Beginning in 1889, Buffalo Bill crossed the boundaries of the Atlantic, taking his Wild West Show overseas to perform for crowds of spectators throughout Europe. He carefully advertised his shows, constructing months-long advertising campaigns to create enormous anticipation in the towns and cities on his tour. After his shows, the memories of the cowboys, cowgirls and Native Americans remained topics of community conversation for years; stories of the show often treated like a prized possession, handed down from one generation to another. As one witness to a show in Trieste, Italy recalled, “Buffalo Bill took us to the world of the cowboy, the Indian tribes—the red skins— . . . It was a whole new world for us.” Buffalo Bill’s last tour ended in 1906, but Italian interest in the new world of the American West continues to the present day.
Buffalo Bill crossed the boundaries of the Atlantic to bring the American West to Europe, and over one hundred years later, pieces of his West not only remain, but have become increasingly apparent. This paper addresses the persistence of Buffalo Bill and his Wild West shows in the collective memory of Italians, and how the memory of Buffalo Bill and his show, although evolving over time, continues to shape the Italian perspective on the American West. The influence is seen in the growing interest in American Western culture and literature, American-style rodeo, “Western Riding” (reining and cutting competitions), and the growth of American Quarter Horse industry in Italy. This is fertile ground for exploring the evolving idea of the West that takes place outside of American borders, focusing, as Buffalo Bill did, on the exceptionalist vision of that West.
“Buffalo Bill’s Legacy: Finding the West and Westerners in Contemporary Italy.” Boundary Markers and Border Crossers, Fifty-Second Annual Conference of the Western History Association, Denver, CO, October 7, 2012. Renee Laegreid, Hastings College.