any of that.

Have any tales proved wholly elusive?
If it exists, it might be nice to search out Wild Invoice’s diary. J.W. Buel, creator of Heroes of the Plains, claimed he borrowed such a diary from Hickok’s widow Agnes Lake, as a supply for his tales. But as we speak it’s nowhere to be discovered. The courtroom transcripts of Hickok’s trial within the loss of life of Davis Tutt have gone lacking, and people can be of maximum curiosity to learn via.

It’s enjoyable to do analysis and have these “Aha!” moments, while you discover some gem that others ignored.

What’s subsequent for you?
I’m engaged on my fourth guide within the Legendary West sequence, Wild Invoice Hickok and Buffalo Invoice: Plainsmen of the Legendary West, which TwoDot plans to launch Might 2022. WW

This text was revealed within the April 2022 situation of Wild West.

One other Battle Over the Reality within the Mythic Wild West
By Invoice Markley and Kellen Cutsforth, TwoDot, Guilford, Conn., and Helena, Mont., 2021, $24.95

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