Buffalo Girls: A Novel

by Larry McMurtry

Paperback, 2001

Call number




Simon & Schuster (2001), Edition: First Edition, 352 pages


In a letter to her daughter back East, Martha Jane is not shy about her own importance: Martha Jane -- better known as Calamity -- is just one of the handful of aging legends who travel to London as part of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in Buffalo Girls. As he describes the insatiable curiosity of Calamity's Indian friend No Ears, Annie Oakley's shooting match with Lord Windhouveren, and other highlights of the tour, McMurtry turns the story of a band of hardy, irrepressible survivors into an unforgettable portrait of love, fellowship, dreams, and heartbreak.

User reviews

LibraryThing member coyle220
Larry McMurtry uses a different method for this story about Calamity Jane, written in a series of letters to her daughter. It shows a more intimate, and maybe vulnerable side of the character, as she talks about her adventures with Wild Bill and Old West outlaws. This makes the book more appealing
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to women, who might usually avoid the Western genre.
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LibraryThing member santhony
McMurtry pens a fictional account of Calamity Jane reviewing the events of her long and interesting life.
LibraryThing member anterastilis
Review I wrote for class:
This is the story of Calamity Jane, an icon of the Old West whose legend grew far beyond her humble and tragic reality. Calamity and her friends are old-timers – the mountain men Bone and Ragg, showman Buffalo Bill Cody, amiable prospector Potato Creek Johnny, famous
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madam Dora DuFran, rancher Blue Abbot, brilliant but self-absorbed riflewoman Annie Oakley; and Sitting Bull and No Ears, two of the last remaining Indian Elders. Watching herself decline into alcoholism and obsolescence, Calamity and the others become caricatures of themselves in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. They try to maintain their lifestyle in a more genteel, civilized West and reflect upon their past lives as the survivors of a fast, mean, and passionate world that has all but disappeared. Through reflection, re-creating their world in the Wild West Show, and Calamity Jane’s letters, the reader is given a glimpse of their lawless and fiery world.

What I really thought:
For starters, I had that awful "Buffalo Gals won't you come out tonight!" song in my head the entire time I was reading this. I loathe that song.

I chose this book because I like Larry McMurtry. I realize that this is more of a "Novel about the West" than it is a "Western", but I still thought it would fit my professors' "Western" guidelines. Other, lesser, sillier reasons I chose it were because I think "Calamity Jane" is a cool name and I wanted to read a novel that had a strong female lead.

As much as I enjoyed it, it grew rather depressing. Calamity is usually helpless drunk, the supporting cast of characters are all aging in a world that they don't belong in, Dora's love story is tragic, and Wild Bill's putting them into a show - making caricatures of themselves - was rather surreal and sad. Becoming a legend within your lifetime is one thing, but to play yourself in a show because your world is that far removed from the modern world - it's just disturbing.

The way it is written - mostly from third-person Calamity perspective, with some letters thrown in - is very good. At first I was turned off by the letters: Calamity is writing to her daughter, Janey, who lives far away and is getting a good, proper upbringing. It was kind of distracting, but luckily the letters became fewer and shorter as the story went on.

This book doesn't have the same feel as Lonesome Dove - probably due to the timeframe (after the old west).
McMurtry is amazingly skilled at two things in particular: description without waxing poetic, and conversation. The conversations between Bone and Ragg and the quiet contemplation of No Ears are some of the greatest strengths of this book. Calamity and Dora have a strong relationship - but it pales in comparison. I grew to adore No Ears.

As with all McMurtry books, there's a solid resolution for just about everything. He's not much for loose ends. Unfortunately for the aging Old West Old-timers...that's usually death. You've got to expect that, though. It is rather depressing (and I feel weird saying this) that so many of them met their maker in quiet, normal ways - not in a hail of gunfire or a heroic feat, the way that Old West heroes always seem to go.
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LibraryThing member lamour
I had to work at this at the beginning but eventually it grabbed my interest. The main character is Calamity Jane whose real name was Martha Jane Canary and a woman who actually did live in the west and was known as a frontierswoman, scout, Indian fighter, sometimes prostitute but most of the tales
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about her are difficult to prove.
Through her we meet many characters including Dora DuFran (the real Calamity actually worked for DuFran) who runs a whorehouse, No Ears an Indian friend who had his cut off when he was young, & Bartle Bone & Jim Ragg last of the Mountain Men.

William Cody talks Calamity and her friends in traveling to England with his Wild West Show for Queen Victoria's Jubilee. I found McMurtry's descriptions of London of the late 19th Century very interesting as I did of the method of moving his entire show including animals across the Atlantic.

Vivid descriptions of life in Montana and the Dakotas at the end of the Wild West era.
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LibraryThing member PaulaGalvan
This is kind of a sad tale of the ending of an era. Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickock, and Bill Cody are just a few of the people that lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s and made their mark on the great prairies and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Times were hard. This view into
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how they lived and survived is probably close to what the old west was really like. The book is supposed to be fiction, but there's a lot of history in it. I found it very entertaining and educational.
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Western Heritage Award (Western Novel — 1991)




0743216296 / 9780743216296
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