Biographical / Historical
William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody opened the first Wild West show in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1883. Within four years the fame of the Wild West had grown so great that Cody took his fellow performers on an international tour of Europe, performing between 1887 and 1906 in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria, and a host of other countries.
Undeniably, Cody's Wild West constructed and promoted inaccurate views of Native Americans, defining "real Indians" as only those who lived in tipis, rode horses, and wore feather headdresses. Such stereotypes have sadly been perpetuated in dime novels, television shows, and major motion pictures down to the present, ignoring the staggering cultural diversity of the Indigenous peoples of North America.
In spite of the Wild West show's culpability in creating and perpetuating narrow views of who Native peoples are and what they look like, several recent scholars have argued that there were some upsides for those Native Americans who chose to perform with this traveling show. One of the major bonuses was the relative freedom Wild West performers experienced compared with their community members who had to remain on the reservations. L.G. Moses in
Wild West Shows and the Images of American Indians, 1883-1933
and Michelle Delaney in
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Warriors
both note Native performers' opportunities to not only see the world and earn an income, but also to practice their beliefs and live their days free from the interference of the ever-present missionaries, politicians, and BIA agents back at home.
In addition, Wild West performers experienced opportunities otherwise unimaginable to many Americans of their day, including being presented to Queen Victoria at her Golden Jubilee in London in 1887, attending the 1889 World's Fair in Paris with its debut of the newly constructed Eiffel Tower, and having their photograph taken by the daughter of the future King of Bavaria, Ludwig III, in Munich in 1890.