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William Cody (1846–1917), a.k.a. Buffalo Bill, was the most famous American of his age. A child of the frontier Great Plains, Cody was renowned as a Pony Express rider, prospector, trapper, Civil War soldier, professional buffalo hunter, Indian fighter, cavalry scout, horseman, dime-novel hero, and actor. But Buffalo Bill’s greatest success was as impresario of the Wild West show, the traveling company of cowboys, Indians, Mexican vaqueros, and others, numbering in the hundreds, with which he toured North America and Europe for more than three decades. As Louis S. Warren reveals, the show company came to represent America itself, its dazzling mix of races sprung from a frontier past, welded into a thrilling performance, and making their way through the world via the modern technologies of railroad, portable electrical generator, telephones, and brilliantly colored publicity—an entrancing vision of the frontier-born, newly mechanized, polyglot United States in the Gilded Age.
Biographers have long disputed whether Cody was a hero or a charlatan. As Warren shows, the question already preoccupied critics and spectators during Cody’s own lifetime. In fact, the savvy entertainer encouraged the dispute by mingling fictional exploits with his not inconsiderable achievements to construct the persona of an ideal frontiersman, a figure who was more controversial than has been commonly understood. At the same time, his show provided a means for rural westerners, including cowboys, cowgirls, and especially Lakota Sioux Indians, to claim a new future for themselves by reenacting a version of the past.
The most comprehensive critical biography of William Cody in more than forty years, Buffalo Bill’s America places America’s most renowned showman in the context of his cultural worlds in the Far West, in the East, and in Europe. A rich and revealing biography and social history of an American cultural icon.
“In Buffalo Bill's America we watch as our national dream evolves, as our nation sets about becoming what it is. Louis S. Warren has given us a terrific book, a scrupulously researched history, judicious and sane, a wonderfully told, vivid, and compelling story.” —William Kittredge, author of The Nature of Generosity
“In this major reappraisal of Bill Cody’s large life and larger impact, Louis Warren has produced a beautifully written, creatively imagined, convincingly argued biography of a symbolic American life. Here is the story of an emerging American popular culture as it learned the modern trick of celebrity as a shorthand emblem of a national belief system. A stunning book.” —Dan Flores, author of The Natural West
“Louis Warren’s superb book gives us an entwined portrait of William F. Cody, the person, of Buffalo Bill, the persona he (and others) created, and of the culture in which man and myth operated. A must read for its mythbreaking, and even more for its tale of mythmaking.” —Stephen Aron, author of How the West Was Lost
“Louis Warren has written a remarkable book—as complex and compelling as the man at its center. Buffalo Bill presides over a cast that includes Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley, ‘Count Dracula,’ and dozens of the fascinating bit players who worked that tricky territo where the Old West turned into the New.” —Ann Fabian, author of The Unvarnished Truth: Personal Narratives in Nineteenth-Century America
“Even as he carefully sifts Cody’s facts from his fictions, Louis Warren reveals how the play between real and faux made the showman-scout an archetypal figure for Americans at the turn of the twentieth century—and how Cody’s legacies of celebrity performance and self-fashioning continues to speak to us today. Lively, solid, and compelling,
Buffalo Bill’s America is historical writing at its best.” —Philip J. Deloria, author of Indians in Unexpected Places