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Amazing Footage of Native Americans at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

For all the newspaper coverage, for all of the oral histories, and for all of the pulp books produced in the 19th century, I doubt anything did more to spread the image and iconography of the old west than shows like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World.  Although not the first Wild West show, Buffalo Bill’s travelling troupe became the most iconic as it travelled relentlessly across the United States and Europe.  In fact, when I first took my then-girlfriend (who is now my wife) to Disneyland Paris – and the modern version they have of the show – back in the early 2000s I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Bill’s show had visited not only my university town, but my home town as well.  It was an interesting thought that people in my sleepy little home town in Scotland had witnessed a show with such an enduring legacy.  More pointedly, it occurred to me that the visit paid by Buffalo Bill and his troupe probably represented the first – and only – occasion the townsfolk came into any kind of direct contact with Native Americans outside of the literary world.

I’m not sure why the memory of that first trip to Paris came to me today, but in honour of the event I dug up some amazing silent footage of Native Americans performing at the show from 1894.  I hope you enjoy this rare glimpse back into that world:


7 responses to “Amazing Footage of Native Americans at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show”

  1. Doug says:

    Those colors on that top photo are amazing.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Doug – the original image was a more traditional black and white but I added a funky grunge filter that really makes the picture pop.

  3. Handsome shot. One wonders at the cynicism of the Indian participants, making a living by being vanquished seven days a week, and probably at least twice on weekends. Or was it despair?
    Lenape friends of mine, appearing in a film on early Virginia, were so abashed at the loincloths the costume dept, provided — garments that left their buttocks showing — that they modestly hung fox tails at the back. They were quite pleased with Disney’s Pocahontas — which presented an Indian as the central figure for a change.

  4. admin says:

    I don’t think it was cynicism, Katherine. In some cases participation in Wild West Shows was one of the only ways Indians like Sitting Bull had of getting off their government enforced reservations. A good account of this kind of participation can be found in a book called Black Elk Speaks which I’d recommend if you’re looking for a Sioux perspective of life in Buffalo Bill’s troupe; I really enjoyed it.

    When did your Lenape friends appear in this film? Is it still available? Funnily enough I have spoken to members of the Delaware/Lenape in the past couple of years about some modern Native American issues.

    Thanks for taking part in the discussion :)

  5. According to the extant accounts, Cody (Buffalo Bill) treated his native Americans performers very well by the standards of the day. This – from the man who “claimed the first scalp for Custer” – seems to suggest he had a big change-of-heart in his later years. Perhaps after the Sioux were massacred at Wounded Knee he felt some guilt for his role in their “assimilation”? He’s a fascinating chaacter.

  6. admin says:

    I agree, he is a fascinating character but he appears to have held that attitude for years before Wounded Knee

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