Context: Chicago World's Fair
Why did William F. Cody, "Buffalo Bill," first introduce the Congress of Rough Riders of the World to the American public in 1893 during the Wild West's season outside the Chicago World's Fair grounds? The World's Fair existed as an opportunity for the public to view the progress of American civilization and the fascinating, exotic, and primitive peoples of the world on exhibition. The "White City" at the fair displayed perfection in civilization and the advancement of white male supremacy and power in sharp contrast with the exotic, undeveloped, uncivilized, and dark races on display at the midway (Bederman, 31). Introducing the Congress of Rough Riders of the World at that same time and place emphasizes a similar vein; it demonstrated white American superiority and ideal manhood via comparison with others. In 1893, Cody's publicists hailed Buffalo Bill's Wild West show as the key to understanding the complex world on display at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 (Warren, "Cody's Last Stand," 50). The 1893 Official Program for Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World stated: "In pursuance of their intention to assemble together, at the World's Fair, a congress of the representative horsemen of the world, Messrs. Cody and Salsbury have had their agents in all parts of the earth, looking for rough riders who could compete with or excel the original riders of the Wild West, the native product of America." Cody indicated a desire to present the different schools of horsemanship of the world to the public, which introduced an international feature to the United States. This aspect of the show brought for the audience "emulative comparison" of the best horsemen the world had to offer, and by extension made comparisons concerning America's place on the world stage and status of its men. Of course, the people that played in the Congress were a stereotype, an image, of what Cody and his crew perceived Americans should understand about men from other countries. For further analysis on this component of visual imagery and understanding on the stereotypes of the members of the Congress, see the poster comparison analysis. The first delegates to the Congress included American cowboys, American Indians, Mexican Vaqueros, Cossacks, Argentine Gauchos, Riffian Arabs, and detachments from the armies of America, England, Germany, and France. The composition of the Congress changed several times from 1893 to 1903, but the first delegates remained constant.
The context of the fair and the ideology behind it remain important in understanding Cody's introduction of the Congress of Rough Riders. The world exposition ultimately sought to valorize American technology, commerce, culture, and progress in emphasizing that the United States was on par with, if not superior to, other world leaders. The fair also emphasized American history and character. Buffalo Bill's show aimed to acquaint the public with the customs of the people from the West, perhaps the most important region for American history and character. Westerners fought savagery and advanced American civilization according to rhetoric of the day. Buffalo Bill's Wild West, like the Exposition, displayed the superiority of American civilization, progress, and highlighted American destiny through comparison to savage and exotic others. Several historical accounts suggest that the world's fair ultimately resembled a large arena for public education, like a museum. Buffalo Bill's show also billed itself as early, and continuing, American history; a series of object lessons for the public's enlightenment; that history was seen in the taming of ungovernable horses and in the character and actions of majestic, heroic western riders. It is in this context that the Congress of the Rough Riders of the World originated. The Congress of Rough Riders, from these beginnings of highlighting international manhood, proved an imperial display as well, an extension of American civilization across the world. According to historian Louis S. Warren, in his book, Buffalo Bill's America: William Cody and the Wild West Show, the Chicago season of 1893 had the Rough Rider spectacle amidst a global extravaganza demonstrated that Cody's new format infused America's newfound overseas ambitions with frontier mythology and expressed public sentiment for empire (Warren, Buffalo Bill's America, 422-430). The 1893 Chicago Exposition proved incredibly popular and influential in its social and cultural ramifications. It brought in over 25 million people from around the world. According to historian L.G. Moses in his book, Wild West Shows and the Images of American Indians, "over 2 million people ventured into Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World from May through October 1893 thinking it an integral part of the fair itself" (Moses, 137). The message and crafting of the manly image at the Wild West had a tremendous opening in Chicago and continued to pick up steam into the twentieth century.