Western Trips

Western Trips

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Buffalo Bill Museum And The Wild West Goes To Europe

William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody was born in 1846 in what was then the Iowa Territory. He was a soldier, fur trapper, buffalo hunter, scout and perhaps the most popular showman of his time. 

In the late 1800's, the majority of the U.S. population resided east of the Mississippi. Journalists of the day chronicled most of the significant events of the West and the people back east were eager to read of these exploits in a land far different than theirs. In fact, a reporter named Mark Kellogg was killed along with Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Kellogg was working as a stringer and is remembered as the first Associated Press reporter killed while covering a story. The people back east had a big appetite for western news.

Cody's lust for adventure started at an early age and at 14 years old was given a job as a Pony Express rider. Because he was considered too young for battle he served during the Civil War as a Private of the Kansas Calvary while working as a teamster with a U.S. freighting caravan at Fort Laramie,  Wyoming. He then was the Chief Scout until 1872 for the 3rd U.S. Calvary during the Indian Wars. While he worked as a scout he also hunted bison for both the Army and the railroads. Cody also received a Congressional medal for valor for his Army scouting activities.You could say he was a jack of all trades for things western. The picture above shows William Cody circa 1875 at about age 29.

It appears that Cody's first endeavor with show business was in 1872 when he joined a friend appearing in Chicago acting in a western play produced by the writer and publicist Ned Buntline. Buntline had authored several dime novels and when he was unable to persuade Wild Bill Hickok
(the tale is that Hickok chased him out of town at gunpoint), his first choice, into entering show business he met Wild Bill's friend Cody and the rest is history. The plays were not treated real well by the critics but they were by the public and they became such huge successes that they played all around the country for ten years. Buntline also authored a series of dime novels called "Buffalo Bill Cody-King of the Border Men" which were great successes. 

In about 1883 Buffalo Bill formed a Western show troupe although it was called "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" without using the word "show". It was a yearly affair. The show was more like a circus with horseback riding stunts and races, historical scenes, sharpshooting, roping, Indians, frontier men and others. Even the Sioux Hunkpapa leader Sitting Bull (shown below left), after his return to the U.S. from years of exile in Canada after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, joined the tour for a brief period.

With the help of Buntline and Prentiss Ingraham, another author and publicist, Cody's "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" was the most successful touring show of the 1800's. 

The fascination  with the American West was not only with easterners. Europeans as well had an insatiable appetite for the wild west tales they had read in the papers.

As a result of the show's successes and influential people Cody had met along the way, not to mention having an aggressive agent, the Wild West production set it sights on touring Europe.

In 1887, the tour played to enormous crowds in London, Manchester and Birmingham with Queen Victoria herself attending. In 1889 the show played in Paris and from there on to southern France and Spain. Then, in 1890, the show toured throughout Italy with an 8 day performance in Bologna alone. After that it was on to Germany where the shows name was changed to "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World". This adaptation included representatives of foreign troops. This was where many historians believe Theodore Roosevelt's using the term "Rough Riders" of the Spanish-American War derived from.

The European tour was nothing short of a
huge success with leaders of all the nations
attending performances. In a way it was also
a big diplomatic success for the U.S. The tour itself was a sort of traveling advertisement for America. The Europeans were excited to see the people who helped shape the great country across the Atlantic. The tour enabled Native American Indians and frontiers men the opportunity of meeting European Heads of State. This was certainly a first.
Europeans thought of the show as a true representation of the American wild west. While the spectacle was exciting and highly entertaining it was not totally accurate in regards to some of the battle reenactments performed.  Probably a lot of the European fascination arose from the stark differences in cultures between the two continents. The wide open spaces of the American West versus the more crowded and class conscious living conditions of the Continent. The European fascination with the American West was evident in several later interviews with immigrants who arrived through Ellis Island in New York during the late 1800's and early 1900's.

At one time Buffalo Bill's show played indoors at New York's Madison Square Gardens as well as on Staten Island and featured the sharpshooter Annie Oakley. 

Buffalo Bill made a fortune from his tours, books and personal appearances and bought a 4,000 acre ranch in Nebraska. He also owned another ranch in Wyoming as well as other real estate including a hotel. Unfortunately much of his wealth was later lost with bad investments. The picture here shows Buffalo Bill Cody in 1903. During his lifetime the Wild West changed dramatically. The buffalo herds were gone, the Indian Wars were over and much of the mountain West was taken over by mining operations. Buffalo Bill Cody died in 1917 in Denver and was buried on Lookout Mountain outside Golden, Colorado. 

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody through his traveling shows did more than anyone in promoting the mystique of the American West to large audiences on both sides of the ocean. 

There are two excellent museums that highlight Cody's career and the living conditions of the western frontiers men.  Both of these museums are great stops for the entire family. If your western driving trip takes you to either area I would recommend them added to your itinerary. One is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center located in Cody, Wyoming. The town is located in northwest Wyoming just east of Yellowstone National Park. Driving directions can be found on the Center's web site below.


A second museum and the grave site of William F.Cody is located in Golden, Colorado. Golden is just about 10 miles west of Denver. Below is it's web site.


The web site below is a great source for additional information about Buffalo Bill's Wild West.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please share your comments...