Symposium Session 6

9:10-10:30 AM Session 6: Promoting and Consuming the Wild West
Christine Bold, Chair

James J. Connolly, The Wild West in the American Heartland

This talk offers a preliminary examination of the interplay between William F. Cody’s The Wild West, as well as other representations of the “West,” and the development of community identities in the heartland cities and towns of Middle America.  It draws on two bodies of material to advance its argument. The first is a digital collection of Midwestern—primarily Indiana—newspaper commentary about locally staged performances of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West from the 1880s to the 1910s. The second is an examination of substance and (when possible) the response to, popular fictional and nonfiction depictions of western life. It suggests that these portrayals helped middle-American communities cement a sense of themselves as an established part of a larger American (and western European) civilization at a time when such claims were still tenuous.

James Connolly is George and Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of History at Ball State University. He is the author of several books, including An Elusive Unity: Urban Democracy and Machine Politics in Industrial America (2010) and What Middletown Read: Print Culture in an American Small City (2015, with Frank Felsenstein).

Michelle Delaney, Art and Advertising Buffalo Bill’s Wild West

Historical scholarship remains limited for the legacy of the visual culture of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. A century after Cody’s last performance, this interdisciplinary study surveys the promotional materials produced for the Wild West, including the related art and technology, business strategies and popular consumption which expanded the influence of the national and international tours.

Michelle Delaney is the Senior Program Officer for History and Culture, Office of the Provost, Smithsonian Institution. She serves as an associate editor for visual culture with The Papers of William F. Cody and is completing a History PhD. at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Her related book, the Art and Advertising of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Joe Dobrow, John Burke, Jumping Jehosaphat! The Wit and Marketing Wisdom of Major John M. Burke

Most historical studies of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West have treated the show’s press agent and general manager, John M. Burke, as a relatively minor figure – oversize in girth and personality, yet full of hot air, butchered syntax, self-promotion… ultimately not much more than a glorified snake oil salesman. However, with the recent digitization of hundreds of newspapers – many of which had been buried by the sands of time for a century or more – the ubiquitous fingerprints of John M. Burke are now becoming visible, and the blueprints of some of his brilliant strategies are at last beginning to emerge. And it turns out that Burke was not only a driving force behind the Wild West’s success, but also a pioneer of the marketing industry itself.

Joe Dobrow is an author and recovering marketing executive. His 2014 book Natural Prophets (Rodale Books) chronicled the development of the natural and organic foods industry. His latest effort, Pioneers of Promotion (University of Oklahoma Press, 2018), examines the early roots of the marketing industry through the work of visionaries like John M. Burke of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, Moses P. Handy of the World’s Columbian Exposition, and Tody Hamilton of Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. Dobrow has degrees from Brown and Yale Universities.