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Saturday, 22 September 2018

Buffalo Bill and the Myth of the Wild West

Wild painted Red Indians from America, on their wild bare backed horses, of different tribes—cowboys, Mexicans &c., all came tearing around at full speed, shrieking and screaming, which had the weirdest effect. An attack on a coach & on a ranch, with an immense deal of firing, was most exciting, so was the buffalo hunt & the bucking ponies. . . .The cowboys are fine looking people, but the painted Indians, with their feathers and wild dress (very little of it) were rather alarming looking & they have cruel faces. . . .Col. Cody, ‘Buffalo Bill’ as he is called, from having killed 3000 buffaloes, with his own hand, is a splendid man, handsome and gentlemanlike in manner. He has had many encounters & hand to hand fights with the Red Indians. Their war dances, to a wild drum and pipe, was quite fearful, with all their contorsions [sic] and shrieks, & they come so close.  Queen Victoria describing the thrill of seeing the Wild West show.

Queen Victoria attended twice and at the first performance, the Queen bowed when a cowboy rode into the ring holding an American flag - highly symbolic given that this was the first time since the War of Independence that a British ruler had honoured the stars and stripes.
Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill

The highlight of the Wild West Show was a re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand, though some sources claim that Buffalo Bill played Custer in the show, others state that the part of Custer was played by various performers, while Cody would ride in to avenge the death of Custer - 'The first scalp for Custer.' He would yell from the back of his trademark white horse. This is partly based on truth for it was Cody who had killed and scalped the Indian, Yellow Hair and although it seems unlikely it was generally believed for many years that it had been Yellow Hair who had killed Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Though in truth no one knows who actually killed Custer, indeed the Indians would not have recognized him since he had been out of uniform, wearing buckskins at the battle and his famous flowing locks had been cropped short to hide encroaching baldness.

What is known that on 25th June 1876, General Custer led 210 men of America's elite 7th Calvary into battle near the Little Big Horn in what is present day Montana and confronted thousands of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The Calvary were wiped out, but  Custer, realizing the situation was hopeless,  may have even killed himself once he saw the battle was lost. He had suffered two bullet shots - one in the heart and one in the head.

Still, why let the truth get in the way of a good story....

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