Buffalo Bill Cody Biography ID 33
For a century the conquest of the western frontier has been a source of popular entertainment It has also been an explanation for who Americans are as a people. Our individualism, our propensity for violence or tendency to see the world in black in white—all have been attributed to the frontier experience.
Even today many Americans think of themselves as frontiersmen We wear blue jeans and cowboy boots, drive Mustangs, and wear country and western music. One man was especially important in transforming the west into entertainment and myth. His name was Buffalo Bill Cody
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the US and Europe for over 30 years, from 1883 to 1916 His show was organized around various epochs of American history. It began in the primeval forest peopled by Indians and wild beasts, followed by the settlement of the Great Plains and Indians attacks. It ended with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill in the Spanish American War
The show contained rodeo-like displays of cowboy skills There were feats of marksmanship, riding, roping, and horse races. There were also attacks on stage coaches and settler’s cabins, a cyclone, and even a prairie fire. The show’s message was that violence was necessary to tame the west and bring civilization to a wild frontier.
William F. Cody claimed (perhaps falsely) to have been a Pony Express rider as a 16 year old. Later he became a farmer, a teamster, and a trapper. He was also a soldier and an army scout. And a buffalo hunter too. He became a national celebrity in 1876 when he announced that he had shot and scalped an Indian in revenege for Custer’s last stand. “First scalp for Custer,” was his battle cry
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was more than mere entertainment. The show helped to create a myth about the American West. Americans viewed the west as a place of larger than life heroes. A land where brave cowboys wearing white hats fought savages.
But Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show also blotted out the real West. Americans forgot that many cowboys were black or Mexican. Americans forgot that the land was stolen from its original inhabitants. Americans forgot that much of western violence was in the service of greed.
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