For thirty years, beginning in 1883, Buffalo Bill brought his gaudy version of the Wild West to the world.
As William F. Cody, he had done nearly everything a man could do in the West: he'd been a gold-seeker, buffalo hunter, cattle rancher and an Indian fighter. But it was as Buffalo Bill that he found his true calling -- as a promoter of the West, and of himself.
Buffalo Bill's Wild West promised "a year's visit West in three hours." Every show included Indian attacks on a wagon train (saved by Buffalo Bill), a lonely homestead (saved by Buffalo Bill) and the authentic Deadwood Stagecoach (also saved by Buffalo Bill), plus a buffalo hunt, Pony Express riders, Mexican vaqueros, and for the finale, a re-enactment of "Custer's Last Stand," with Buffalo Bill himself charging onto the battlefield at the end while the tragic words "TOO LATE" were projected onto a screen behind him.
is a show about the conquest of the West, but everything that the audience
sees is Indians attacking whites. It's a strange story of an inverted
conquest... a celebration of conquest in which the conquerors are the
victims. And there's something... deeply weird about this.... It's conquest
won without the guilt. We didn't plan it; they attacked us, and when we
ended up, we had the whole continent."
Even Libby Custer, the widow of the Little Bighorn, proclaimed Buffalo Bill's Wild West "the most realistic and faithful representation of a western life that has ceased to be," and for millions around the world it transformed William F. Cody into an embodiment of the American Frontier.
Buffalo Bill I think is the one true genius the 19th century West really produced. Buffalo Bill is an incredible self-creation. What Buffalo Bill knew about the West is that, in fact, it gave you the opportunity to make yourself over, and then once you've made a role for yourself, to inhabit it. The lines between reality, the lived experience in the West, and the mythic West, that Buffalo Bill portrayed for a living, become very, very blurred
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© 2001 THE WEST FILM PROJECT and WETA