“What a magnificent show it was from beginning to end; and how happily were blended the two elements of entertainment and instruction,” one newspaper writer recalled. “Volumes of the most graphic descriptive literature could not convey to the mind a fractional part of the clearness and vivid incisiveness of the scenes depicted in the Wild West arena.”
It was a West filled with exaggerated and violent reenactments, the often simplistic portrayals of Native Americans and their conflict with white settlers. And always it was about Buffalo Bill who came riding in to save the day. With some variation Cody brought this story from town to town, from Great Britain to Europe and back again. It was his interpretation of the frontier that became cemented in the imaginations of generations to come. It became the template for the myth of the Old West.
“For a few brief hours the vanishing west is visible to the citizens of Little Rock,” one reporter in Arkansas said after the Wild West show rumbled through town. “In a few brief years the men and the deeds who wrested from the wilderness the splendid empire stretching from the Mississippi to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, will have passed into tradition, but today they came into view, a splendid living panorama, and the central figure of all was the magnificent figure of W.F. Cody, still riding with the grace of a centaur, still shooting with the unerring aim which made his very name a terror to the Indians, but his thinning locks and the touch of silver which time is adding with a kindly hand are a reminder of the other changes which are fast effacing in the great domain, which he has seen spring from the wilderness, the old landmarks and the old faces which are vanishing into history.”
Cody had taken his fame as an army scout and his reputation as a prolific buffalo hunter to unheard-of levels of celebrity, which included novels, plays, and ludicrous stories based on the exaggerated, or outright fictional, events of his life. Cody had managed to turn himself into a legend and, for a time, audiences just couldn’t get enough.
“And last of all the center of this glittering spectacle, comes Buffalo Bill, that unique, picturesque personality, without a precedent, without a successor, the single product of an era,” one writer gushed. “Who is Buffalo Bill? Col. W.F. Cody, late chief of the Government scouts of the United States. What is Buffalo Bill? The most popular, fascinating figure in America to-day, one of the most graceful and expert horsemen in the world.”
Cody’s performance for the City of Rochester in 1895 was a roaring success, but dark clouds loomed on the horizon for the performer. Just the year before, his credentials and the right even to call himself “Buffalo Bill” were called into question.
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