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Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show

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The late 19th century was the age of great showmen and traveling entertainers, like the Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Vaudeville circuits, and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. William F. Cody first appeared on the stage in Chicago on December 11, 1872. Afterward he founded his production in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1883; a show that would run, in one form or another, for the next three decades, charming crowds throughout the United States and Europe.

 

Over the years, the troupe, with as many as 1,200 performers, included many authentic personalities such as James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro, Annie Oakley, prominent Native Americans, including Sitting Bull and Geronimo, as well as "real” cowboys recruited from the West.

 

The show itself consisted of a series of historical scenes interspersed with feats of showmanship, sharp shooting, staged races, rodeo style events, and sideshows.

 

Native Americans figured prominently in many of the scenes, often shown attacking wagon trains with Buffalo Bill or one of his colleagues riding in and saving the day. The show also re-enacted the riding of the Pony Express, stagecoach robberies, and buffalo-hunting, with the production ending with a melodramatic re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand in which Cody himself portrayed General Custer.

 

 

William F. Cody, Pawnee Bill, & Buffalo Jones, around 1910

William F. Cody, Pawnee Bill, & Buffalo Jones, around 1910. This image available for photographic prints and downloads HERE!

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill, 1885

Buffalo Bill often featured prominent Native Americans in his Wild West Show, one of which was Sitting Bull. Photo 1885 by David Francis Barry. This image available for photographic prints and downloads HERE!

 

 

 

"Wild Bill" Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Buffalo Bill

"Wild Bill" Hickok, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Buffalo Bill. This image available for photographic prints and downloads HERE!

 

 

 

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Congress, 1895

Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1895, Springer Litho Co. This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!

 

On May 9, 1887, Buffalo Bill's Wild West show opened in London, giving international audiences their first glimpse of the American Wild West. The show would go on to entertain audiences throughout Europe.

 

By the turn of the 20th century, William F. Cody was probably the most famous American in the world. No one symbolized the West for Americans and Europeans better than Buffalo Bill. His shows were billed as one of the entertainment triumphs of the ages.

 

When Cody's show began to suffer financially he sold a one-third interest in his production to Pawnee Bill’s Wild West and Great Far East Show, operated by Gordon "Pawnee Bill” Lillie in 1908. Soon, Gordon bought the remaining interest in the show, but retained Buffalo Bill as a partner. The two traveled together as the "Two Bill’s Show” until 1913, when the venture went bankrupt. It was billed as one of the entertainment triumphs of the ages and  traveled all over the world entertaining audiences with both realistic and fantasy views of the Old West. The show closed in Denver, Colorado, in 1913 after touring for five seasons.

 

 

Buffalo Bill's Wild West, Courier Litho. Co, 1899

Buffalo Bill's Wild West, Courier Litho. Co, 1899. This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!

 

 

Buffalo Bill's Wild West, 1900

Buffalo Bill's Wild West, Courier Litho. Co, 1899. This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!

 

 

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated April, 2015.

 

 

 

Also See:

 

Buffalo Bill Cody - Trapper, Trader & Frontiersman

Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus

Gordon "Pawnee Bill” Lillie

 

 

 

Buffalo Bill & the Wild West Show Slideshow:

 

 

All images available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

 

 

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