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Indepth Arts News:

"Buffalo Bill's Wild West"
2000-03-04 until 2000-06-09
Autry Museum of Western Heritage
Los Angeles, CA, USA United States of America

Daring rescues, heroic battles, a runaway stagecoach, and the thundering hoofbeats of a buffalo herd -- these are all part of the greatest Western story the world has ever seen: Buffalo Bill's Wild West. Beginning March 4, 2000, the Autry Museum of Western Heritage will host the American premiere of a new exhibition on Buffalo Bill and his legacy. Buffalo Bill's Wild West was produced by the Royal Armouries of Great Britain, located in Leeds, England, and it brings an unprecedented collection of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show items together for the first time. Drawing on the holdings of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and those of prominent American and British collectors, the exhibition is a major step forward in the interpretation of the colorful career of Col. William F. Cody -- Buffalo Bill.

Exhibits include an original 1867 Deadwood Stagecoach, bought by Buffalo Bill for $1,800 in 1911 and used during a scene from the show The Attack on the Deadwood Stage, in which audience members participated as cowboys. Annie Oakley's gold-plated single-shot rifle, a gold and diamond pendant presented to the flamboyant Cody in 1892 by Queen Victoria, and an elaborate silver service presented to Cody by the Royal family will also be on view.

William Cody was born in 1846, one of eight children, and his real-life adventures in the wild West were driven by necessity. After the death of his father when Cody was 11, he became a mounted messenger. His mother died when he was 17, and long before his 20th birthday, he was a veteran of the Civil War.

Cody married at 19 and hunted buffalo to feed railway workers. From 1868 to 1877, he scouted for the U.S. Army and took part in the Indian Wars of 1876. In 1872, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for trailing a party of Native Americans who had stolen Army horses. By the mid-1880s, when Cody transformed himself into Buffalo Bill, the West was all but tamed. Why else would a Native American as uncompromising as Sitting Bull have agreed to take part in Buffalo Bill's 1885 Wild West spectacularNULL

From the beginning of these Wild West performances, American Indians played a central part by portraying aspects of their traditional culture, ranging from scenes of daily life to reenactments of famous battles. Through these performances Cody also inspired much of the interest in the cowboy as a romantic figure, in contrast to his earlier, much less savory reputation as a lawless drifter.

This extraordinary enterprise traveled throughout much of the U.S.A., Europe, and Britain for over 30 years. During the highly successful tours, Cody managed to break down many barriers of class and wealth, meeting and making friends with people from all walks of life. Indeed, he genuinely bridged the divide between prairie and palace. Fifty-two boxcars were needed to transport the show by rail across America. For the millions who saw it, the show either changed their view of the West or supplied them with images which the movies would later turn into clichés.

Although Buffalo Bill's Wild West toured extensively in the United States, the show first came to England in 1887 and returned in 1892 and 1903/4. The Autry's exhibition will chronicle both the American and European tours and examine the impact the shows made on audiences from Southern California to the imperial palaces of Sweden and Germany. By 1900, Col. William F. Cody was the most recognized human being on the face of the earth.

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