When my husband and I went to the National Cowgirl Museum in Fort Worth, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I’d find pictures and stories about working cowgirls, rodeo queens, and maybe some famous cowgirl actresses, like Dale Evans. What I didn’t expect was an extensive display of posters and memorabilia from Wild West shows, especially Buffalo Bill’s show. Luckily, we took our camera and got some great pics (those shown here).
Touring the exhibits, I learned many historians believe what we know as our western genre sprang from the late nineteenth century touring companies, calling themselves Wild West shows or rodeos. In particular, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show helped to shape both the substance of an American national identity and the way it was disseminated in our culture. Buffalo Bill brilliantly established the thesis that the true American identity was founded in the West. Thus, the entire western genre owes its continuing popularity to the basics set out in the Wild West Show. Thousands of books, movies, and television shows are the stirring “progeny” of these shows.
Buffalo Bill or William F. Cody was the real thing. Born in a log cabin in Iowa in 1846, Cody grew up in Kansas. Young Cody worked as an ox-team driver, as a messenger for the pony express, and on numerous wagon trains. He prospected for gold and went on trapping expeditions, becoming a good hunter. During the Civil War he served as an army scout and guide. The U.S. Army was Cody’s most important employer in the decade after the Civil War. He worked on short-term contracts as a civilian scout, guiding troops through unmapped terrain, hunting for meat, carrying messages, tracking Native Americans, and participating in military encounters.
After “putting on a show” for several well-heeled Eastern and European sportsmen wanting to hunt buffalo and big game, along with a stint in vaudeville, Cody came up with the idea for the Wild West show. Though based loosely on the traveling venue of circuses of the era, Cody strived for the ultimate “western” realism in his shows. With Nate Salsbury as the general manager, and the show’s publicist, John Burke, who employed innovative techniques such as celebrity endorsements, press kits, publicity stunts, billboards, and product licensing, Buffalo Bill’s show was the most successful Wild West show of its time.
Along with the most famous female entertainer of the era, sharpshooter Annie Oakley (a headliner in Buffalo Bill’s show), Wild West shows employed dozens of female athletes who could rope, trick ride, sharpshoot, wrestle steers, and ride broncs. Cowgirls carved an identity for themselves that allowed them to live in both the male and female spheres. While performing athletic feats, they adhered to those things that made them acceptable as females, such as an ability to cook, sew, and clean. In fact, most of the performers sewed parts of their own costumes, like special beading or western motifs. From these roots, historians believe our concept evolved of what a cowgirl is, just as the western genre was portrayed by the Wild West shows.
Since actresses and show business people of the time were deemed to have “susceptible” morals, most female Wild West show entertainers went to great lengths to portray themselves as “ladies.” This duality for the female performers is most easily observed in their dress and manner.
The challenging environment of being a female entertainer in a Wild West show captured my imagination, and the heroine for “Kurt” sprang to life. But Kurt, the hero, who was the baby in my story, “Zach,” had been born and reared in rural Texas. See how I bring together these two characters to fall in love in my new release from the Cupids & Cowboys series, Book 11, “Kurt.”
Please comment and enter a random drawing for a digital copy of “Kurt,” my new release, along with “Zach,” the previously-related book. If you already have both or either of these books, please feel free to pick any digital book(s) at my Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Hebby-Roman/e/B001KI1L0O//a?tag=pettpist-20. In addition, the lucky winner will receive a $15 Amazon Gift Card.
What do you think the hardest part would be for a cowgirl in a Wild West Show?
Hebby Roman is a New York traditionally published, small-press published, and Indie published #1 Amazon best-selling author of both historical and contemporary romances. Her book, BORDER HEAT, was a Los Angeles Times Book Festival selection. She has been a RONE Finalist four times and in three different categories.