The Success of Buffalo Bill’s Wild Show Paved The Way For Newcomers
By the early 1900’s Buffalo Bill had more than a dozen Wild West Show competitors.
While hunting buffalo for pay to feed railroad workers, he shot and killed 11 out of 12 buffalo, earning him his nickname and show name “Buffalo Bill.” As an army scout with a reputation for bravery, Cody often led rich men from the East and Europe and even royalty on hunting trips. Cody’s fame began to spread to the East when author Ned Buntline wrote a dime novel about Buffalo Bill, called Buffalo Bill, the King of Border Men (1869). The novel was turned into a theatrical production which enhanced Buffalo Bill’s success and popularity in the east.
Before long, Cody ended up starring as himself in the play. Then Cody started his own theatrical troop. It wasn’t until 1883 when Cody first got his idea for a Wild West Show. That same year, he launched Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Omaha, Nebraska. With his Wild West Show Buffalo Bill’s popularity grew. At the turn of the twentieth century, William F. Cody was known as ‘the greatest showman on the face of the earth”. Cody had full domination of the Wild West show business and is most celebrated for being the inventor of the Wild West show.
His motivation to produce the show was to preserve the western way of life that he grew up with and loved. Driven by his ambition to keep this way of life from disappearing, Cody turned his “real life adventure into the first and greatest outdoor western show”.
The Wild West Show List began to grow. Over time, various Wild West shows were developed. They were started by people with generally flamboyant names such as Dr. W.F. Carver, Pawnee Bill, “Buckskin Joe” Hoyt, and Mexican Joe. Blacks (such as Bill Pickett – the famous bulldogger from the 101 Ranch Wild West Show – his brothers, and Voter Hall – billed as a “Feejee Indian from Africa”), Mexicans (such as the Esquivel Brothers from San Antonio).
Native Americans (including the illustrious war leader Red Cloud), and women also tried their hand in the business, with such names headlining as Calamity Jane, Luella-Forepaugh Fish, the Kemp Sisters, May Lillie, Lucille Mulhall, Annie Oakley, and Lillian Smith. Tillie Baldwin also made a name for herself as a performer, as did Texas Rose as an announcer. Of all the shows, the first, most famous and most successful was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World; this was the show that started it all.
Some of the “Wild West Shows” did not include the word “show” in their name since they did not want to imply that the performers were merely acting. Instead they used “exposition” or “exhibition” to indicate that the spectacles were authentic and real examples of people from the true Wild West.
Many of the performers were cowboys and Native Americans who had been involved in legendary battles and historic events before seeing their way of life change dramatically with the settlement of the American frontier.
Wild West Shows
In the late 1800s, the popularity of Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill Cody and others brought Plains horsemanship to audiences around the world. Audiences began flocking to see Plains warriors perform as popular entertainers. The shows reinforced Indian stereotypes, but they also allowed Native horsemen to demonstrate their tremendous skills in mock battles, earn money, gain new skills, and meet potential supporters. Many Native veterans of Wild West shows would later showcase their skills in rodeos.
Wild West Shows List:
- A Girl of the Plains – Texas Nell – Alkali Pete
- Allen Bros. Wild West (1929-1934) – Charles and Mert H. Allen
- Arlington & Beckman’s Oklahoma Ranch Wild West (1913) – Edward Arlington and Fred Beckman
- A. S. Lewis Big Shows (1910)
- Austin Bros. 3 Ring Circus and Real Wild West (1945)
- Barrett Shows and Oklahoma Bill’s Wild West (1920)
- Bee Ho Gray‘s Wild West (circa 1919-1932)
- Booger Red’s Wild West Show (1904-1910)
- Broncho John, Famous Western Horseman and his Corps of Expert Horsemen (1906) – J. H. Sullivan
- Bros. Wild West Show (1929-1934) – Charles and Mert H. Allen
- Buck Jones Wild West Show
- Buckskin Ben’s Wild West and Dog and Pony Show (1908) Benjamin Stalker
- Buckskin Bill’s Wild West (1900)
- Bud Atkinson’s Circus and Wild West (early 1900s) – Toured Australia in 1912
- California Frank’s All-Star Wild West (1911) – Frank Hafley
- Cole Younger & Frank James Wild West (1903)
- Colonel Cummins’ Wild West Indian Congress and Rough Riders of the World – Frederick T. Cummins
- Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for Kids
- Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders
- Diamond Dick’s Congress of World’s Western Champions
- Fred Akins Real Wild West and Far East Show (1909-1910)
- Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch Stampeed (1942)
- Hardwick’s “Great Rocky Mountain Wild West Show” (1884)
- Indian Bill’s Wild West and Mexican Hippodrome (1903)
- Irwin & Hirsig Wild West (1910)
- Irwin Brothers Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild West Show (1913-1917)
- Jones Bros.’ Buffalo Ranch Wild West (1910)
- Kit Carson Buffalo Ranch Wild West Show (1913)
- L. O. Hillman’s Wild West Aggregation (1900-1920)
- Luella Forepaugh-Fish Wild West Shows (1903)
- Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Real Wild West (1907-1916 & 1925-1931)
- Montana Franks Shows
- Pate Boone Wild West Show
- Pawnee Bill‘s Wild West Show
- Tex And Mex Wild West
- Texas Jack’s Wild West (1901-1905)
- Tim’s McCoy’s Real Wild West
- Wiedemann’s Shows (1906-1911)
- Wiedemann Bros Shows
- Wiedemann Bros Big American Show and Custer’s Last Charge
- Wiedemann’s Kit Carson Show
- Zach Mulhall’s Congress of Rough Riders and Ropers
Over time, various Wild West shows continued to thrive. Wild west Shows contained a lot of action. Wild animals, trick performances, theatrical reenactments, and all sorts of characters from the frontier were all incorporated into the show’s program.
Theatrical reenactments included battle scenes, “characteristic” western scenes, and even hunts. Shooting exhibitions were also in the line up with extensive shooting displays and trick shots. Competitions that came in the form of races between combinations of people or animals exhilarated and stimulated the audience.
Equally exciting were rodeo events, involving rough and “dangerous” activities performed by cowboys with different animals. Wild West Shows began to include any type of “western” event that could in any way appeal to the audiences.
Those watching the show would have romanticized the idea of a rough, adventirous, wild frontier. They were captivated by the west, and Wild West shows provided the first hand experience. Wild West shows preserved the disappearing world of the “unsettled” and “untamed” west and brought it to life for audiences. Easterners were eager to enjoy the thrill and danger of the west, and the Wild West shows satisfied their sense of adventure withour the real life danger. Within the first two years of the first Wild West Show, over 10,000,000 spectators had attended a wild west show.