The Good, The Bad, and The Showman

buffalobillwildwestshow2Much of what is common knowledge about the west is largely impart to the articles, exposes, and flat out exaggerations of famous cowboy names. They were stories that turned lowlife criminals into fanciful folk heroes. Dirt, death, and endless toil to survive the untamed west became silver frills and 2 penny carnival shows. That isn’t to say that the popular culture of the time was not important in its own right. It too shaped the imaginations of generations. Movies, television, and our own perception of what a cowboy was has been indelibly marked by these legends and, more importantly, savvy entrepreneurs.

The chief among these is William Cody, or what he’s more commonly known as, Buffalo Bill. Cody lived an eventful life, starting out at twelve years old as a scout for union troops in Utah. From there he assisted in supplying troops with meat during the civil war receiving the moniker “Buffalo” Bill. He also one of a very few civilians to  receive a Medal of Honor for his actions in the Indian Wars. He was a man that lived the western experience and saw the interest the rest of the nation had in stories like his. Buffalo Bill decided to capitalize on this interest and boy, did he.

buffalo_bill_wild_west_show_c1899The Wild West show began in 1883 and ran until 1913. At its peak the show employed over 500 cast and staff members and needed two full trains to travel from town to town. It was a logistical and theatrical marvel, staging full reenactments of famous battles like Little Big Horn and was one of the most important factors to cement the legend of the west in the hearts and minds of the American people.