William "Buffalo Bill" Cody creates "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show
It was the age of great showmen and traveling entertainers.
Cody put together a new traveling show based on both of those forms of entertainment. In 1883 in the area of North Platte, Nebraska he founded "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," (despite popular misconception, the word "show" was not a part of the title) a circus-like attraction that toured annually.
In 1893 the title was changed to "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World". The show began with a parade on horseback, with participants from horse-culture groups that included US and other military, American Indians, and performers from all over the world in their best attire. There were Turks, Gauchos, Arabs, Mongols and Georgians, among others, each showing their own distinctive horses and colorful costumes. Visitors to this spectacle could see main events, feats of skill, staged races, and sideshows. Many authentic western personalities were part of the show. For example Sitting Bull and a band of twenty braves appeared. Cody's headline performers were well known in their own right. People like Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler put on shooting exhibitions along with the likes of Gabriel Dumont. Buffalo Bill and his performers would re-enact the riding of the Pony Express, Indian attacks on wagon trains, and stagecoach robberies. The show typically ended with a melodramatic re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand in which Cody himself portrayed General Custer.
"Buffalo Bill’s Wild West" used real cow-boys and cow-girls, recruited from ranches in the West. At first, few people shared Cody's admiration of the cow-boys. Most people regarded them as coarse cattle drivers and used the term "cow-boy" as an insult. By the end of the 19th century, the cow-boy became the much more popular "cowboy," thanks in large part to the Buffalo Bill Wild West shows. The shows demonstrated bronco riding, roping, and other skills that would later become part of public rodeos.
Cody’s own theatrical genius revealed itself in 1883, when he organized Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, an outdoor extravaganza that dramatized some of the most picturesque elements of frontier life: a buffalo hunt with real buffalos, an Indian attack on the Deadwood stage with real Indians, a Pony Express ride, and at the climax, a tableau presentation of Custer’s Last Stand in which some Lakota who had actually fought in the battle played a part. Half circus and half history lesson, mixing sentimentality with sensationalism, the show proved an enormous success, touring the country for three decades and playing to enthusiastic crowds across Europe.
In later years Buffalo Bill’s Wild West would star the sharpshooter Annie Oakley, the first "King of the Cowboys," Buck Taylor, and for one season, "the slayer of General Custer," Chief Sitting Bull. Cody even added an international flavor by assembling a "Congress of Rough Riders of the World" that included cossacks, lancers and other Old World cavalrymen along with the vaqueros, cowboys and Indians of the American West.
Wild West Shows were traveling vaudeville performances in the United States and Europe. The first and prototypical wild west show was Buffalo Bill's, formed in 1883 and lasting until 1913. The shows introduced many western performers and personalities, and a romanticized version of the American Old West, to a wide audience.
Before long, Cody ended up starring as himself in Buntline’s play. Soon after, he started his own theatrical troop. It wasn’t until 1883 when Cody first got his idea for a Wild West Show. That same year, he launched Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Omaha, Nebraska. With his Wild West Show in hand, nobody could deny Buffalo Bill’s fame. “At the turn of the twentieth century, William F. Cody was known as ‘the greatest showman on the face of the earth’” (Pendergast 49). Cody had full domination of the Wild West show business.
Out of all of his fame-bearing titles, William F. Cody is most celebrated for being the inventor of the Wild West show. His crown title would be impresario, or manager or producer of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. His motivation to produce the show was to preserve the western way of life that he grew up with and loved. Driven by his ambition to keep this way of life from disappearing, Cody turned his “real life adventure into the first and greatest outdoor western show” (Pendergast 49). Cody did not want to see his way of life vanish without remembrance. Consequently, Cody became the first real Westerner to cash in on the western myth, which others had been writing literature, dime novels, and plays about for some time.