Buffalo Bill, the Mythic West, and the Imperial Frontier

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William F. Cody – better known as Buffalo Bill – did more than any other person to translate the history of the American West into the language of popular culture. This episode explores how he molded his own past, and the history of the frontier, into a grand story of national progress and conquest in dime novels, stage plays, his trademark Wild West show, and even film. As the United States plunged headlong into overseas adventures in Cuba, China, and the Philippines, Cody’s spectacular arena shows gave Americans a framework for understanding their country’s new role in the world, and the meanings of frontiers both old and new.

Inward Empire theme by Stephen Spencer.


Secondary Sources

Joy Kasson, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2000.

Lester George Moses, Wild West Shows and the Images of American Indians, 1883-1933. Albequerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.

Don Russell, The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.

Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.

Louis Warren, Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.

Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Primary Sources

William Cody, Buffalo Bill’s Life Story. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010 (originally published 1879).

William Cody, Steele MacKaye, Nate Salisbury, others, Wild West show programmes for 1883, 1887, 1891, and 1899.

Henry Davies, Ten Days on the Plains. New York: Crocker & Co., 1871.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders. New York: C. Scribner’s, 1899.


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