William F. Cody and American Indians

William F. Cody developed his attitudes and ideas of Indians through his experiences in the West and through exposure to Progressive ideas. Cody promised to provide an accurate portrayal of the American West and explain the significance of the recently deceased frontier. The Show performances reflected Cody's ideas of progress, change, and transformation, tapping into a current of Progressive thought that envisioned a new future for American Indians.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West and the Progressive Image

Reformist impulses, social Darwinism, and a theory of civilization shaped how nineteenth century Americans viewed Indians. The views, however, were conflicting. Government and religious progressives ran against the progressivism espoused by William F. Cody and the image the Show projected. The conflicting views of Indians became publically contested battles over who would define Indianness and Americanness.

Show Indians and the Wild West Show

Over the course of the thirty three years the Wild West Show performed, over one thousand Indians enlisted as a oskate wicasa, "show man," in the Wild West Show. The Show provided a chance to travel, earn decent wages, and participate in cultural practices discouraged on reservations. Although Show Indians operated within specific parameters that enforced an image of Indians, the opportunity to travel with the Show provided Indians with a path to the future.