American Icons: Buffalo Bill

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This was the American spectacle that colonized our dreams.

He was the most famous American in the world — a showman and spin artist who parlayed a buffalo-hunting gig into an entertainment empire. William F. Cody’s stage show presented a new creation myth for America, bringing cowboys, Indians, settlers, and sharpshooters to audiences who had only read about the West in dime novels. He offered Indians a life off the reservation — reenacting their own defeats. “Deadwood” producer David Milch explains why the myth of the West still resonates; a Sioux actor at a Paris theme park loves playing Sitting Bull; and a financial executive impersonates Buffalo Bill, with his wife as Annie Oakley.

(Originally aired November 5, 2010)

Bonus Track: Indian or Native American? 
Artist and scholar Arthur Amiotte offers his opinion on the names given to — and chosen by — his people.

 

Video: "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" 
There's not much video of Buffalo Bill; William Cody couldn't quite figure out how to adapt his "Wild West" show to the new technology of film. But Thomas Edison used the developing medium to capture some amazing footage of the show.

  
Video: “La Légende de Buffalo Bill” 

The "Wild West" show has history in Europe. The original stage show spent perhaps a third of its run across the Atlantic, touring as far east as the Ukraine. As shown in the promotional video below, a current French incarnation — "with Mickey and friends" — draws heavily on the mythology created by Buffalo Bill.

  

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