The Wild West Comes to Fargo
Buffalo Bill Cody, one of America’s first national celebrities, was as well known in his day as any movie star is today. Cody was initially famous as a buffalo hunter, Army scout, and frontier fighter. Ned Buntline wrote a series of dime novels loosely based on Cody’s life. A play written about Buffalo Bill was performed on Broadway. One evening he was in the audience, and the crowd went wild as Cody took the stage, playing himself. Theatergoers could not get enough, and it was only the beginning.
Cody had an idea to share the Wild West with people who had never been there. He brought together a collection of cowboys, cowgirls, and Indians. Sharpshooter Annie Oakley was a headliner. Chief Sitting Bull was part of the show. Cody added covered wagons, stagecoaches, an Indian village, wild horses, the Pony Express, even a herd of buffalo. Then he took his show on the road.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was an immediate sensation. It opened in Nebraska in 1883. Acts of skill were interspersed with reenactments of western events. Annie Oakley performed trick shooting. Other cowboys and cowgirls demonstrated trick riding and roping. Reenactments included Indians and covered wagons and outlaws robbing a stagecoach. The audience could tour the Indian village before or after the event. General William Tecumseh Sherman dubbed the show “authentic.” Libby Custer endorsed the show’s rendition of Custer’s Last Stand. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West toured for 30 years, even going to Europe in 1887 where the crowned heads of Europe turned out to see it. It was not unusual for 20,000 people to attend.
One might think that people who lived in the West would not be interested, but the show played to sold out audiences across the country. Buffalo Bill Cody was larger than life, and people flocked to see him, with the show playing in many western cities, including Bismarck, Dickinson, Jamestown, Grand Forks, and on this date in 1910, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West arrived in Fargo. The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican reported that the Fargo performances fulfilled all the promise of advance advertising. The newspaper said Buffalo Bill was the main attraction, an active participant at the age of 64. He continued to perform until two months before his death in 1917. More than 18,000 people attended his funeral. More than anyone else, Buffalo Bill Cody helped define the West in ways that we still find familiar today.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
American Experience. "http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/oakley-show" http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/oakley-show Accessed 13 June, 2014.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West. "http://centerofthewest.org/learn/western-essays/wild-west-shows" http://centerofthewest.org/learn/western-essays/wild-west-shows Accessed 13 June, 2014.
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 26 August, 1910.