Wild West Shows in the Wild West
By the late 1800s, Buffalo Bill Cody was nationally known as an Army scout, hunter, and theater performer. In 1883 he capitalized on that fame by organizing his Wild West traveling show. It included hundreds of cowboys, an Indian village, sharpshooters like Annie Oakley, and a herd of bison. He even took the show to Europe.
As the idea caught on, other wild west shows were soon traveling across the country. On this date in 1908, the “101 Ranch Wild West Show” was on its way to Bismarck, but the train transporting the show was involved in a train wreck in Dickinson. The train was stopped when a switch engine ran into it. Four cars were thrown off the track. Four employees of the show were sent to the hospital. The train was late arriving in Bismarck, but got there in time to present the scheduled show.
101 Ranch Wild West Show got started in Oklahoma when the owners of the ranch, the Miller brothers, were inspired by the success of a neighboring ranch that had created Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West Show. In 1905 the Millers invited guests to come to their ranch to see a show featuring their working cowboys. That evolved into a traveling show in 1907. The 101 show was unique in that it employed African American performers. Famous rodeo bulldogger Bill Pickett was a featured performer, as was his brother who billed himself as a “Fiji Indian from Africa.”
The wild west shows were popular nationwide, but especially in the east. People thought they were seeing an authentic portrayal of the west. It has been said that Buffalo Bill invented the idea of the Wild West by glorifying hard-riding cowboys, so-called “wild” Indians, a heroic cavalry, and featuring shootouts and stagecoach robberies.
Wild West shows remained popular until the Depression put most of them out of business, but wild west entertainment can still be found in iconic locations like Tombstone, Arizona and Medora, North Dakota. And there’s always the rodeo – a form of entertainment based on the skills of working cowboys.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Golden Valley Chronicle. “Bad Wreck at Dickinson.” Beach ND. 6/10/1908. Page 1.
Circus History. “Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Show.” https://circushistory.org/miller-bros-101-ranch-wild-west/https://circushistory.org/miller-bros-101-ranch-wild-west/ Accessed 5/17/2021.
Tombstone Travel Tips. “Wild West Shows.” https://www.tombstonetraveltips.com/wild-west-shows.html Accessed 6/10/2021.