In 1910 former President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt traveled throughout Europe where he received three honorary doctoral degrees, delivered a number of significant speeches ranging from such topics such as the history of Western Civilization to the conduct of British imperialists and their subjects overseas. Despite the academic and diplomatic nature of his visit, most Europeans viewed Roosevelt as the cowboy president. Roosevelt noted that the kings and queens of Europe were interested “about my life in the West, evidently regarding it as an opportunity to acquire knowledge at firsthand and at close range concerning the Buffalo-Bill and Wild-West side of American existence.” Roosevelt found his diplomatic mission enhanced by Europe’s response to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.
uffalo Bill used his Wild West, a form of entertainment, to educate the world about the enduring qualities and strengths of frontier Americans. In their book, Buffalo Bill in Bologna, Robert Rydell and Rob Kroes note that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West incubated the “fairly routine practice for American mass cultural exports to serve as weapons for accomplishing specific U. S. foreign policy objectives.” In this case, Theodore Roosevelt promoted Buffalo Bill’s perspective of the Wild West side of the American experience to further his diplomatic mission to Europe; thus, Roosevelt the public official relied on Buffalo Bill the entertainer to further America’s image and diplomatic relations overseas. Both Roosevelt and Cody’s performances supported and enhanced European views of nationalism and imperialism. Additionally, the image of the United States as a world power shaped by these perceptions later misled and confused European leaders regarding America’s future role during World War I. This presentation will examine the transnational political and cultural contributions of both Buffalo Bill Cody and Roosevelt in relation to the image of the American West, and it will consider the European legacy of this “Wild West side of American Existence.”
“The Wild West Side of American Existence: Buffalo Bill and Theodore Roosevelt as Cultural Ambassadors of the American Frontier Experience.” North America as West/The West of North America, Biennial Maple Leaf and Eagle Conference on North American Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland, May 8, 2012. Jeremy Johnston, Buffalo Bill Historical Center.