The meanings of the Wild West’s frontier iconography varied according to cultural context. When Buffalo Bill crossed the borders into the newly-formed Germany—a society in need of narratives to underwrite its nationalist project—he encountered fertile ground for his tales of the conquest of the American West and the belligerent yet nostalgic portrayal of Native Americans. However, the reasons for the fascination with the West differ quite significantly between American and German audiences. This paper will discuss the differences in reception, based on German newspaper accounts, linking them to the particular cultural climate of turn-of-the-century Germany with its mix of nationalist and provincial concerns.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show spent almost a third of its life in Europe, traveling extensively through Great Britain, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Austria between 1887 and 1906. It left behind a lasting impression of America in European minds and inspired countless Western-themed novels, plays, and even fashion. However, it also intersected with ideas about the American West that had already been formed by novels, through journalism, travelogues, immigrant letters, and visual materials such as paintings, prints, and photographs.