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A Horse's Tale

About the Author

Shelley Fisher Fishkin

Shelley Fisher Fishkin's principal concern throughout her career has been literature and social justice. Much of her work has focused on issues of race and racism in America, and on recovering and interpreting voices that were silenced, marginalized, or ignored in America's past. 

Her broad, interdisciplinary research interests have led her to focus on topics including the challenge of doing transnational American Studies; the place of humor and satire in movements for social change; the role literature can play in the fight against racism; the influence of African American voices on canonical American literature; the need to desegregate American literary...

Nebraska Press
2020

At the turn of the twentieth century Minnie Maddern Fiske, a New York actress, socialite, and animal rights activist, wrote to Mark Twain with an unusual request: for Twain to write about the evils of bullfighting equal to that of his anti-vivisectionist story A Dog’s Tale. Twain responded with A Horse’s Tale, a comic animal tale that doubled as a frontier adventure and political diatribe.

A Horse’s Tale concerns Soldier Boy, Buffalo Bill Cody’s favorite horse, as the protagonist and sometime narrator at a fictional frontier outpost with the U.S. Seventh Cavalry. When the general’s orphaned niece arrives, Buffalo Bill takes her under his wing and ultimately lends her Soldier Boy so that they may seek adventure together. Twain uses the friendship between the girl and the horse as the basis for his eventual indictment of the barbarism of Spanish bullfighting. Twain’s novella is unusual for its complex tone—combining a comic children’s story and a dark portrait of animal cruelty. Including the themes of transatlantic relations and frontier culture, Twain offers a fresh look into the world of Buffalo Bill Cody from the perspective of one of America’s most beloved authors.

First published in 1906 in Harper’s Monthly and as a single volume the following year, A Horse’s Tale never again appeared in print except in anthologies of Twain’s work. This edition includes the full text of Twain’s original story, an introduction that situates the work in historical and biographical context, thorough annotations, and the addition of significant archival material related to Twain, Cody, and Fiske.