Agnes Lake Hickok: Queen of the Circus, Wife of a Legend
by Linda A. Fisher and Carrie Bowers


University of Oklahoma Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8061-3983-8.
Reviewed by Susan M. Andrus
Posted on 08/01/2009

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

Remember when the circus came to town? Fliers hung from every utility pole, the newspaper announced the featured performers, and we watched the vacant lot transform from a field to a village of tents, animals, sawdust, and vendors.

Linda A. Fisher and Carrie Bowers capture this excitement and add to the suspense by chronicling the life of Agnes Pohlschnider, who later married Wild Bill Hickok. Agnes emigrated to Cincinnati from Germany with her father and three brothers when she was six years old, just six weeks after their mother's death. They changed their surname to Messmann and Agnes's brothers found work building the Erie Canal. When they had saved enough capital, they used their inherited wisdom to start a tobacco and whiskey business in Cincinnati.

Talk about running away with the circus: Agnes met Bill Lake, a circus clown, when she was nineteen years old. and eloped with him. They married in New Orleans in 1846 and soon formed their own circus, traveling the central and eastern parts of the United States.

Fisher and Bowers show us the lifestyle of circus performers, the difficult work behind the scenes, and Agnes's well-developed management abilities as she took over the circus after a disgruntled ticket holder murdered her husband. Later in life, she met and married Wild Bill Hickok and spent a few years with him before an assassin killed him in Deadwood, Black Hills.

For circus lovers, this book brings back the sights, the sounds, and even the smells of circus life. For history lovers, it shows how people lived, where groups moved around the globe, and the development of the western half of the North American continent. For biography lovers, readers have much to learn about a little-known courageous woman of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


The late Linda A. Fisher was a public health physician, a documentary researcher, and the editor of The Whiskey Merchant's Diary: An Urban Life in the Emerging Midwest. Carrie Bowers, who was Linda A. Fisher's research assistant, holds an MA in American History. A resident of northern Virginia, she has worked for George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate, the National Park Service, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

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