Crucial to our understanding of the significance of the Great Plains to Cody’s personal experiences are the early years of Cody’s life, from his birth and early childhood in Iowa in the 1840s through the early 1850s, to his formative years in Kansas from 1852-1868, and his young adult period in Nebraska from 1868-1878. Events that occurred before he wrote his first autobiography and went on to achieve national fame and world-wide celebrity are eventually incorporated first into his stage shows and then into his grand Wild West exhibitions.
In 1887 William F. Cody brought his Wild West show to London where he launched the first of four European tours. Initially linked to London’s American Exhibition, the 1887 tour was limited to Britain playing, over a twelve-month period, to hundreds of thousands at venues from Earl’s Court to Manchester. Cody was embraced by London society playing host to the Prince of Wales and William Gladstone, and giving a command performance for Victoria on the eve of her Jubilee. He also found friendships among stage luminaries including Wilson Barrett, Henry Irving, and Bram Stoker.
This paper addresses issues related to the editing of William F. Cody’s autobiographical writing published between 1879 and 1888. The projects include the recently completed The Life of Hon. William F. Cody appearing with University of Nebraska Press in fall 2011 and ongoing work on Cody’s The Wild West in England (also slated for publication with UNP). Both works are part of the press’s Cody Papers Series in conjunction with the Papers of William F. Cody project.
A promotional poster from 1900 superimposes the larger-than-life image of William Cody’s head and shoulders on the side of a running buffalo. It includes the simple pronouncement: “I Am Coming.”[1. According to Joy Kasson this image “shows the power of Cody’s identification with the buffalo and suggests some of the ways in which the Wild West offered its audiences memories of American nature that could be balanced against the claims of progress” (235). Paul Fees refers to the same image in the American Experience documentary Buffalo Bill to suggest the level of Cody’s celebrity at the turn of the century.] The focal point of the advertisement is Cody’s face; the semi-profile wears a calm but commanding expression, staring into the middle distance with a long gray mustache and beard to match the flowing hair that pours out from under a gray Stetson. By the turn of the century, the visual association of Cody with the buffalo was almost redundant. Although he went by his birth name his entire life, he was known to the majority of the public as “Buffalo Bill.” And, while the lithography of the poster faithfully represents the person of Cody, it also presents the persona (the Latin root means “mask”) of Buffalo Bill. That persona was the product of years of careful shaping by Cody and his business associates whose image-making took the form of dime novels, newspaper stories, stage melodramas and, of course, the traveling Wild West exhibition. By 1900 Cody had toured the United States and Europe for nearly two decades; he had performed before Queen Victoria and paraded royalty in his Deadwood stagecoach; he had upstaged the Chicago World’s fair, bringing some four million guests to his own exhibition outside the fairgrounds; he had been the subject of countless dime novels and his media machine had inaugurated a new era in mass culture marketing. By century’s end millions could identify Cody by his face alone, meaning that millions could read the message encoded in the image of Buffalo Bill and assign to it a sweeping narrative that places the American frontier at the center of civilization’s progress.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West’s show could be envisaged as a pioneering attempt of exporting the newborn American Culture into the Old World, like a sort of backlash colonization. It can be therefore interpreted as an embryonic example of American transnationalism. The Italian stopovers of the Wild West’s tour, although sporadically tackled by previous scholarship, proved to be focal in the construction of a transnational awareness, especially considering the history of mass-migrations of the time. In particular this paper looks at one specific aspect of such perception, which is the two-sided understanding of ‘otherness’, showing the double point of view in which both the Italians and Western (and Native) Americans kept relationships with one another and defined their identities.
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.
After watching a Buffalo Bill’s Wild West performance in 1883 Mark Twain wrote to William Cody encouraging him to export the show: “It is often said on the other side of the water that none of the exhibitions which we send to England are purely and distinctively American. If you will take the Wild West show over there, you can remove that reproach.” Four years later Cody would take the show to London and begin one of the most successful and celebrated runs of his career. Twain’s words reflect a century-long American quest to earn cultural legitimacy in the eyes the British. Nineteenth century American cultural history is defined in large part by the exceptionalist enterprise as American writers including Emerson, Whitman, and Melville defined their work in relation to British influence and sought an original American voice in their writing. Many people viewed Twain’s regionalism as one such original moment. And Twain clearly viewed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West as another.
By any standard he was a remarkable man. Author, comedian, conjurer, contortionist, dancer, fire-eater, hypnotist, illusionist, lecturer, magician, newspaper owner, publisher, sword swallower and yogi: Charles Eldridge Griffin, also known by the stage names of Monsieur F. Le Costro, Professor Griffin and the Yankee Yogi.
Charles E. Griffin, as he preferred to style himself, was born June 16, 1859 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and, although his mother Fanny was a musician, there was nothing in his family background to suggest the appeal that the circus would have for him and his two brothers, Frank and Fred. All three would make their living in and around a variety of big tents in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries when the circus and sideshow industries were becoming big business in America and beyond. By 1862 the family had moved to Albia, Iowa, and his father, John Griffin, was Monroe County superintendent of schools and would later be county clerk of courts. It was the “Hawkeye state” with which Griffin always identified and that he always called home.