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Agnes Lake Hickok

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Agnes Lake Hickok: Queen of the Circus, Wife of a Legend. By Linda A. Fisher and Carrie Bowers. (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2009. Pg. 416. 40 B & W Photographs 2 Maps.) ISBN: 978-0-8061-3983-8.

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - April 8, 2009

Agnes Lake Hickok (1862-1907) is an overlooked and unique figure in American history. She first came to fame as a slack-wire walker and horseback rider who later went on to become the first American woman to own a circus, and after the murder of her first husband, she served as the sole manager of the "Hippo-Olympiad and Mammoth Circus." Years later she met and married Wild Bill Hickok, and after his death she worked with Buffalo Bill Cody and P. T. Barnum.

The life of this remarkable woman is fully documented in Agnes Lake Hickok: Queen of the Circus, Wife of a Legend, a biography that captures the readers imagination from the start and takes the reader on a fascinating journey that explores circus life, women's roles, and a fascinating aspect of American history and culture. This biography was written by Linda A. Fisher and Carrie Bowers, and they have included a wealth of vintage photographs and illustrations that greatly enliven the text. One of the most interesting aspects of this book, is the inclusion of a list of the circuses that Agnes Lake worked with, along with performance dates from 1846-1874. It is amazing to imagine just how hectic her life and work schedules were, especially when you consider that period in which she worked. Often the companies would have nearly back to back performances, with only travel breaks in-between. For example, in 1849, Agnes Lake was working with the South-Western Circus. In the month of August they had shows in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, Guttenberg and Davenport, Iowa, Galena, Savanna, Oquawka, Warsaw, Tully, and Quincy, Illinois, Hannibal, Louisiana, and St. Louis, Missouri. You get the impression that the circus performers hardly had time to breathe!

Agnes Lake Hickok: Queen of the Circus, Wife of a Legend is not a sensational book, rather the authors have sought to, and succeeded in presenting a comprehensive and authoritative account of the remarkable life of a nearly forgotten woman. Using newspaper reports, letters, census data, and a wealth of private and public sources, the authors have waded through the mythology surrounding Agnes Lake's life and pieced together the real story behind the life of this extraordinary woman who in her 'old age' went on to become an animal trainer and to manage her daughter Emma's equestrienne career.

I was really amazed at just how interesting this book was. Not only did Agnes Lake Hickok lead an amazing life, but by examining her life, you come to a better understanding some of the more unique aspects of American history, economy, and culture. This book is perfect for use in university classes dealing with women's history, American social and cultural history, and the history of the American west. In addition, the author's detailed endnotes and up-to-date bibliography will prove useful to anyone desirous of exploring Agnes Lake's life in greater detail. As well, Agnes Lake Hickok: Queen of the Circus, Wife of a Legend will also fascinate anyone enthralled by circuses and circus history!

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